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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

October 28, 2005

SYRIA:  MEHLIS REPORT PUTS THE BAATHIST REGIME 'IN THE DOCK'

KEY FINDINGS

**  Syria, "so alone" globally, draws sanction from the "consequences of the Hariri probe."

**  Arab papers cite U.S. exploitation of the report, but express little support for Syria's regime.

**  Detractors see a report "full of holes"; pin hopes on an inquiry extended to Dec. 15.

**  Euro dailies said it is "right and timely" for "regime change" and some others agree.

MAJOR THEMES

'The Syrian Baath regime definitely has no friends'--  The UN Mehlis report found there was "convergent proof" that Hariri's Feb. 14 murder was carried out by "high-level Syrian officials" with the "complicity of Lebanese security forces."  This finding prompted global media to the consensus that President Bashar al-Assad's "regime does not have much international support."  Kuwait's independent Al-Qabas echoed many outlets saying, the "international atmosphere is not in favor of Damascus."  And, despite a recent call to Russia's Putin who promised Russia would "do all it can to stop" UN sanctions, most observers concurred President Assad "has no reliable allies in the world." 

Arab papers say 'the ball is in Damascus' court'--  Conservative Saudi outlets urged Damascus to use "good initiatives" and cooperation to prove its "innocence in Hariri’s assassination."  Syria is "in the danger zone," they said, writing warily nonetheless of U.S. efforts to secure an "international resolution to condemn Syria and use economic sanctions."  Saying they were neither "attacking nor defending the Syrian position," West Bank outlets assailed the U.S. for not seeking "the truth."  They accused the U.S. of only being interested in pressing a hegemonic agenda by imposing regime change on Syria.  Jordan's centrist Al-Ghad declared the U.S. and "others are going to use the report to finish off the last of the pan-Arab campaign of slogans by using the Syrian Baath party." 

'The inquiry has been extended to December 15'--  The UN called for the investigation to continue until Dec.15, and "its findings are inconclusive," but Washington, London and Paris "are firm in their resolve to punish Syria," according to Russia's centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta.  Pakistan's pro-Islamic papers stated the U.S. "has threatened Syria with grave consequences if it does not comply with the demands of international community."  Lebanon's Hizbullah weekly Al-Intikad called Mehlis "a frightening nighmare" bringing a "nuclear bomb" of a report, but defiantly held that Syria "will not collapse under the superficial Mehlis nightmare.”

'Rogue state of Syria...country of President Assad'--  British and other Euro writers saw the Mehlis report providing an opportunity for regime change in Syria.  "Make the punishment fit the crime," the UK's left-of-center Guardian advised.  Damascus remains a "headquarters for dozens of terror organizations and a passageway for voluntary jihadists to Iraq," added a German outlet.  Because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, "many Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council states, have sought to ease the pressure being put on Syria, and they will continue to pursue this policy," explained a Kuwati outlet, but contrastingly, a Jordanian writer declared that "many will not be sorry to see the Baath party and its heritage go."

Prepared by Media Reaction Division (202) 203-7888, rmrmail@state.gov

EDITOR:  Rupert D. Vaughan

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 88 reports from 25 countries over October 20-27, 2005.  Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.

EUROPE

BRITAIN:  "Isolate Syria's Tryanny"

Columnist Oliver Kamm commented in the conservative Times (10/27):  "Against Baathist Iraq, sanctions were porous, ineffectual, corruptly administered and a public relations disaster.  Against Syria, they need to be more than symbols of disapproval.  Political, diplomatic and economic pressure should be exerted with the declared aim of regime change.  Forcing that outcome now is right and timely, and may obviate the need to pursue it militarily later."

"Moment Of Truth: Damascus Must Face The Consequences Of The Hariri Probe"

An editorial in the independent Financial Times read (10/25):  "Bringing the perpetrators of the Hariri murder to justice is a necessity, for Lebanon and the wider region.  For decades, all across the Middle East, intelligence and security services have abused their powers yet rarely, if ever, have they been held accountable.  The Hariri probe must show that the days of impunity are over."

"Make The Punishment Fit The Crime" 

An editorial in the left-of-center Guardian noted (10/25): "If the Syrian regime is to change it is Syrians who should change it.  The pursuit of those responsible for the killing of Mr. Hariri cannot be allowed to falter, but regime change should not ride on the back of judicial process.  The French are already insisting on this, and the Americans and the British, the other two nations who have taken the lead over Syria, would be wise to follow suit."

FRANCE:  "Franco-American Duo Against Syria At The UN"

Laurent Mauriac wrote in Liberation (Internet Version 10/26): "France and the United States are working hand in hand to draw conclusions from the Mehlis report.  This is the image that the two UN ambassadors, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere and John Bolton, wanted to give by arriving side by side at the Security Council meeting that was held yesterday morning to hear Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor.  The latter had presented a report last week implicating Syria in the February assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.   The ambassadors presented an astonishing duettist number by speaking to journalists together.  'Jean-Marc is perfectly right, this is a decisive period for the Security Council,' Bolton exclaimed.  However, a difference in their remarks is quickly felt.  Bolton, appearing determined, claimed to seek "a strong resolution from the Council reflecting a united opinion on the serious nature of this case and the importance of everyone cooperating.'  La Sabliere, more qualified, insisted on "the lack of cooperation on the part of the Syrians.   This is a serious concern and the Council should address this....  The other Security Council countries, notably China and Russia, will still have to be convinced....  The Franco-American draft resolution should not include any threat of sanctions, a possibility that the UN secretary general clearly opposed yesterday.  'We should be careful not to do anything that interferes with the legal process or the right of the accused,' declared Kofi Annan.  The French government for its part would like to postpone the question of sanctions to 15 December, given that the UN has asked Mehlis to continue his investigation until that date....  Unsurprisingly, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, Faisal Miqdad, lashed out at the report, whose "every paragraph would deserve a remark to refute its contents" and he made assurances that Syria was determined to cooperate.  In an allusion to the United States, he reckoned that those who are advancing "extreme positions" have goals that have "nothing to do with a search for the truth."

"The UN Hesitates About Sanctioning Syria"

Jean-Louis Turlin in right-of-center Le Figaro (10/26):  "Sanctions or no sanctions? The talks at the UN will be delicate: while everyone agrees that the goal is to get Syria’s full cooperation, the choice of method is a different story… France will probably be mandated to search for a diplomatic solution because of its influence in the region… But the White House has already increased the pressure and said ‘a military option is always a President’s last resort…’ Because the American President’s vision includes a series of international demands, such as the expulsion of Palestinian terrorists… the French fear that the chances for a unanimous vote on the resolution could be compromised… For this same reason, talks of sanctions are raised with the up most caution."

"Bashar al-Assad Wants to Resume its Dialogue with Paris"

Agnes Rotivel in Catholic La Croix (10/26):  "The young Syrian President does not understand that after 9/11 things changed drastically.  His blindness is isolating Syria even more, including within the Arab world. Paris is one of the few European capitals which continues to keep ties with Damascus.  But it is now annoyed with Syria’s autism....  The Syrian Ambassador to France acknowledged that French ministers are no longer traveling to Damascus: ‘We want to renew the dialogue, but a dialogue takes two people…’ she said on French television.  France is clear: the priority is bringing the people responsible for Hariri’s assassination to justice....  But will Bashar Al-Assad cooperate? And will Paris be able to convince Washington to wait until after December 15 before it begins sanctioning the regime?"

"France and the U.S. Have Different Priorities Regarding Syria"

Natalie Nougayrede in left-of-center Le Monde (10/26):  "France’s diplomacy is involved in a difficult balancing act: while it tries to preserve a strong cooperation with the Americans on the Syrian issue, it is also insisting on different priorities… As a French diplomat said, France’s focus is on Lebanon… It does not see eye to eye with the American administration on a change of regime in Syria. While there is a partnership between France and the U.S. on Syria, from the start the White House has adopted a different viewpoint from France’s. While France has wanted to reaffirm its position in Lebanon, President Bush’s entourage has been more concerned with a regional perspective: including putting an end to the infiltration of fighters coming from Syria into Iraq....  This discrepancy between French and American ambitions and intentions is today out in the open. While a French source says that Paris has no ulterior political motives regarding the Mehlis report and its consequences, the subtext is that the Americans do.  As long as the issue at stake is the investigation and getting Syria to cooperate, France’s position will be close to the American position, even if the tone in Paris is less aggressive than in Washington. If on the other hand there is in Washington a semantic shift towards ‘fighting against terrorism’ or ‘changing the regime’ this could cause a break or at least visible friction. The newly erected Franco-American rapprochement, recently saluted by Nicholas Burns during a stop in Paris when he said that ‘the hatchet is definitely buried,’ could well be undergoing its first test."

