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BorderWatch:Syria
Archive: April 2007
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Iraq Trying to Secure Border With Eight New Crossing Points in Kurdistan
04/27/2007 5:08 PM ET
Zakho, Apr 27, (VOI) - A number of checkpoints were set up on Iraq's Kurdistan's borders with Turkey and Syria to watch Iraqi borders there, a source in Kurdistan's border guards in Duhuk said on Friday.
"A total of eight checkpoints have been established on Iraq's Kurdistan's borders with Syria and Turkey," chief of border guards in Duhuk Colonel Hussein Tamur told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
"The checkpoints were set up along the border line from Beshabour region near to the Syrian borders in the west of Duhuk to Zakho district near to the Turkish borders in the farthest north," he added.
"The checkpoints' main function is to watch and monitor borders continuously," the source also said.
"More checkpoints will be established in border areas in the future," he noted.
The border line with Syria and Turkey has been a scene to smugglers who guide Iraqis from different parts of the country to cross the borders illegally to Syria and Turkey and then to Europe.
Two weeks ago, Turkish authorities extradited 737 Iraqis to Kurdish security authorities after arresting them during an inspection campaign to hotels and offices in different parts in Turkey.
Most of the extradited people sneaked into Turkish territory by illegal ways.
Duhuk is the third province within Iraq's Kurdistan region. It is in the far north of Iraq with borders with Turkey and Syria.
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Syrian Daily Upbeat, with a Hint of "We Told You So"
04/05/2007 09:00 AM ET
Syrian media reported Wednesday's talks between President Bashar al-Asad and Speaker Pelosi and her accompanying congressional delegation, with the tone-setting article appearing in the official daily al-Thawra. The report focuses heavily on the significance of the high-level breakthrough, with just a hint of “We told you so” detected in the remarks of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem following the event -- in which the FM also outlines familiar Syrian negotiating positions in any serious dialogue to come.

Al Thawra, writing in Arabic, carries a front page story on President Asad’s meeting with the speaker and the delegation, saying they discussed the “heated issues” of the region.

The Syrian president said that the visit of Pelosi and the accompanying delegation to Syria “carries a clear message the dialogue and peace are the shared languages between peoples,” adding that “direct dialogue would clarify many facts, and would address many issues that concern the two countries,” al-Thawra writes.

Al-Asad renewed Syria’s "keenness on peace," pointing to Syria’s participation, with the United States, in the 1991 Madrid peace process, confirming “the credibility of Syria’s peaceful orientation as a strategic choice,” according to the report.

As for the situation in Iraq, the president affirmed Syria’s commitment to the unity of Iraq and to the return of Iraq’s independence and the realization of security and stability in the country, through complete national reconciliation and through a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, the official daily writes.

On Pelosi’s part, Al-Thawra reports that the speaker affirmed that her visit to Damascus was aimed at opening the prospects of dialogue between Syria and the United States in order to help to deal with the heated issues, “hinting at good impressions” on her part and on the part of members of the delegation after their first visit to Syria.

The paper reports that Pelosi described her visit as “fruitful” and said that the Syrian people had welcomed the delegation in a friendly way, expresssing that the delegation had come in hope and friendship, suggesting that the “road to Damascus is the road to peace.”

Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, and Dr. 'Imad Mustafa, the Syrian ambassador in Washington, as well as the chargé d’affaires of the American embassy in Damascus. The paper also writes that Farouq al-Shar', Syrian vice president, met Pelosi the day before, along with Dr. Faysal al-Miqdad, Syrian deputy foreign minister, Ambassador Mustafa, and the American chargé d’affaires, according to the report.

Press conference

Pelosi with members of the US delegation and Syrian officials in a press conference at Damascus airport on Wednesday.
Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP.
Pelosi with members of the US delegation and Syrian officials in a press conference at Damascus airport on Wednesday.
Al-Thawra noted Pelosi’s remarks in a press conference following the event, saying that her visit builds on the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, and that the talks dealt with combating terrorism, with the conditions in Iraq, Lebanon, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

According to al-Thawra, Pelosi said that her trip resulted from her conviction that dialogue with Syria is necessary and profitable, and that the US Congress was increasingly interested in restoring peace to the region, and in the views of President Asad on the readiness of his country to restore peace in the Middle East. Pelosi said that she and the delegation were full of hope that this visit would achieve the desired results.

Representative Tom Lantos affirmed that the discussions with President Asad and the Syrian officials were frank and probing, and that the visit was the beginning of dialogue to be built in the future, whereas Congressman Nick Rahall said that the visit was very fruitful and that “we are interested in arriving at positive results of peace for all” adding that the delegation came to Damascus with a message of peace and with the goal of finding peace for the region, according to the report.

