Banana Counting Monkey

Thursday, September 23, 2004:

Chronological Syria Timeline

August 26th: Assad meets with Iraqi delegates
September 2nd: Resolution 1559 passed in the UN Security Council, calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
September 10th:
Iraqi Interior minister visits Damascus
September 11th: Assad and a US delegation led by William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs meet. Syria/Iraq border is the main topic of discussion.
Week of Sept 13-15 Egyptian President Murubak visits Damascus
Sept 17th: Sudan denies Syria tested chemical weapons in Darfur
Sept 26th: Hamas man killed in Damascus
Sept 29th: Syria completes troop withdrawal
October 2nd: Kofi Annan to report to Security Council on Lebanon situation, updating Res 1559.

BCM // 9:29 AM


What's going on with Syria in the last couple of days? We're seeing announcements of troop withdrawals from Lebanon and commitment to work with the US on tighening their Iraqi border. A whole bunch of activity all at once. What's up? What's changed?

I'm curious, so I'm going to assemble the info from the last week and see if any better picture emerges.

Today (Sept 23rd) :
Syria continues withdrawing forces from Lebanon
"....Witnesses said they saw a Syrian military procession composed of 56 armored vehicles and trucks loaded with equipment and buses carrying soldiers heading via the eastern borders to Syria after yesterday midnight taking the main highway between Damascus and Beirut. The soldiers were seen dismantling their camp which is situated in the coastal al-Damour area.
The redeployment operation which seemed to be an attempt to eliminate pressures led by the USA to minimize the Syrian influence in Lebanon covers 3,000 Syrian soldiers, most of them will return back to Syria. It is estimated that 15,000 Syrian soldiers will remain in Lebanon after the fifth redeployment operation within three years.
Both the Lebanese and Syrian authorities stressed that the redeployment operation falls in the course of implementing one of the Taif accord item signed in 1989."

I don't know this Taif Agreement. Looked it up and it's the pact that ended the Lebanese Civil War in 1989. So Syria is claiming to be fulfilling its obligations fifteen years afterwards. No rush guys......

Also : Syria hails "improved ties" with U.S.
Syrian state radio hailed Thursday what it described as a "marked improvement" in ties with the United States after a series of top-level encounters this month.

The upbeat comments followed a meeting Wednesday in New York between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Syrian counterpart Faruq al-Shara, which the radio said took place in a "positive atmosphere."

That meeting, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, was the first between the two men since May 2003 and followed talks in Syria earlier this month between US Middle East envoy William Burns and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A US delegation is expected in Damascus later this month to discuss concrete ways of securing the border, across which Washington alleges militants are crossing to destabilise the interim Iraqi administration.

So there's more to come this month in relations between Syria and the U.S.

We hear something from the Lebanese opposition, opposing the Lebanese President's term extension.

Wedensday Sept 22nd : Syria's Defence Minister Lieut. Gen. Hassan Turkmani discussed with Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud the redeployment of the Syrian troops working in Lebanon.....

Tuesday Sept 21st: Vast redeployment of the Syrian forces working in Lebanon starts today
In a step preceding the report of the UN secretary general Kofi Annan to be on October 3rd concerning the Syrian presence in Lebanon, Syria announced by its ambassador in Washington Imad Mustafa that the Syrian forces will start today ( Tuesday) a large scale redeployment process for its forces in Lebanon.

So there's a UN report from Kofi on Syria/Lebanon on Oct 3rd. Noted.

This redeployment is being hailed as something that will imporve Syria/US relations....
The sources which contacted the Syrian ambassador in Washington Imad Mustafa said it notified it that the " matter is official and the step should satisfy all sides and that Syria tries by this step to collaborate with the USA." Adding that this step came as a result of " greater confidence in conditions " and the realities of regional and international condition, however it is a leap in the bilateral relations between the two countries.." (emphasis mine)
"the step means withdrawing Syrian units which are still deployed in areas of Mount of Lebanon, especially al-Damour, Aramounm Bolonia, Daher al-Shweir and Aley and that the forces will withdraw towards back position in the Bekaa areas. The source expected the operation, which is the fourth during four years, to last for several days."
The Bekaa valley? Isn't that Hizbollah's base of operations?

Also : Syria, EU reach agreement on weapons

BEIRUT: Syria and the European Union have reached an agreement on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that had bogged down an economic association agreement, a Western diplomat said in Beirut.

Libya is not party to the process, but has observer status at some meetings.
The talks with Syria had been held up by the EU's requirement that all such agreements now include a clause committing both sides to fighting the proliferation of WMD
Beirut's Al-Hayat newspaper reported Monday that France was in no rush to sign the deal, as it is unhappy about Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs.

The EU has pursued the agreement despite U.S. sanctions against Syria earlier this year over its alleged support for terrorism and other issues, including an alleged banned weapons program. While the deal has been ready for signing since December 2003, talks stalled after the EU sought more stringent Syrian commitments on weapons.

In response, Damascus said it wanted the entire Mideast to be free of weapons of mass destruction.

This has been in the works since August, see Aug 18th.

Also on the 21st: US presses Syria to stabilize porous border (with Iraq)

...But in a meeting Sept. 11, Assad and a US delegation led by William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, discussed those issues only briefly during more than two hours of talks, according to participants on both sides. Instead, according to participants, the meeting was dominated by US concerns over Syria's desolate 450-mile border with Iraq, which Arab fighters easily cross on their way to fight American soldiers.