"Syrian Regime Under Pressure At UN"

Alain Barluet commented in right-of-center Le Figaro (10/25): “Negotiations are underway at the UN about a resolution that will be Syria’s last chance to cooperate in the investigation into Hariri’s assassination....  The notion of ‘targeted sanctions’ is a possibility....  France is eager to ‘take the time necessary for a resolution that pleases everyone.’ But on the American side, the time has come to be firm.  The alchemy of a consensus, which seemed to have worked until now may be more difficult to sustain...as the U.S. and the British call for an ‘urgent and strong reaction.’”

"Two Scenarios For An Exit Strategy"

Georges Malbrunot opined in right-of-center Le Figaro (10/22):  “The involvement of Syrian intelligence in the assassination of Hariri gives al-Assad the perfect opportunity to break away from the intelligence grip which has kept him from his own plans for economic and political reforms. This is the scenario that most Syrians and France would like to see enacted.  But the price to pay is high.  It implies new alliances in a system that is dominated by the Alawi minority.  It means breaking with a tradition of endemic corruption, which benefits the Syrian President’s close entourage. The question is whether al-Assad has the means to do battle with his own camp.  Whether he has the courage to play his poeple against his own family.  Until now no one thought he might sacrifice one of his own.  But today, al-Assad’s back is against the wall.  The second scenario says that he will ignore the conclusions of the Mehlis report and will decide to entrench himself behind his family, while continuing to rule with an iron hand. This is a North Korean-style scenario that implies an even greater regional and international isolation of Syria, with, at the end of the road, possible international sanctions....  During the next three months Syria will try to negotiate, using its so-called position to stabilize Iraq, Lebanon and the Middle East, as a negotiating chip. But is there room for negotiations?”

GERMANY:  "A Chance For The UN"

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg argued (10/27):   "The situation is getting increasingly uncomfortable for Syria's President Assad.  The United States and France are trying to get a UN majority for sanctions....  The more the suspicions are confirmed in the UN probe, the more threatening will be the situation for the president.  On the other hand, for the UN, this probe offers a unique chance.  Thanks to the Mehlis investigation, the UN has made itself the master of the proceedings.  In the UN Security Council, even the hotspurs seem to workout a factual but unanimous position that creates law and order.  If, at the end of the investigation, the UN agrees on a special tribunal, then the rulers in Damascus will soon have to gasp for breath.  Assad promised full cooperation and thus exposed himself to a united front in international policies.  If the trial results in a conviction of the guilty people without showing any consideration for their position in the Syrian power apparatus, the UN could celebrate one of its rare successes.  This success would be the greater, the more clearly this path obeys the rule of law.  This would not only set an example of how the UN could implement principles of international law but it would also strengthen the organization and international law itself."

"Where Investigators Are Better Than Soldiers"

Michael Thumann opined in center-left, weekly Die Zeit of Hamburg (10/27):  "Syria has no reliable allies in the world....  The fact that Moscow sells highly advanced missiles with a range that could reach Israel is based on mercantile, not strategic, reasons.  Even Arab nations have distanced themselves from Syria since the country's activities have been under scrutiny since the events in Lebanon.  The Saudis are outraged at the assassination of their friend Hariri, the Egyptians called upon Assad to closely cooperate with Mehlis....  Should it now not be very easy for the United States to corner Syria, to topple its leadership, and to install a pro-Western government?  No, because Bashar al-Assad's greatest strength is the post-Iraqi U.S. exhaustion.  Hardly anyone in Washington dares to use the term 'regime change' any longer.  And there are even some who raise realpolitik questions:  Is it really so bad that Syria has an Alawite minority government that rules over a Sunni majority?  That the state leader, who was educated in England, is not an anti-American Sunni?  That the responsibility for the complicated country is not in America's hands, too?…  It is not the grim U.S. threat that is now creating trouble for Syria but the 60-page Mehlis UN report.  The UN has now extended Mehlis's mandate and the United States, including rigorous UN Ambassador Bolton, is now connecting its policy with the Mehlis mission.  Please compare this to Washington's distrust towards Hans Blix's UN team in Iraq in 2002.  The return of multilateralism in the Middle East could not be more impressive....  The path to urge Assad to pursue a tolerable policy without risks and adverse effects leads via Lebanon and the cooperation with the Mehlis team.  This isn’t a bad alternative compared to the UN sanctions and destabilizing military strikes that Moscow and Beijing refused to accept.  In Lebanon, there are still Syrian intelligence people...but in any case, there is still the important and export bank for Syria's economy, and at the top of the country we still have Emile Lahoud, a loyal Syrian aide.  In Lebanon, America and the EU have the chance to rein in Syria outside of Syria.  Thus things could change as it is custom in the region:  slowly."

"Syrian Horror Regime"

Lord Weidenfeld observed in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (10/26):  "The UN report on the assassination of former Lebanese Minister President Hariri turns the spotlight right on the Damascus regime, whose brutality and corruption is similar to Saddam Hussein's regime.  Bashar Assad's father continuously killed political opponents, at least 17,000 in the town of Hama.  He looted and destroyed the neighboring Lebanon and, although he was a secular dictator like Saddam, he received money and weapons from the Iranian Mullahs, the Hizbullah's paymaster, who make Israel's border insecure.  Damascus remains a headquarters for dozens of terror organizations and a passageway for voluntary Jihadists to Iraq….  The hope London, Paris and Berlin had in the young Assad--seeing him as a charming, young, reform-orientated modern ruler with whom one could get on well--burst like a diplomatic bubble."   

"Good Opportunity"

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg editorialized (10/24):  "Rogue state of Syria.  The country of President Assad, who can look so harmless, is seen to be the protective force of the anti-Israeli terror organization Hizbullah and a refuge for Iraqi insurgents.  In addition,  Damascus is involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, the UN report by investigator Mehlis made that much clear.  The only question is whether Assad is personally involved in the plot and which consequences his opponents will draw.  The UN will not be able to rest on Mehlis' success in enlightening the serious matter.  It is not enough to point the finger at Damascus and then let the dust fall on the report in the drawers.  Now is the time we waited for to put Assad under pressure in order to prevent his regime from causing further trouble in the Middle East....  To boost the investigations, the UN should issue a critical resolution on Tuesday when it deals with Syria again.  The U.S. and France have the draft ready.  The euphoria the Mehlis report caused among many Lebanese and Syrian opposition groups arises the hope the symbolic power of a resolution will finish Assad's wavering regime."

"Poor Syria"

Martina Doering observed in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (10/24):  "The assassination was intended to delay the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon--but the opposite happened.  Maybe the murder was meant to damage Assad, but he can now get rid of some of his rivals.  However, he is running out of time, because the U.S. will not waste this wonderful opportunity.  The Middle East democratization project is currently faltering in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process does no longer exist, and an intervention in Iran is too risky.  One domino must now fall and that will be the poor Syria with its weak president, its catastrophic economy and rundown army."

"Regime Change In Syria Needs Time"

Boris Kalnoky argued in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (10/24):  "The precise UN investigations into the assassination of Lebanese opposition leader Hariri could partly break the wall of silence and will hopefully lead to the masterminds.  Given the history of political murders in the Middle East, an unusual question arises: How and when will the culprits be taken to account?...  The precondition for punishing the Syrian criminals would be regime change in Damascus.  That is the U.S. goal.  Is that realistic?   It cannot be pursued militarily, because the U.S. forces are already overstretched in Iraq.  It is also impossibly to pursue it diplomatically, because the Syrian opposition is too weak and disunited.  An Iraqization of the country, including a political collapse, Islamic radicalization and terrorism, would be the result of a fall down of the regime.  A long-term isolation of the regime by imposing UN sanctions and other Western measures would be more promising.  Meanwhile the U.S. could promote a viable opposition.  However, there will be a political earthquake in the region."   

"How The Investigator Mehlis Became A Pawn"

Tomas Avenarius commented in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (10/24):  "Investigator Mehlis originally intended just to publish the hard evidence against senior Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers.  This explains why sources around the investigator said shortly before the report's presentation that there would be no political earthquake.  It was said the report cannot be turned into a charge yet and that the expectations are absurdly high.  Now, it looks like investigator Mehlis has become a pawn in a political game.  Not unprejudiced and legally clear facts but only tough accusations against Damascus help the U.S. to make its case, which is believing that Syria disturbs its Middle East strategy."

"It Is Getting Tight"

Markus Ziener noted in business daily Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf (10/24):  "Though times have begun for the Syrian president.  The risks are not coming from outside, because the U.S. is currently not really interested in causing chaos in Syria.  At least not as long as there is no peace in Iraq.  Assad's authority at home is at risk.  A president who cannot control his intelligence services, who has no clear policy and leads the country into further isolation can sometime become a victim of his own followers.  Not today or tomorrow, but probably earlier than many think."