Al-Thawra, significantly, did not mention that Lantos, known as one of the most pro-Israel members of the Congress, was a main sponsor of the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, which was aimed at isolating and punishing Syria, nor indeed that Pelosi signed on as one of the more than 300 co-sponsors of the bill in the House. Rahall opposed the measure at the time, taking positions similar to those that Pelosi and the delegation expressed in Damascus on Wednesday. These details would not be lost on Syrian officials, who followed the proceedings closely in 2003 as their isolation was being engineered by the Bush administration and the Congress, with the backing of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby.

Syrian foreign minister’s remarks

Al-Thawra continues, describing the comments of Syrian FM Walid Muallem to the press following the talks. Muallem noted that the delegation came with a message of friendship and dialogue, saying that Syria had called for and supported these things all along, and that dialogue must be based on mutual respect. “As for friendship,” he said this is what all peoples seek, “including the American people, and the hope that we seek is the realization of a just and complete peace in the region, which is built on the Israeli withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Muallem added, “Differences in points of view are natural, and that this comes from a lack of dialogue,” affirming that Syria is in a good position to know the problems of the region, the paper writes.

The FM stated that “we are happy because Pelosi and her delegation brought the courage to bridge these differences, affirming Syria’s preparedness to reach a just and complete peace, following the Arab peace initiative,” al-Thawra writes, referring to proposals floated earlier and resurrected in association with last month's Arab summit in Riyadh.

On the issue of Palestine, Muallem said that he told the delegation that Hamas forms a basic part of the Palestinian political process, and that the movement had won the Palestinian elections by a clear majority. He called for support of the recent Mecca agreement (between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas), and of the Palestinian unity government, also emphasizing the need for support of a "complete" peace process, and called for the international community to show “goodwill toward the Palestinians by lifting the unjust blockade on the Palestinian people,” a clear but indirect reference to the American-Israeli efforts to isolate first the Hamas government, elected in 2006, and now the government of national unity formed after the February 2007 Mecca agreement.

With relation to Iraq, al-Thawra reports that Muallem confirmed Syria’s cooperation with the Iraqi government in security affairs and border control, pointing to joint committees in this field. The paper writes that he affirmed that the military solution “does not lead to any result” in Iraq, saying, “only a political process will enjoy the consensus of the Iraqi people and the support of the neighboring countries.”

On the question of Lebanon, Muallem "renewed Syria’s aspirations to build better relations with Lebanon," saying that Syria encouraged the arrival at consensus between the Lebanese. “Lebanon is not governed except by consensus,” the FM remarked. Muallem denied the existence of any arms smuggling over the common border, the official daily reports.

Muallem concluded, “We highly value the visit of Pelosi and the accompanying delegation, as it confirms the opening of dialogue between the two peoples, Syrian and American, and it completes the development of contacts between the Syrian leadership and the Congress through the Syrian ambassador in Washington, and describing the visit as “an important step in an important path.”

The Latest
Iraq Tops Agenda in Damascus; Delegation Travels on to Riyadh
04/04/2007 2:28 PM ET
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with Speaker Pelosi at al-Shaab Palace in Damascus on Wednesday.
Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with Speaker Pelosi at al-Shaab Palace in Damascus on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in Damascus Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Talks included the issue of the Iraq-Syria border, over which the US has said foreign fighters and suicide bombers are passing into Iraq. Washington has said that "90 percent of suicide bombers" travel through Syria to enter Iraq.

"We called to the attention of the president our concern about fighters crossing the Iraq-Syria border to the detriment of the Iraqi people and our soldiers," Pelosi said in remarks following the meeting.

Reuters reports that Syrian officials said that Damascus is willing to assist Washington in making an "honorable withdrawal" from Iraq, but expects the United States to press Israel to return the occupied Golan Heights in exchange.

Pelosi also discussed Syria's alliance with armed Palestinian and Lebanese groups, as well as discussions Pelosi had with Israeli officials on an earlier leg of the trip.

Pelosi, officially the third-most-senior official in Washington, is the highest-ranking member of the American government to visit Syria in two years, after the US withdrew its ambassador from the country in 2005.

