February 29, 2012
By Robert Fisk
If Iran obtains nuclear weapons capability, “I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons”.
Thus thundered our beloved Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in one of the silliest pronouncements he has ever made. Hague seems to spend much of his time impersonating himself, so I’m not really certain which of Mr Hague-Hague’s personas made this statement.
Flaw number one, of course, is Hague-Hague’s failure to point out that there already is another Middle East “nation” that has, in fact, several hundred nuclear weapons along with the missiles to fire them. It’s called Israel. But blow me down, Hague-Hague didn’t mention the fact. Didn’t he know? Of course, he did. What he was trying to say, you see, was that if Iran persisted in producing a nuclear weapon, Arab states – Muslim states – would want to acquire one. And that would never do. The idea, of course, that Iran might be pursuing nuclear weapons because Israel already possesses them, did not occur to him.
Now as a nation that sells billions of pounds worth of military hardware to Gulf Arab nations – on the basis that they can then defend themselves from Iran’s non-existent plans to invade them – Britain is really not in a position to warn anyone of arms proliferation in the region. I’ve been to the Gulf arms fairs where the Brits show alarming films of an “enemy” nation threatening the Arabs – Iran, of course – and the need for these Arab chappies to buy even more kit from British Aerospace and the rest of our merchants of death.
Then comes the historical killer in Hague-Hague’s peroration. He warns of “the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented” which could produce “the threat of a new Cold War in the Middle East” that would be “a disaster in world affairs”. Now, I know that Hague-Hague sits in the throne room of Balfour and Eden – both pseudo-experts on the Middle East – but does he really have to mess up history so badly? Surely the most serious round of nuclear proliferation occurred when India and Pakistan acquired the bomb, the latter a nation which is awash with al-Qa’ida chaps, home-grown Talibans and dodgy intelligence men.
Still, it was good to be reassured that “we are not favouring the idea of anybody attacking Iran at the moment”. Maybe later, then. Or maybe after President Assad eventually falls, thus depriving Iran of its only – and valuable – ally in the Middle East. Which is, I suspect, what a lot of the roaring and raging against Assad is all about. Get rid of Assad and you cut out part of Iran’s heart – though whether that will induce the crackpot Ahmadinejad to turn his nuclear plants into baby-milk factories is another matter. For here’s the rub. The mighty voices calling for Assad’s departure grow louder every time they refuse to involve themselves militarily in the overthrow of the same man. The more they promise not to “do a Nato” on Syria – every time they claim there can be no “no-fly” zones over Syria – they get angrier and angrier at Assad. Why doesn’t he just go off to retirement in Turkey, end the theatre once and for all, and stop embarrassing us all by bludgeoning his country with shells and sniper fire, killings thousands – journalists among them – while we rage on innocently from the stalls?
February 6, 2012
By Alice Fordham
The United States has closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled all diplomats and U.S. staff out of the country, citing security concerns, the State Department said Monday.
State Department spokeswomanVictoria Nuland said Ambassador Robert S. Ford will continue “his work and engagement with the Syrian people,” who have been demonstrating against the government of President Bashar al-Assad for 11 months.
In an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council failed to approve a resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, following the deadliest one-day crackdown in Syria’s 11-month uprising. (Feb. 5)
Assad’s government has carried out an increasingly violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, with new reports of shelling in the cities of Homs and Zabadani on Monday.
The United States wants Assad to cede power and make way for a democratically elected government. It supported a U.N. resolution condemning Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China on Saturday.
While couched in security concerns, the decision to close the embassy could signal a shift in policy toward Syria following the collapse of the U.N. diplomatic efforts. The State Department had long sought to keep the embassy open in order to better monitor the situation in Syria, and to preserve an open channel with the Syrian opposition.
In recent days, however, the administration’s rhetoric has toughened, toward both Syria and its few remaining allies. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday denounced the vetoes by Russian and China as a “travesty.”
Still, the White House has continued to downplay the possibility of a Libya-style military campaign to aid Syria’s rebels. President Obama, in an NBC interview broadcast on Sunday, said it was “very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention.”
“I think that’s possible,” Obama said. “My sense is that you’re seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter . . . This is not going to be a matter of ‘if.’ It’s going to be a matter of ‘when.’ ”
May 24, 2010
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday that the United States has lost its influence in the Middle East due to its failure to contribute to regional peace, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
U.S. President Barack Obama “raised hopes” in the region, said Assad, but has failed to accomplish any significant peace maneuvers.
Assad’s comments came just before Obama was to meet with Lebanon Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri to raise Washington’s concerns about Syria arming Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon
The Syrian leader met on Sunday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Damascus earlier Sunday and urged the West to “break its silence” in the face of Israeli “aggression” in the Middle East.
During their talks, Assad denounced “the ongoing Israeli threats to ignite wars and undermine the stability in the region.”
“The region has changed and the West’s policy in the area is no longer acceptable, keeping silent over Israeli violations is no longer acceptable,” Assad told Kouchner, according to Syria’s official news agency SANA.
“If the West wants security and stability to be established in the Middle East, [it] must start to play an effective role to contain Israel and put an end to its extremist policies,” Assad said.
The Syrian president also told Kouchner that the Western countries pushing for harsh United Nations sanctions against Iran should understand that Tehran’s contentious nuclear program was aimed at civilian and not military pursuits, according to SANA.
“The countries involved need to change their attitude to Iran’s civil nuclear program, because this agreement is an important opportunity to reach a diplomatic solution and prevent a tragic dispute in the region and the world at large,” said Assad.
Also Sunday, Syria defied Western pressure over its support for the militant group Hezbollah and said it would not act as a policeman for Israel to prevent weapons from reaching the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.
“Did Israel ever stop arming itself, did it stop instigating violence or making military maneuvers,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. “Why are arms forbidden to Arabs and allowed to Israel?”
Citing Israeli occupation of Arab land and the technical state of war between Syria and Israel, Moualem said the Damascus government “will not be a policeman for Israel”.
“Israel is beating the drum of war. In the absence of real peace every thing is possible,” he added.
Syria, a country Washington says is critical for Middle East peace, has shown no signs of withdrawing backing for Hezbollah, which is also supported by Iran, although the issue has clouded rapprochement between Damascus and Washington.
The row intensified when President Shimon Peres last month accused Syria, which borders Lebanon, of sending long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah.
Syria said it only gives Hezbollah political backing and that Israel may be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike.
“A Scud missile is as big as this room. How could it be hidden and smuggled with Israeli planes and satellites all over the region?” Moallem asked, adding that cumbersome Scuds were not suited to Hezbollah’s guerrilla tactics.