"Dubious Hunt"

Adrienne Woltersdorf wrote in leftist die tageszeitung of Berlin (10/24):  "Although Syria has hardly any friends among the Arab countries and even Egypt favors taking appropriate measures against Syria, according to the U.S., neighboring countries like Turkey and also Israel fear a destabilization of the region if the regime was cornered.  The UN Security Council must show tact and sensitivity here."

"Looking For Murderers"

Erik-Michael Baader wrote this editorial in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (10/22):  "Given the experience in Iraq, America will certainly go for international actions.  Whether it will decide to exert more than verbal pressure unilaterally or with a few allies if the international attempt fails, will depend on the further development in Iraq and whether America can reduce its engagement there and use its forces to pose more threats elsewhere.  It would be wishful thinking to believe that all masterminds will be punished, but the recent achievement is a huge move towards the goal of making political assassinations also risky for powerful masterminds."

ITALY:   "This Is How Putin Protects The Young Assad"

Carlo Panella remarked in the elite, liberal Il Foglio (10/27):  "The draft resolution that the U.S., France and England are going to submit to the Security Council Monday foreshadows an escalation of the current Syrian-Lebanese crisis, because it points directly to destabilizing the Syrian regime....  Apparently nothing more than what the UN did in the case of the Libyan terrorists of Lockerbie or of Milosevich and the other murderers in the Balkans.  But today, in Syria, that same judicial act would mean a direct blow to the regime and would personally humiliate Bashar al-Assad....  There are no precedents for the attempt to ‘export democracy through the judiciary,’ as expressed in this UN draft resolution, which aims at destabilizing a fully operational regime.  However, it is not a foregone conclusion that the Security Council will pass the resolution.  Vladimir Putin has, in fact, assured his full solidarity with Bashar al-Assad by phone."

"America Defies Assad: 'Answer The Judges'" 

Mara Gergolet expressed the view in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (10/27):  'In the hour of need, and of maximum international pressure, Syria can again depend on its historical ally: Russia.  ‘We would oppose any kind of sanction against Damascus,’ Moscow said through one of its foreign affairs officials.  [This means] the threat of a veto, a preventative response to the U.S. and France, which had just circulated a possible UN draft resolution....  On one side, the U.S. and France (supported by Great Britain and Germany), are trying to exploit the 'Syrian case' to resolve their Transatlantic rifts, due to the war in Iraq...and they will have to face Russia and China standing on the other side of the diplomatic front....  Assad tried to ease the tension by sending a letter to the U.S. and France, 'I declare that Syria is innocent and I will bring any Syrian who is proved to be involved in this murder to justice.'  An appeal to not use the Mehlis report as political means.  But an immediate, disdainful response came from U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton: 'President Assad had time to speak to the media, and if he has time to do so, he also has time to speak to magistrate Mehlis.'"

RUSSIA:  "Russia, West Differ On 'Common Threats, Challenges'"

Sergey Strokan commented in business-oriented Kommersant (10/27):  'The stronger our Western partners’ resolve to bring Syria’s Bashar Assad to his senses, the stronger our resolve to protect him.  The Syria story is redolent of the Uzbekistan one.   As the West has questions about Andijan, unclear on what happened there, we don’t, seeing attempts at an international inquiry as outside interference.  The stronger U.S. and European pressure, the stronger our desire to neutralize it.  Iran is another example.  America, backed by Europe, believes the UN Security Council needs to take on Tehran and Damascus.   Russia, as always, objects, making a host of reservations.  Moscow stands firm, claiming a bargain is out of the question.  Syria, Uzbekistan and Iran make up a sequel.  While one may be an incident and two a coincidence, three look like a trend.   Lately, it has been said more than once that, while they may differ on democracy, Moscow and Washington see eye to eye on fighting international terrorism, a linchpin of their cooperation.  It has been said that we are in the same boat, facing the same threats and challenges.  What kind of partnership is that if one country (a group of countries) tries to find out if the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister is an act of state terrorism, and the other virtually resists its efforts?  Events around Iran and Uzbekistan don’t exactly fit into the common struggle against international terrorism, either.”

"Russia Has To Compromise"

Official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta  editorialized (10/27):  'Under the circumstances, Russia, apparently, will have to compromise.  On the one hand, Moscow cannot mar its relations with leading European countries and the United States.  On the other hand, it must demonstrate that it won’t leave a long-standing partner in the lurch."

"Russia To Protect Assad’s Next Of Kin"

Yekaterina Kudashkina said in business-oriented Vedomosti (10/27):  "Although Syria’s role in the Hariri assassination is still unclear, the United States, Britain and France are ready to impose economic sanctions on it.  Anti-Syrian sanctions, experts say, will complicate the situation in the Middle East."

"Stepping Into It Again?"

Nationalist opposition Sovetskaya Rossiya ran this by Vyacheslav Tetekin (10/27):  "What is going around Syria is a copy of the scheme NATO used in the Balkans....  Once Syria meets some of Mehlis’s demands, he will put forward new ones.  This may go on forever.  The idea is that Syria’s complicity in the terrorist act has to be proved, no matter what, and its leadership has to be paralyzed and removed.  The Mehlis commission is part of a crawling coup, with the Hariri assassination as a point of departure.  Why has Syria been picked as a target?  Syria, a staunch supporter of the Palestinians in their struggle for an end to the occupation of Arab lands and a return of refugees, is in the way.  Damascus hosts missions of a number of Palestinian organizations the United States and Israel list as ‘terrorist.’   Syria’s close ties, including military ties, with Russia are yet another irritant....  The Kremlin needs to pause and think...before the U.S. plot defeats another of Russia’s allies."

"Syria In Trouble"

Yelena Suponina wrote in reformist Vremya Novostey (10/24):  “Tomorrow the UN Security Council will meet to discuss its options regarding Syria.   The 17-million-strong country is in big trouble. With its 40-year old President Bashar Assad playing for time, his situation is indeed bad.  But, it is not hopeless.  For one thing, as they turn up the heat, the Americans have no alternative to Assad. For another, they are tied up in Iraq.   Besides, the Middle East remains a powder keg, with Iraq at war, Lebanon rocked by blasts, and Iran in the midst of a nuclear program crisis.   So it is not so much Assad, as the region that opponents of international sanctions, Moscow included, want to protect from another cycle of violence....  The Mehlis report reads like a gripping detective story, its plot built subtly, making the reader suspect Syria right from the outset.   But it lacks evidence.”

"Mr. X Turns In Syrian Leader"

Ivan Groshkov said in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (10/24):  "Though the investigation will continue until December 15, and its findings are inconclusive, Washington, London and Paris are firm in their resolve to punish Syria. Their goal, many observers believe, is to weaken President Bashar Assad’s regime as much as possible....  Syria rejects all charges, calling them 'politically motivated' and 'biased.'"

"Russia, France, To Try To Rescue Syria"

Business-oriented Kommersant remarked editorially (10/21):  "Considering Syria a chief ally in the Middle East, Russia is determined to kill a resolution on sanctions.   As one way of doing so, Moscow is considering a joining hands with France during the discussion of the Syrian issue in the UN Security Council Tuesday."

AUSTRIA:  "Looking For Consensus"

Foreign affairs editor Gudrun Harrer for independent Der Standard opined (10/27):  "This time, the U.S. is not is a hurry, but is more interested in building consensus than in having the matter brought to a quick resolution.  Washington is striving for a broad majority in the UN Security Council and is prepared to accept gradual progress.  Above all, it wants to avoid the impression that other issues than the Hariri murder are at stake - namely a settling of accounts with the Syrian regime that is the only one to openly oppose U.S. policy in the Middle East.  The purpose of the American effort is clear:  The U.S. is determined to present the Hariri case as one for the international community to deal with.  In addition, there are more and more warnings of further destabilization of the region and those that come from Israel, where the Syrian Baath regime definitely has no friends, are being taken doubly seriously.  Perhaps, this time, unlike the Iraqi case, Washington will consider more carefully what exactly it wants to achieve.  This reprieve would be a chance for Syria's President Assad to save his country, and himself, from harm."

"Assad Backed Against The Wall"

Foreign affairs editor for centrist Die Presse Christian Ultsch commented (10/24):  "Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is backed against the wall - and the U.S. will do anything it can to ensure he will not change this uncomfortable position until he resigns. The UN report on the murder of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could actually turn out to be the beginning of the end of the Syrian regime....  However, after its experience in Iraq the U.S. will be wary of engaging in a military adventure.  Instead, it will count on the Syrian regime breaking down under pressure.  What remains is the not unimportant question of what will come after Assad. Islamists?  Chaos that will spread into Lebanon? It will be necessary to be firm in preventing panic reactions in Damascus.  After all, more destabilization is the last thing the Middle East needs at the moment."

