Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Syria, Lebanon discuss military cooperation - US, Syria, Saudi Arabia, France etc. to negotiate settlement to Lebanese crisis

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Jean Kahwaji (Qahwaji), the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Syrian news agency reported on Monday. The two discussed future cooperation between the Syrian and Lebanese armed forces. The talks also focused on the role that the Lebanese army would play in controlling the increasingly tense situation in Lebanon.

Mr. Kahwaji also met with the Syrian Defense Minister and his Chief of Staff to discuss the latest developments in the region. The meeting also focused on the Lebanese army's capability to effectively wage war with the Israeli army - which raises the question as to whether the Obama administration's $100 million military aid package to Lebanon and a series of shipments of weapons and ammunition delivered to the Lebanese army in April would ultimately be used against Israel, a former US ally.

The talks between Assad and Kahwaji came in the wake of a meeting on Monday between the Syrian President, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Ahmad ben Khalifi al-Thani, in which the three leaders voiced support for Syrian-Saudi mediation to settle the political crisis in Lebanon.

Mr. Erdogan reportedly has also agreed to participate in the international “contact group” proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to deal with the Lebanese crisis. The meeting, according to reports in the Arab media, is to be hosted by France, and will include the participation of the Lebanese Prime Minister, the Presidents of Syria and Turkey, Saudi King Abdullah, the Emir of Qatar and President Obama. The idea, according to the AFP, was discussed in a meeting last week between Mr. Sarkozy and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. No date, as of yet, has been set for the meeting.

According to Arab media reports, Mr. Sarkozy received American authorization to produce a solution to the Lebanese crisis.

Likewise, a European diplomat in Beirut told the AFP that France had proposed the creation of an international "contact group" to negotiate a settlement to the crisis:
"The contact group would include Syria, Saudi Arabia, France, the United States, Qatar, Turkey and possibly other countries," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The group would meet outside of Lebanon given the current tensions in the country."

The French foreign ministry refused to confirm or deny the proposal.
Syria's involvement in Lebanon's internal affairs, during the Bush administration, had been largely diminished and nullified as a result of international pressure spearheaded by former President Bush. Armed with the strong support of the former US President, the Lebanese people took to the streets and waged massive protests against the Syrian regime. Under intense international pressure, Syria reluctantly withdrew its troops from Lebanon.

President Obama, however, shortly after taking office, began to re-establish US-Syrian ties. The Syrian regime seized upon this new-found relationship to re-exert its influence in Lebanon

Nevertheless, President Obama, in December, offered some additional carrots to Syria, when he bypassed the senate during the holiday recess, and appointed the first US ambassador to Syria since 2005. The Bush administration withdrew its ambassador from Syria in February 2005 in response to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

Meanwhile, Syria, with an apparent wink of the eye from the Oval Office, is increasingly re-exerting its influence [including military cooperation with the Lebanese army] and tightening its grip over Lebanon.

Wink, Wink...

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