Pelosi's delegation, which includes several Democratic representatives, and one Republican House member, has since traveled on to Saudi Arabia, arriving in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Bush administration officials again lashed out at Pelosi's decision to travel to Damascus. National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said, "The United States has been working in multilateral forums with countries in the region, countries in Europe, to send a message to the Syrians that they need to change their behavior, and it's unfortunate that she took this unilateral trip which we only see as counterproductive,"

Diplomatic Buzz
Syrian Ambassador Warns Against Expecting Too Much
04/03/2007 4:21 PM ET
Al-Thawra
Al-Thawra
Syria’s state-run al-Thawra claims a small victory in Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Damascus today, welcoming the visit as a change of tone, while at the same time lowering expectations for what the visit will mean in the greater picture.

“Al-Sayyida Nancy Pelosi is in Damacsus, not concerned about the protestations of the neoconservatives,” al-Thawra writes, using a common honorific title for the Speaker.

Pelosi seeks to “correct United States foreign policy,” the paper continues, describing previous US policy in the region as a series of failures that have destroyed America’s moral standing, a policy that “knows no policy except war, siege, extortion of its friends, and the development of the enemy camp.”

The paper notes that Pelosi’s visit comes at a time when the Democratic majority is beginning to its attack on the White House over Iraq, in the midst of a struggle between the two over funding, conditional on a timetable for military withdrawal from Iraq.

Pelosi’s visit “profits from the repeated defeats of the administration in Iraq” and “is nourished by the deterioration in George Bush’s popularity in public opinion.”

Al-Thawra notes that the visit builds on the precedent of talking to Syria and Iran, breaking the White House’s boycott.

“Pelosi’s visit is not a minor detail in the American political diary” the paper writes, noting that the US had boycotted Syria since 2003.

Speaker Pelosi tours the Old City of Damascus on Tuesday.
Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP.
Speaker Pelosi tours the Old City of Damascus on Tuesday.
“Pelosi’s visit irritates not only the neoconservatives,” but cuts against the whole policy of confrontation with Syria, and of “putting it on lists of accusations such as support for terrorism (meaning the Palestinian resistance and Hizbullah) and of facilitating the flow of arms to Iraq across the borders, and of undermining the political stability of Lebanon.”

“If Pelosi’s visit is not a denial” of these accusations, it is at least an admission that “dialogue with Syria is necessary and vital, even with the presence of differences and “accusations.”

At the same time, al-Thawra ratchets down expectations with a companion article based on a telephone interview with Syria’s ambassador in Washington, 'Imad Mustafa.

The ambassador said that Pelosi’s visit is “a positive step,” but also adds “that this does not mean at all that the American administration will suddenly change its position.”

The paper also sketches a brief bio of Pelosi, outlining her beginnings in California politics, her transition to the national level, and her rise to the position of the first woman speaker of the House.

Al-Jazeera Net, in its coverage, notes that the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Syria, addressed a letter to Pelosi expressing “disappointment” with the decision to come to Syria for talks. The letter, signed by the group’s “general observer,” Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanouni, called the Syrian regime “One of the few remaining worst regimes of repression in our world today.” Bayanouni said that he would like to direct Pelosi’s attention to what he called the suffering of the Syrian people, deprived of political rights, including the application of the death penalty for anyone belonging to the Brotherhood.

Diplomatic Buzz
Congressional Delegation to Discuss Iraq, Syrian Support for Terrorism
04/03/2007 11:17 AM ET
Damascus, SYRIA: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at Damascus airport, 03 April 2007.
Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty
Damascus, SYRIA: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at Damascus airport, 03 April 2007.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Damascus on Tuesday with "great hopes" for influencing Syria's behavior on the world stage, with an aim to revive bilateral relations and increase cooperation on Iraq.

Pelosi deflected Bush administration criticism of her diplomatic initiative, characterizing it as unfair political rhetoric.

"It's interesting because three of our colleagues, who are all Republicans, were in Syria yesterday, and I didn't hear the White House speaking out about that," Pelosi said.

"I think that it was an excellent idea for them to go," referring to Reps. Frank R. Wolf, Joe Pitts and Robert B. Aderholt meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Sunday, "And I think it's an excellent idea for us to go as well," Pelosi added.

Pelosi is leading a Congressional delegation on a two-day fact-finding tour through Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan that was reportedly inspired by the Iraq Study Group's recommendations on regional diplomacy initiatives. Pelosi is scheduled to meet with Syrian officials on Wednesday, and has said she plans to discuss Iraq, Syria's support for terrorist groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas, and cooperation with Lebanon on the Hariri investigation.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday that the Bush administration would objects to any visit to Syria. "We think that it is not a good idea for U.S. officials to go and meet with Assad, because it alleviates that pressure, and also because meetings haven't produced anything."

Speaking in a Rose Garden press conference Tuesday morning, President Bush said, "A lot of people have gone to see President Assad....and yet we haven't seen action. He hasn't responded."

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