"Sword Of Damocles Over Damascus"

Foreign affairs editor for mass circulation Kurier Livia Klingl opined (10/24):  "After the publication of the UN report, the sword of Damocles is hanging over Damascus on a very thin thread.  And this time, the U.S. does not stand more or less alone with its democratic imperative for the Middle East.  It has an ally even in France (after all, Paris still sees itself in the role of Lebanon's protector). Britain is on the U.S.' side anyway. And Syria--in contrast to the recalcitrant, but large, populous oil country Iran--is not a difficult target for pressure from outside....  More than ever, Damascus needs to decide whether it wants to modernize, which would mean transparency and democratization (which would also benefit its own citizens), or accept political and perhaps even military unpleasantness."

"Finger-Pointing At Syria"

Foreign affairs editor for independent Der Standard Gudrun Harrer opined (10/23):  "It is difficult to predict what the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon will do next.  Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud is a candidate for resignation but that would only be sacrificing a meaningless scapegoat. What the U.S. wants from Assad is prostration of the kind that it demanded of Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war. There is no uniform assessment of whether Lahoud could afford to do that if he wanted to against the will of the old guard, which includes long-term Foreign Minister Faruk al-Shara, against whom the report levels charges, and a part of his very complicated family.  Seen from the opposite perspective, it would also be interesting to know what price the U.S. would be prepared to pay for Syria's cooperation in Iraq.  However, it's doubtful whether this would suffice after the UN report."

"Backed Against the Wall"

Foreign affairs editor for independent Salzburger Nachrichten Martin Stricker wrote (10/24):  "There is no definite proof yet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's involvement in the Hariri murder, but there is hard evidence suggesting his close associates had a hand in it.  UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's decision to prolong the investigation until December 15 is supposed to firm up the evidence or, less likely, rebut it.  The question is whether Assad was personally involved in the conspiracy or his intelligence services acted independently. It is possible the generals wanted to do away with the recalcitrant Prime Minister in Beirut because they felt their lucrative business jeopardized.  If it turns out that Assad was informed of or even ordered the murder, he will be the next one before the tribunal.  If his generals acted on their own, this is proof of his inability to exert control over them. Either way--the end of this regime is near."

BELGIUM:  "Syria’s Regime Fights Grimly For Survival"

Foreign affairs writer Erik Ziarczyk analyzed in independent financial daily De Tijd (10/26):  "Assad is fighting for survival.  He is counting on Russia, one of his loyal allies.  On Tuesday night Syria’s President called his colleague Vladimir Putin in Moscow.  Apparently that conversation was a success--as Russia said yesterday that it will do all it can to stop sanctions against Syria.  Moscow can do that easily by using its veto right in the UNSC.  However, will Putin’s support suffice for the survival of the Syrian regime?  Assad has been under heavy fire for more than one year.  The French denounced the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon and the United States criticized Damascus for doing nothing against the Muslim extremists who traveled to Iraq via Syria to join the anti-American insurgency.  In both dossiers Assad gave in.  At the end of April Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon...and as far as its border with Iraq is concerned, Damascus says that it is doing its utmost to stop would-be insurgents.  There are many indications that Assad is not in a strong position.  He never succeeded in following the footsteps of his father who died five years ago.  However, if the Assad regime falls Syrian chaos may spread to the rest of the region.  With the events in Iraq in mind, no one is waiting for that to happen."

"Temperature Rising On Bashar And Syria"

Foreign editor Paul De Bruyn opined in conservative Christian-Democrat Gazet van Antwerpen (10/26):  "Damascus is a city under high tension.  Bashar Assad and his team feel that the temperature is rising.  They are doing everything they can to cover themselves against German chief investigator Detlev Mehlis’s allegations that Damascus planned the murder of Hariri....   Damascus is scared to death that the Americans will exploit that report to launch an attack.  That fear is exaggerated.  Even though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Senate hearings that she does not rule out military action against Syria, the Americans have their hands full in Iraq.  They cannot afford a second war at this moment.  However, the Americans--supported by the British and the Israelis--are eager to isolate Syria.  Assad’s regime has been a thorn in Washington’s flesh for a long time.  Syria is Israel’s most unyielding enemy and tries to harass the United States in Iraq.  The Americans believe that the Syrians give support to the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq.  Washington has already declared limited sanctions--the Syria Accountability Act--but it wants to go further and press Syria hard.  Assad and his followers have every reason to be concerned....  Syria is in trouble.  Its activities in Lebanon have even led to a rapprochement between France and the United States.  French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says that the UNSC must not decide too quickly about sanctions, but last year the French cooperated with the Americans on UN resolution 1559.  That resolution demands a de facto end to Syria’s ruling in Lebanon.  So, pressure is increasing.  Will Bashar Assad be able to cope with that?"

ROMANIA:  "The Middle East Is Boiling"

Simona Haiduc opined in the financial Curentul (10/27):  “Tehran didn’t comment [on Iran allegedly hosting 25 Al Qaida members], even though everybody, including Russia, expected it to take a stand....  Since Israel, just like the Western world, considers Syria to be one of the major factors of instability in the region.  The fact that Russia provides it [Syria] with weapons that later end up in extremists’ hands, means that Moscow also contributes to the Middle East situation.”

"The Terrorist State--The Syrian Channel"

The independent Cotidianul carried an editorial by Marius Draghici (10/24):  “What Syrian or international tribunal could judge President al-Assad if his involvement is proven?  How could the international community make the difference between a group that planned the attack and the Syrian state, as long as the very brother-in-law of the president and other high Syrian officials took part in the ‘how shall we kill Hariri’ team-meeting?  A country that kills the prime minister of another country...isn’t that a declaration of war?  The UN should get out of the funk it finds itself in after the Iraqi invasion and show that it can manage worldwide security.  Syria had already been labeled an evil axis state by the Americans.  If the evidence was questionable at that time, the conclusions of the UN investigation are clear, both for the Hariri case and for the usefulness and future of this institution.”

SPAIN:  "Hariri's Phantom Against Syria"

Independent El Mundo wrote (10/23):  "All of the analysts agree that Bashar al-Assad is not the astute and iron dictator that his father previously was.  However, that relaxing of power has ironically not favor a progressive path towards democracy, but rather the growing weight of an oligarchy born from the Armed Forces and in the Baathist party....  It’s difficult to guess at the consequences that the publishing of the report will have on the Baathist Syrian regime and on the stability of the region.  But it’s paradoxical that Hariri's murder has turned against those that planned it, showing the shame of the most hermetic Middle Eastern regime." 

"Earthquake In Syria"

Centrist La Vanguardia wrote (10/24):  "The murder of the former prime minister in Lebanon was not only a crime, but also a mistake. Firstly because it caused an indignant international and domestic reaction and led to the retreat of Syrian forces...and (secondly it led to) the Revolution of the Cedar that strongly reduced the influence of Damascus in the political life of Beirut.  Now, as the investigation is arriving at the doors of the presidential palace in Damascus, what is in danger is the continuity of the Baathist Syrian regime itself....  Syria is located in an enormously hot region of the world, and thus its regime does not have much international support.  The U.S. is organizing a meeting of the UN Security Council to decide what to do with the informative report."

SWEDEN:  "Beirut Bombing Reaches The Syrian Ruler"

Editorial writer Olle SvenningOn expressed the view in the Social Democratic Stockholm tabloid Aftonbladet (10/26):  “The car bomb in Beirut is on verge of blowing away the basis of the young Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad--a physician who inherited his position after his brutal and enigmatic father.  He has, after an initial reform period, become a captive of the Baath Party.  Repression has been resumed, and dissatisfaction is rising because of the miserable economy.... The UN Security Council has given Syria and its young ruler a two-month respite. Then there is a threat of sharpened sanctions and exclusion. The crisis of the dictatorship may result in political successes for some states. The U.S. may, without the use of military force, be relieved of one of the states belonging to ‘the axis of evil.’  France may get back its clients in Lebanon, and Israel may get rid of its most hostile enemy....  In Damascus hundreds of thousands of pro-government demonstrators protest the UN report.  They hail their leader, but they are so alone in the world.”

TURKEY:  "The Hariri Report"

Yilmaz Oztuna commented in the conservative-nationalist Turkiye (10/25):  “The ruling Baath party organized demonstrations in several Syrian cities yesterday to protest the UN report, but this will only strengthen the U.S. thesis.  Syria will not bow its head easily.  But many countries, including Turkey, are examining the report carefully.  Secretary Rice stated that in the 21st century, assassinations take place only in places where there are anti-democratic regimes.  This statement echoes the tone of the US mission to bring democracy to Syria after Afghanistan and Iraq.  Washington wants to coordinate with London, Israel, and possibly even Ankara to carry out this mission.  If Ankara acts against the principles of the strategic partnership and remains aloof from the U.S. initiative, then the U.S. will take Armenia and Kurdistan as its partners.”