''This visit was driven by one thing and one thing only: Iraq," Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to the United States, who attended the meeting, said in an interview. ''They brought up their well-known list, and that took 10 minutes, then we brought up our list. But they came to discuss Iraq."

The meeting ended 15 months of near silence between the United States and the Assad government, a primary target of the Bush administration's push to encourage democracy in the Middle East.

The administration accuses Syria of being a haven for terrorists, particularly militants battling Israel over its occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights, and of having one of the most advanced chemical weapons programs in the region. Syria considers the Bush administration beholden to the Israeli lobby in Washington, and set on destabilizing its government.

Also, Allawi comments on Iraq/Syria relations

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on Monday described Iraq's relations with Syria as excellent and are moving in the right direction in the interest of the two states' peoples.
In a joint press conference held with the British Foreign Minister Jack Straw in London, Allawi referred to his latest visit to Syria and his meeting with President Bashar al-Assad; " During that visit, we discussed several issues that concern Syria and Iraq," he said, adding that both countries are a pivotal part in the region and that they are basically interested in keeping and securing its people.
So Allawi met with Assad recently?

Tuesday Sept 14th: Dance Puppet! Dance!
President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon stressed that security in Lebanon is the result of the strategy Lebanon opted for with Syria, asserting that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is legitimate and it boosts stability and security in the area.

During a meeting with a British Parliamentary delegation on Monday, Lahoud asserted that Lebanon and Syria have rejected terrorism and expressed condemnation of terrorist acts targeting innocent people.ccupied Palestinian lands.

So the Lebanese President met with the British earlier this month. I wonder what else they were talking about?

Monday Sept 6th: Syria's Information minister comments on UN Resolution 1559
Information Minister Ahmad al-Hassan has stressed the importance of the Syrian-Lebanese relations and has called for such relations to take a stronger form by more coordination and unified vision in defending the common causes of destiny.
In a statement read at the beginning of a meeting with Lebanese journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations who are scheduled to take part at the Reform and Changing Symposium which is to be held in Damascus tomorrow and organized by Information Ministry with the cooperation of the Lebanese -- Syrian Cultural Forum, the minister underlined that the free Lebanese writers express the will of the people to resist the policy of dictation and hegemony.

Al-Hassan underlined the importance of such a meeting in the light of the Lebanese government decision to extend the mandate of Lebanese President Emil Lahoud for three years, and the American-French pressures to issue a UN Security Council decision which is considered by Lebanon and Syria as a blatant intervention in the internal affairs and relations between the two states.

The minister expressed regret for the compliance of the UN Security Council with the US pressures to become a cover for the United States attempts to impose its hegemony on the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Sept. 11th events.
I see. Lebanese President just had his term extended by another three years. Okay. let's look up this UN resolution while we're at it. Here we are. Dated September 2nd.

Thursday Sept 2nd: Resolution 1559 at U.N. Here's the press release from afterwards.

The Security Council this evening declared its support for a free and fair presidential election in Lebanon conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence and, in that connection, called upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.

In a related provision, the Council called for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Asserting that the Syrian actions in the past week had made a “crude mockery” of the principle of a free and fair presidential electoral process, the United States’ representative said the Syrian Government had imposed its political will on Lebanon and had compelled the Cabinet and Lebanese National Assembly to amend its constitution and abort the electoral process by extending the term of the current President by three years. Clearly, the Lebanese Parliament had been pressured, and even threatened, by Syria and its agents to make them comply.

Similarly, the representative of France, who, along with the United States, had introduced the resolution, worried that persistent serious interference in the political life of Lebanon might cause it to retreat from the objectives that had been reaffirmed constantly by the international community.
Wow, France is on side for once. I'm shocked. This resolution also calls on the Secretary General to report back to the Security Council in 30 days. So that's Kofi's upcoming report on OCt 2nd, triggered by this resolution. Okay, I'm sold that this is the primary driving force behind this week's events. Now is it a potempkin withdrawal or the real thing?

Same day news released that the US doesn't accept the extension of the Lebanese President's term.

Wedensday August 18th: EU Diplomat optimistic over EU-Syria association accomplishment
See also Aug 4th: EU expects partnership with Syria in September.

One diplomat in the European Union in Brussles said yesterday that Syria is ready to accept a more tough formulation over banning the dismmination of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons modified from the original formula, Syria negotiated with Brussels over in the past for approving an Association Agreement which Damascus has not so far signed.

A high ranking negotiator from the European Commission is expected to visit Damascus in the first quarter of September in order to draw the final touches on the agreement and this will be crowned by a meeting between al-Shara and the EU foreign minister at the UN in September.

August 14th 2004: (Lebanese President) Lahoud confers with American Delegation
During a meeting with a delegation from the U.S Congress, Lahoud said that the strategic options Lebanon committed to in coordination with Syria helped in reuniting the Lebanese national army and institutions.

He asserted that Hizbullah is not a terrorist party since it has worked to achieve one target which is the liberation of the Lebanese lands.
I'll end here. The last month does give a bit more perspective as to what's happening.

BCM // 7:48 AM

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