"Before The Syrian Crisis Grows"

Sami Kohen commented in the mass appeal Milliyet (10/25):  “The international community’s efforts to exert pressure on Syria will have an impact on relations between Ankara and Damascus as well.  Things might become difficult for Ankara, as its bilateral relationship with Syria reached a significant phase during the last two years.  Turkey continued its rapprochement with Syria even when the U.S. was pressuring the Assad regime....  The involvement of the United Nations in the Syrian issue and the new process toward Damascus are incompatible with Turkish diplomacy’s wish to develop bilateral ties with Syria and to remain in step with the international political consensus....  In fact Turkey, by using its special status in the region, can play a role to minimize the potential impact of the Syrian crisis.  Turkey is capable of giving conciliation messages to both the Assad regime and the international community, and by doing so lowering tension in the region.  Turkey’s message to Assad could address several topics, including that the regime must take the UN stance seriously and not defy the international community, and that it must end support for militant groups and insurgents and accelerate the domestic reform process.  Turkey’s message to President Bush and the West in general could include the need to avoid taking any military action, not being so harsh on Assad, being patient by using diplomatic measures, and being careful about the possible backlash of economic sanctions against Syria.  The time is perfect for Turkey to check the atmosphere for a diplomatic initiative like this.”

"The Hariri Report"

Yilmaz Oztuna commented in the conservative-nationalist Turkiye (10/25):  “The ruling Baath party organized demonstrations in several Syrian cities yesterday to protest the UN report, but this will only strengthen the U.S. thesis.  Syria will not bow its head easily.  But many countries, including Turkey, are examining the report carefully.  Secretary Rice stated that in the 21st century, assassinations take place only in places where there are anti-democratic regimes.  This statement echoes the tone of the US mission to bring democracy to Syria after Afghanistan and Iraq.  Washington wants to coordinate with London, Israel, and possibly even Ankara to carry out this mission.  If Ankara acts against the principles of the strategic partnership and remains aloof from the U.S. initiative, then the U.S. will take Armenia and Kurdistan as its partners.”

"The Syrian Regime Goes toward An End"

Erdal Safak commented in the mass appeal Sabah (10/22):  “The Hariri investigation report, along with the international consequences for the Damascus regime, will have a potential impact on Turkish-Syrian relations.  First, the report clearly documents that the assassination was carried out by high-level Syrian officials.  The U.S. and France are prepared to take this issue to the Security Council, and will ask the UNSC to give Syria two options: either full cooperation on the Hariri issue, or total isolation....  If Assad elects to cooperate, the 40-year-old Baath regime in Damascus will come to an end, because Assad will not be able to cooperate with the UN if he is opposed by the Syrian intelligence service, the army, and high-rank Baath Party officials.  But if he declines to accept the international ultimatum, he will face severe challenges, both domestic and foreign....  The U.S. seems to have taken a lesson from Iraq, and does not want to carry out a military operation against Syria.  The U.S. will focus instead on moving the Damascus regime toward collapse by implementing full isolation, both diplomatic and economic.”

"A Blow from the UN to Damascus"

Sami Kohen wrote in the mainstream Milliyet (10/22):  “As expected, the UN report linked Syrian officials with the Hariri murder.  Of course, Syrian officials reject these allegations and accuse the UN inspectors of politicizing the issue.  This report will form the basis for UN action and shape the future stance of the U.S. administration toward Syria.  The question is whether the U.S. will be satisfied with the UN decision to blame those who are responsible for the assassination.  Or will the U.S. take a step forward and pressure the UN to apply sanctions against Syria?  If some kind of sanctions come to the UN agenda, will Russia and China go along?  It is obvious that the U.S. will use the report as an excuse to pressure Syria.  One of the possibile means of pressure is a US military operation against Syria.  Although Secretary Rice has said that ‘every option is on the table,’ many observers believe that this is little more than a psychological pressure tactic, and that the US has no desire at the moment for another military operation.  We hope this is true.  If the more recent 'Washington Post' analysis is correct, the U.S. strategy on Syria is not to topple Assad, but to change his policy.  If the goal is to change Assad’s policies through diplomatic channels, Turkey can play an active role that would be to everyone's benefit.”

MIDDLE EAST

ISRAEL:  "An Unfit Regime"

Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized (10/24):  "Lebanon, which has done more than any other party in the region, including the United States and the Arab League, to free itself from Syria's hold, also wishes to sever itself from the 'joint track' doctrine that Syria dictated.  This is the doctrine that prevented Lebanon from conducting peace negotiations with Israel on its own.  Lebanon's political independence is therefore an important Israeli interest, which, even if Israel does not succeed at this time in persuading Lebanon to advance toward peace negotiations with it, at least holds out hope that Syria would not stand in the way of the process.  It is possible that the conclusions of the two investigative commissions attest merely to another attempt to adapt Syria's policies to the ambitions of the United States, especially regarding Syrian cooperation in the war in Iraq.  That, however, is not sufficient to negate their basic assumption: a regime that employs terrorist means to implement its policy will have to brought to account and even punished."

"Catching Rogues"

Conservative, independent Jerusalem Post editorialized (10/23): "The significance of the Mehlis report is that it shows how, given an international climate of decreasing tolerance for terrorism, victimized nations can puncture the thin veil of deniability and doubt that has protected aggressor regimes until now.  It says that the West will not wait for the level of proof required by a criminal court before pointing an accusing finger and acting to protect itself.  Syrian protestations regarding flimsy evidence and the presumption of innocence are, of course, risible coming from a brutal police state whose idea of justice has infamously included carpet-bombing its own citizens.  Yet the fact that the regime would even attempt such a defense shows that it still believes that there are no limits to Western gullibility and weakness.  This time, we hope, Damascus may have taken its 'misunderestimation' of the international community one step too far."

WEST BANK:  "The Dilemma Is Judicial And The Solution Is Political"

Jawad Bashiti wrote in independent Al-Ayyam (10/24):  “I think that ‘politics’ will take charge from now on in the fact-finding process into the Hariri assassination.  I also guess that the center of actual authority in the Syrian regime will not give up looking for ‘judicial salvation’....  The Bush administration made sure to clarify to him [Bashar al-Assad] that it does not like him facing a destiny similar to that of Saddam Hussein’s.  The objective, that [the U.S.] is still clinging to is to force [Assad] to change his ‘behavior and stances’ in a way that meets its own strategic interests in Syria and neighboring Iraq, Lebanon and Palestinian territories in particular.  Thus, its message to him is, ‘Buy your survival by changing your attitudes and positions.’”   

"How Many Resolutions?"

Ahmad Dahbour commented in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (10/24):  “We are not in the course of attacking or defending the Syrian position as regards the killing of Hariri....  Nonetheless, the American President’s jump into the UNSC does not show his concern about the truth...rather it is another proof of the new tradition that the entire world is obliged to bow to: America’s right to attack any place under international legitimacy pretexts....  According to America, the UNSC has to either implement its orders or be set aside as a punished student....  And now, what’s the number of resolutions America plans to issue against Syria?  The 'bazaar' shows two so far and who knows, it might reach three or four following the Mehlis final report.  Under such a jam of resolutions, the world has the right to ask: where are justice and logic?”

EGYPT:  "The Lebanese Issue"

Executive Editor-in-Chief of independent Nahdit Misr, Muhammad Hasan al-Alfi commented (Internet version, 10/27):   "The opening of the Lebanese issue means dragging Syria into the Security Council and the Security Council this time does not mean the U.S. alone, but also France, which is hysterically holding a knife and looking forward to an adventure in the region, an adventure that it once refused when (U.S. President George) Bush launched his illegal war on Iraq and destroyed its legitimacy and its people."

SAUDI ARABIA:  "Dangers Of Escalation"

Jeddah’s conservative Al-Madina editorialized (10/25):  "It is unlikely that the U.S. will use military force against Syria at this time.  A military action would weaken U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to distracting attention from the Iranian nuclear file.  On the other hand, opening another battlefront is opening the gates of hell for terrorism in the region.  Good initiatives for more cooperation are needed from Syria in order to prove its innocence from any implication in Hariri’s assassination."

"Damascus In The Danger Zone"

Jeddah’s conservative Al-Bilad editorialized (10/25):  "Even if the Mehlis report contained a true implication of Syria in the assassination of Hariri, the U.S. effort for an international resolution to condemn Syria and use economic sanctions is unwise. The case should not be politicized.  Whoever committed the crime should be punished, but it is unwise to punish all the people just because there have been previous issues between the two countries. Substantive immediate cooperation is needed from Syria to unveil all facts and keep Syria out of the danger zone."

"Lebanese Syrian Brotherhood"   

Abha’s moderate Al-Watan editorialized (10/24): "The Mehlis report was just the first step toward the truth... The American Administration will make use of this opportunity to place the responsibility for the assassination of Al-Hariri on Syria.  It will hold Syria  responsible for deterioration in Iraq and the failure of the peace process as will as the delay of democracy in the region.  These claims will find ears in preparation of a resolution that Washington thinks will achieve its interests in the future."

"Mehlis’ Report And Pressure On Syria"

Jeddah’s conservative Al-Nadwa editorialized (10/24):  "Although it is not the final report, there is a firm European and American stand against Syria in the wake of the Mehils report implicating Syrian officials in Harriri’s murder...there are different reasons behind the American escalations including Syria's stance on the war in Iraq and accusations of militant infiltration to strengthen resistance in Iraq.  The Mehlis report should not be an American excuse to settle accounts with Syria."

"The Syrian Deadlock"

Jeddah’s conservative Al-Bilad editorialized (10/24):   "An invisible power has changed the Israeli-Arab struggle to an Arab one since the issuance of the Mehlis Report.  This will distract the attention of the international community from the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.  A pre-arranged plan has been made to get rid of the Syrian regime, which will increase tension in the whole region...where the only beneficiary will be Israel."

"Political Game Seen In Report"  

Sabriyah S. Jawhar wrote in the English-language Jedda Saudi Gazette (Internet Version, 10/23):  "The report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis was released Thursday and accused Syria and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials as responsible for the assassination of Hariri who was killed with 20 others when a bomb blew up his convoy on a downtown Beirut street on Feb. 14.  The report called the killing of Hariri a terrorist act and said that Syrian leaders carefully planned it over many months with the complicity of Lebanese security forces.  The primary suspect has been identified by a diplomat with intimate knowledge of the inquiry as the powerful chief of Syria's military intelligence, the brother-in-law of Syria's president.  Before the announcement of the report the U.S. government stated that it was waiting for the results before turning to the UN Security Council to ask for sanctions to be imposed on Syria.  Shortly after its release, U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton began a campaign to rally international support for actions against Damascus. 

ALGERIA:  "After Four Months"

El Khabar an Arabic-language paper with the country's largest circulation, commented (10/20):  “Detlev Mehlis, the German magistrate and the head of the International Investigative Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, issued his report after four months of investigation and 400 interviews.  The report highlighted indications that the heads of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were involved in Hariri's assassination.  The report called upon Syria to answer many questions that remain vague.”   

"UN Investigation Results"

Liberte a French-language newspaper with a medium circulation, commented (10/20):  “The UN investigation into Hariri's assassination has concluded with the involvement of Damascus, much to the satisfaction of Washington which dreams of fighting this country that Bush has accused of fueling terrorism in Iraq.  The head of the UN Investigative Commission, German magistrate Mehlis, said there is convergent proof showing Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act.  After four months of investigation, he submitted his report to the UN Secretary General on Thursday.”  

"Report Implicates Syria, Lebanon"

El Watan, one of the most influential French-language dailies, commented (10/20):  “The crime caused a general outcry in the world and accelerated the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon, which is a requirement of UN Security Council Resolution 1559.  The first conclusion, immediately denied by the implicated parties, indicates that Syria is involved together with Lebanon.  ‘There is converging evidence showing both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act,’ affirmed the head of the Commission, Detlev Mehlis, in this report submitted to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on Thursday (October 20)) after four months' investigation and released to the public that evening in New York.  Regarding other considerations, such as supposed motives for the assassination, the report remains cautious by implicating groups and not States.  The German magistrate stressed that the assassination could not have been committed without the agreement of high-ranking Syrian officials.”

JORDAN: "Mehlis' Report: The End Or Beginning Of Al-Baath [resurrection]?"

Columnist Manar Rashwani writes on the op-ed page of the independent, centrist Arabic Al-Ghad (10/24):  "True, the United States and others are going to use the report to finish off the last of the Arab pan-Arab campaign of slogans by using the Syrian Baath party.  It is equally true that many will not be sorry to see that party and its heritage go.  Thus, the real influence of the Mehlis report is revealed--even if the entire international community does not adopt negative procedures against Syria--in the Lebanese joy and welcoming of the report.  The cover of the Arab pan-Arab slogans is lifted, and now we have to face the reality about the depth of the gap that exists between us, not just as countries but also as individuals and groups within the state.  The Mehlis report may just be the declaration of the end of the Baath party in Syria and then the entire Arab world, especially now that the American invasion has terminated its existence in Iraq.  Having said that, both that invasion and the report provide opportunities for us to acknowledge the termination of the age of 'pan-Arab slogans' that are no longer able to pull in our ranks.  We genuinely need new thought and practice that lead to the real resurrection of the nation."

"Notes About The Report"

Daily columnist Jamil Nimri remarked in centrist Al-Ghad (10/24):  "I read Mehlis' report carefully and I must say that I found its presentation of the work of the committee not very convenient.  It fluctuates in terms of style and professionalism, so that there are boring details vis-a-vis some formalities and procedures, and extreme summaries of important clarifications....  The result is that the very strong suspicions do not leave much room for Syria other than giving its full cooperation to the investigation.  This will protect it from international decisions and sanctions until that time when the investigation that could last years and the trials that could also take years are concluded."

"What's After The Mehlis Report?"

Columnist Raja Talab writes on the op-ed page of semi-official, influential Arabic Al-Rai (10/24):  "The Security Council will tomorrow hold a session to discuss the [Mehlis] report with the likelihood that it will call for completing the investigation and will ask Damascus to cooperate and to respond to the committee's demands....  This calls upon the Arab countries that are concerned for Syria's welfare to advise the Syrian leadership to respond to the demands of the investigation committee.  I believe that the spirit by which the Syrian leadership handled the implementation of Resolution 1559 on Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon should be the same spirit by which Damascus handles the upcoming Security Council decisions.  Otherwise, Syria would just be allowing America, France and Britain to get at it very easily.  Going along with the international will and desire is not weakness and going against is not strength.  The experience of the former Iraqi regime is still before us and it is an experience we do not wish upon our brothers in Syria."

“Tomorrow's Security Council Session: An Opportunity For Bush And His Administration”

Columnist Mohammad Kharroub wrote on the op-ed page of Al-Rai (10/24):  "President Bush wants to direct attention away from his domestic problems, which are real problems and cause him a great deal of worry, not just because his popularity is deteriorating, but also because congressional elections are at hand and the loss of the Republicans would mean that Bush is held to blame.  That is why he wants to use the Mehlis report for a political accomplishment, which he badly needs following the humble or insignificant political and field results yielded by the Iraqi referendum on the constitution and the rising indications that pre-referendum Iraq is itself post-referendum Iraq."

"Mehlis Report, What's Next?"

Daily columnist Fahd Fanek writes on the back-page of Al-Rai (10/24):  "The Mehlis report was not written to be presented to a court of law but rather to a political entity.  That is why Mehlis allowed himself to state not just facts and evidence, but also a group of observations and convictions that would otherwise be worthless in a court of law and that would create the required climate for further procedures such as economic and political sanctions.  Hariri's killing might have gone by as easily as other killings have gone by before had the circumstances been different and had Syria and the Syrian regime not been targeted.  America is not upset about Hariri's killing, but it saw this crime as its opportunity to tighten the noose around Syria's neck to bring it on board....  Syria's situation today is very similar to that of Iraq previously when it had been required to prove that it did not have weapons of mass destruction.  Syria is now required to prove its innocence.  In other words, the accused is guilty until proven innocent."

"The Report: Political Rush And Judicial Delay"

Daily columnist Rakan Majali wrote on the back-page of center-left, influential Arabic Al-Dustour:  "It has become clear that the report is targeting Syria, and that the United States considers it a stepping stone for rallying international support for its plans against Syria by going through the Security Council and snatching whatever kind of condemnation, thus allowing it to get international coverage for escalating its pressures on Syria....  We believe that the investigative committee's report was addressed to the Security Council and that there will not be any legal proceedings."

KUWAIT:  "The Right Direction"

Kuwait's independent Arabic-language Al-Qabas editorialized (Internet Version, 10/23):  It is useless to persist in obstinacy in dealing with the results of the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, because the Lebanese, and even the Arabs, know the content of the Mehlis' report. In fact, the details contained in the UN report are fewer than what many people know, and the reasons are well known and they pertain to the judicial and legal mechanisms of the investigation.  This call is directed at Syria in its capacity as the primary suspect in an international investigation conducted under the auspices of the Untied Nations and backed by the entire world and by all Arabs. This is because there is an overwhelming Arab desire that Syria must not continue on the same path that Baghdad had previously followed, because the end is well known, and because the Arabs are as concerned for safeguarding Syria's position on the Arab- Israeli conflict as they are for sparing the Syrian people what the Iraqi people had suffered as a result of an international embargo for which they paid a heavy price....  No one should ignore the fact that the international atmosphere is not in favor of Damascus, a result of previous accumulations and of breaking many promises on reforms, Iraq, and Lebanon.  Many Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council states, have sought to ease the pressure being put on Syria, and they will continue to purse this policy. Yet, these states now call on Damascus to handle current issues wisely and rationally before it is too late, and to refrain from taking hasty stances that could put it on a one-way path, so that these states can continue their help to Damascus. The ball is now in Damascus's court and we hope it will throw it in the right direction.

LEBANON:  "It’s Time For Russia To Use Its Sway With Syria To Bring About Positive Change"

An unsigned editorial in English-language The Daily Star remarked (10/27):  “Russia, a key trade partner with Syria, holds considerable sway over Damascus.  We hope that Russia will use its influence in a positive way to promote peaceful change in the Middle East.  The need for careful review and consideration of the Syrian regime’s behavior is long over due, and Russia can play an instrumental role in encouraging the Syrian regime to change its ways.”

"The Last Stop"

Sateh Noureddine wrote in Arab nationalist As-Safir (10/27):   “Although the U.S.-French draft resolution on Syria --that was presented yesterday to the Security Council members---is still a draft and can be amended, however, it will still be a very tough document with impossible conditions.  President Asad will not be able to comply with its demands, but will have to hold negotiations in accordance with its conditions.  The draft resolution used very tough terminology, to give the Russians and the Chinese a chance to amend it.  However, in exchange for the U.S.-French approval of these amendments, the Russians and the Chinese will have to agree on certain conditions in the resolution such as freezing suspects’ assets and banning them from travel.  The most important chance Syria has now is Mehlis’ public call on Syria to cooperate and conduct its own investigation into the assassination.  As is known, the Syrian leadership never embarked upon this step for obvious reasons.”

"'Serious Cooperation' Is The Title Of The Upcoming Diplomatic Battle"

Rosana Bou-Monsef opined in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (10/27):  “It seems that the Syrian leadership has started to take seriously the possibility that a new resolution might be passed against it soon at the Security Council. This time, Syria is not behaving in the nonchalant manner it adopted when Resolution 1559 was adopted.  The Syrian diplomacy took several steps, most importantly the letters that were sent by President Asad to several countries.  At the same time Syrian diplomats were active at the U.N. and other countries.  This activity produced a series of pledges by the Syrian leadership that can be summarized as follows:  1) Syria expressed its desire to cooperate with the Investigation Commission despite all the accusations...;  2) The Syrian Ambassador to France called for resumption of discussions between Syria and France expressing her country’s desire not only to be France’s friend but its ally as well...; 3) The Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. confirmed his country’s intention to support Lebanon’s stability.  Obviously, all these pledges...need practical implementation particularly since the world community is always skeptical about Syria’s methods in using ‘time’ to stall and avoid its commitments.”

"The Last Stop"

A  daily column by Sateh Noureddine in Arab Nationalist As-Safir (10/22):  “One judicial step forward, two political steps back.  What is good about the Mehlis Report is that it was issued by an international commission that enjoys objectivity, credibility, and neutrality.  As for the details of its content, it came as no surprise to the Lebanese, rather it was much less that what is known and is being circulated and published in Lebanon and abroad....  There remains many factors in the investigation that need to be followed-up, and without them, the entire picture of Al-Hariri’s assassination will not be complete...but the Mehlis Report is a very influential card on the table of negotiations...with Syria”

"The Truth And The Downfall Of The Joint Political Regime"

An editorial by Paul Sha’ul in pro-Hariri Al-Mustaqbal (10/22):  “The joint Lebanese-Syrian regime plotted, arranged, and executed the assassination....  When we say that this is the day of the truth, this implies that it is Rafiq Hariri’s day; but it is not only for Rafiq Hariri, and not only to avenge his killers....  It is the declaration of the downfall of the security regime in Lebanon and a conviction of the security regime in Syria.”

"Lebanon After The Mehlis Report"

A commentary by Mustafa al-Hajj in Hizbullah weekly Al-Intikad (10/21):  “Mehlis is no longer a judicial investigator coming to reveal the truth in the assassination...; rather he has become a frightening nightmare.  His report is no longer merely a judicial version of what occurred, but has become a nuclear bomb that is intended to move Lebanon, not from one phase to another, but from one era to another.....  In any case, Lebanon that never collapsed under the weight of the American-Israeli military machine will not collapse under the superficial Mehlis nightmare.”

"The Impact Of Mehlis Report On President Lahoud’s Fate And Hizballah’s Options"

An editorial by Nicolas Nassif in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (10/22):   “The Mehlis Report put an end to skepticism related to Syria’s role in the assassination....  It is clear that the UN International Independent Investigation Committee linked the political motives of the crime and Syria’s influence on the Lebanese political authorities--a fact that enabled the Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon to move freely on the ground....  The report placed Syria in confrontation with the Security Council....  It also placed Syria in confrontation with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who were trying to protect Damascus....  The report also put President Emile Lahoud in a very difficult position....  The man is a fundamental ally of a country that is a suspect in Hariri’s assassination....  The report also placed Hizbullah, Syria’s strongest ally, in a difficult position.  On one hand, Damascus always protected the Resistance and its weapons; on the other hand Hizballah cannot ignore the results in the report.”

"Ousted By The Parliament Not The Street"

An editorial by Ghassan Tueni in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (10/22):   “We agree with Michel Aoun.  We do not want the Lebanese President to be ousted by the ‘street!’  However, we do not want him to continue in his ‘appointed’ position...as  President by a decision of the security intelligence regime in Damascus....  Similarly, we do not want to elect a President who is against Syria.  We want him to be with Syria, but not from or for Syria!  This is what we wrote in 1976...We told Syria at the time that Syria has no interest in trying to rule Lebanon because it will eventually fail....  We are saying this today because the current presidential crisis...is threatening the constitutional balance between institutions, and is blocking the president’s ability to practice his role.”

"The Mehlis Earthquake"

An editorial by Rajeh Khoury in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (10/22):  “We are not facing a regular report as much as we can say that we are facing a major and unprecedented scandal....  If Hariri’s assassination had represented an earthquake caused by one ton of dynamite, the Mehlis report is also an earthquake that surpasses Lebanon and Syria to the entire region....  This report drew a red line before the concept of political crime in the entire East and perhaps the world....  It can be said that Hariri was not only martyred for Lebanon, but also to end an era of ‘easy killings’ in the Middle East region, and to prevent the policy of assassination.”

ASIA PACIFIC

AUSTRALIA:  "UN Moves To Put Syria In The Dock"

Editorial in the liberal Melbourne Age observed (10/25): “The U.S. refuses to rule out military action, but there is also talk of a 'Gaddafi deal' if Syria agrees to mend its ways as Libya did in 2003.  Yet if that remains on the table after the latest UN findings and President Assad agrees to the demands, he could be ousted from within.  If he defies the UN, it cannot let state-sponsored terrorism go unpunished--the U.S. and Europe are united on this.  The inquiry has been extended to December 15, so matters are unlikely to come to a head before then.  Syria's response is unpredictable.  But as the most militant Arab nation since its fellow Baathist regime was toppled in Iraq, and as one that has had a sinister hand in events in that country, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, it is highly significant that Syria's misjudgments have exposed it to the winds of change that are sweeping the Arab world.”

INDONESIA: "Syria Continues To Be Pressed"

Leading independent Kompas commented (10/24):  "The sensational assassination case of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri has escalated following a report claiming the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese officials... The revelation about the possible involvement of senior Lebanese officials is indeed surprising... The presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon is no longer deemed necessary after the civil war in Lebanon ended in 1990.  Instead, Syria maintains the troops for its political and economic interests.  Syria was forced to withdraw due to international pressure as a result of Hariri’s death. The problem does not end there. The result of a UN investigation put Syria in trouble. The U.S., Britain and France urged the UN Security Council to put sanctions on Syria.  Meanwhile, opposition groups in Lebanon, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the late Hariri, called for an international court to investigate the death of Hariri, who restored Lebanon from the ravages of civil war.”

SOUTH ASIA

INDIA:  "War Clouds"

The centrist Asian Age editorialized (10/27):  "A new United Nations report indirectly implicating Syria in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has come as a godsend for U.S. President George W. Bush who has been spoiling for a 'regime change' in Damascus from the time U.S. troops forced one in Baghdad....  Although Bush has told Al-Arabiya television that military action is 'the very last option' war clouds are hovering over Syria....  The Bush administration would try to justify the expansion of the Iraq war into Syria on the ground that it was necessary to bring peace and stability in Iraq....  The UN report is full of holes. It has not only failed to name anyone involved in the Hariri assassination, but has also left many questions unanswered....  The UN report has implicated Syria on a 'strange hypothesis' that, given the degree of Syrian influence in Lebanon, the assassination of Hariri could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the Syrian government.  It is, therefore, the duty of the American people and the U.S. Congress as well as the UN to stop Bush and his neoconservative friends from destabilizing another country in West Asia on such an 'inconclusive and unreliable' report."

"Assad's Troubles"

The centrist Times of India editorialized (10/25):  "President Bashar Assad of Syria is between a rock and a hard place.  A UN report has linked the assassination of popular Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri with conspiracies hatched within the walls of his presidential palace....  It is difficult to believe that he will now cooperate whole-heartedly with the UN investigation of Hariri's murder at the expense of family interests, as that would endanger his own position. The alternative may be UN sanctions against Syria....  Unlike Iraq the Franco-German bloc is likely to cooperate with Washington on Syria, although what Russia and China will have to say still remains to be seen.  If it comes to sanctions Assad's best hope would be to ride them out, mobilizing Syrian nationalism for the purpose.  People in very few countries lose sleep over the assassination of foreign leaders; foreign pressure, on the other hand, usually consolidates a people behind its leaders.  The effects could be very different inside Lebanon ... The uproar over Hariri's assassination could bring about the cleansing of Lebanese politics from Syrian influence.  Washington too may be content with this outcome, as pressing Assad too far could see Syria implode with Iraq-like effects.  After having put him in a box, Washington is likely to allow him to stay there."

PAKISTAN:  "President Bush’s Hegemonic Plans" 

An editorial in Popular Islamabad-based Urdu-language Ausaf (10/27):  “President Bush has threatened Syria with grave consequences if it does not comply with the demands of international community....  Eliminating terrorism is not a real issue for President Bush.  In fact, he is frightening his own people with a false threat of terrorism.  The U.S. economy is rapidly heading towards recession and decline, and the U.S. administration has taken the social securities back from its citizens....  It is matter of concern for the peace loving people of the world that the U.S. is thrusting war on Muslim states in the garb of global peace.”

"Extremism And The Battlefield Of Iraq And Syria"

An editorial in Islamabad-based Urdu-language Al-Akhbar (10/27):  "President Bush is seriously contemplating to raid Syria and Iran for one reason or the other....  The think tanks and the policy makers of the U.S. must realize that they can neither achieve their goals by opening many fronts simultaneously, nor they can control the entire world by spreading its military bases around the globe.”

"And Now Syria"

An editorial in the Karachi-based, right-wing, pro-Islamic unity Urdu Jasarat (10/25):  “It was quite clear that the U.S. would not rest after occupying Afghanistan and Iraq.  Syria is a weaker country and the U.S. is applying full pressure over it. The U.S. in fact wants to destabilize the Syrian government in order to spread chaos in the Middle East.  Seeing the U.S. activism in this regard, one could safely predict that nothing less than sanctions imposed on Syria would satisfy the U.S.”

IRAN:   "Syria At The Center Of Attention"

Conservative Hamshahri remarked (10/27):  "Following the Mehlis report, Syria as the third point of Middle East international crisis in the region is the centre of the world's attention....  Hariri's assassination is not the first political assassination in Lebanon....  Tens of political figures have been terrorized in Lebanon and no investigation has been carried out for them....  Paying attention to the report proves that even Mehlis himself couldn't find any firm proof to issue any kind of verdict against Syria....  Lebanese people and the nations of the region are thirsty to see the finalized report of the UN regarding the assassination while they are worried about America that may exploit the situation politically."  

"Harriri Assassination A Calculated Act"

hard-line pro-Khamene'i Jomhuri-ye-Eslami commented (Internet version, 10/24):  "The assassination of Rafiq Hariri in an explosion in Beirut last year was a calculated act that was carried out by the evil triangle of America, England and the Zionist regime in order to change the government in Syria and Lebanon and take power in these two countries....  After the military occupation of Iraq that led to the penetration of the Zionists to the country, and considering their influence in Egypt, they are trying their best to remove all the obstacles from the Nile to the Euphrates in order so that all lands between the Nile to Euphrates will be under the control of the Zionists.... This will turn Israel to Iran's neighbour."

"An International Conspiracy"

Conservative Tehran Times remarked (Internet version, 10/24): "The fact that so much emphasis is being placed on solving the Hariri assassination puzzle indicates that an international conspiracy is being organized to politically besiege Syria and thus destroy the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut triangle."

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

CANADA:  "Twilight For Assad"

The National Post wrote (10/25):  Watching Syrian strongman Bashar Assad flounder about, one cannot help but marvel at the political skills of his father, Hafez. Syria is a poor nation with little oil. It is bordered by three much stronger countries--Israel, Turkey and Iraq--all of which have at one time or another threatened to roll their tanks into Damascus. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria's economy has tanked and its army gone to rust. But despite it all, Hafez Assad -- who ruled Syria from 1971 till his death in 2000--kept a firm grip on power. He was shrewd enough to know that, whatever militant postures he might adopt for domestic consumption, he could not afford to provoke Washington or other major Western powers.  Bashar is not cut from the same cloth. Since assuming power five years ago, he has taken a blustery line against the United States and its allies. His country also remains a weapons conduit and safe haven for terrorists operating in Lebanon and Israel, as well as a launching pad for the foreign jihadis slaughtering Iraqi civilians. But it is Mr. Assad's bungling in Lebanon that now presents the greatest threat to his regime.....   Last Thursday, a United Nations investigator released his report on Mr. Hariri's death. The evidence it contains leaves little doubt about how the killing unfolded.At the centre of the plot was Assad's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, head of Syria's military intelligence. In the days before Mr. Hariri's killing, Mr. Shawkat's minions tracked Mr. Hariri's movements and phone calls closely....  U.S. President George W. Bush has announced he will ask the UN Security Council to take up Syria's misdeeds in light of Thursday's report. But others argue that--even if the United States could convince its fellow Council members to act against Damascus--it should desist. Mr. Assad may be a devil, but he is the devil we know, and an impotent one at that. We disagree. Yes, Mr. Assad is a tinpot dictator. But by supporting terrorists in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, he is pumping oxygen into some of the world's most dangerous brush fires.  Like Iraq, Syria has little experience with democracy, so it is unlikely that a Western-style government would rise up fully formed out of the ashes of Mr. Assad's regime. But the least we might expect from his successor is an understanding that things have changed since 9/11. As last week's UN report showed, the civilized world will no longer avert its eyes to acts of terrorism. It is a shift in the geopolitical winds Hafez Assad would have understood instantly."

"The Syrian Threat To Peace"

The Ottawa Citizen wrote (10/25):  "The United Nations has a reputation for protecting autocrats, especially Middle Eastern ones, but maybe that tradition is ending. The organization's report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri exposes Syria as one of the great threats to the region.  For many years, Syria has run the affairs of its neighbour, Lebanon. When one talks about "occupied territory" in the Middle East, some people instantly think of Israel's presence in Palestinian areas. But the region's truly brutal occupation has been Syria's iron-fisted rule over Lebanon.  Because the Syrian occupation of Lebanon is Arab-on-Arab, Muslim leaders and the international community have tended to look the other way -- all except Mr. Hariri, a Lebanese patriot and business tycoon. He spent millions of his own money trying to fix his battered country and eventually became prime minister. He was a powerful force in the growing anti-Syria movement. Then, in February of this year, he died when a massive car bomb blew up his motorcade.  The UN set up a commission to investigate the killing and its report, released last week, is a disturbing, 60-page exercise in J'Accuse, with the finger pointing to the highest levels of Syria's government....  Of course, it is precisely to foment instability that regimes such as Syria whip up Islamist fervour, propagandize against imaginary external threats and carry out assassinations of Arab moderates. Stability can lead to democratization, and that means the elites who control illiberal governments will lose their privilege."

"The Syrian Hand"

Editorialist Serge Truffaut wrote in the liberal Le Devoir (10/24):  "From the first reactions to the [UN] report, the following portrait can be drawn: the American and French governments will certainly not wait for the official end of the inquiry to once again refer the matter to the Security Council. Several delegates to this body have confided that they are already working on the structuring of a series of sanctions against Syria. This operation will require as much mastery as finesse, as it is feared that Syria could act behind the scenes to further sharpen the developing polarization of Lebanese society. For example, the withdrawal of troops has not prevented Damas from exerting economic pressure by forbidding, among other things, the transport of goods over its borders. Clearly, Assad is using all means at his disposal to suffocate Lebannon. This aspect of the issue, the Council will naturally take into account. In short, the UN is faced with a real and unwieldy dilemma."

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