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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

February 23, 2005





**  Dailies wonder if Syria will "fill in the ranks of the 'Axis of Evil.'"

**  Commentators warn of a U.S. strategy in which "everything can happen, including war."

**  Editorials agree that "France was more interested in using diplomacy" to deal with Syria.

**  Many papers are alarmed by the strengthening of the "Iran-Syria common front."




Syria to fill 'vacancy' in the 'Axis of Evil'-- Some editorialists asserted that America "is about to replace Iraq with Syria in the 'Axis of Evil' triad."  Other papers warned that U.S. pressure on Syria was only throwing "'Axis-of-Evil' members into each other's arms."  Israel's conservative Jerusalem Post suggested that "although Syria is not on the official U.S. 'Axis of Evil' list, as is Iran, it is undoubtedly an honorary member."  Some Middle Eastern dailies complained that the U.S. position towards Syria was "pre-determined" and unrelated to the assassination of former Lebanese PM Hariri, noting that  "George W.  Bush made no secret of the fact that he harbors animosity towards Syria."


'Washington would be more inclined to military action' against Syria-- A number of Middle Eastern papers declared that "the U.S. is preparing for a strike against Syria."  Some papers highlighted comments by Secretary Rice that America "has not ruled out military force."  Britain's center-left Independent warned that "toppling the Syrian regime would have an unpredictable effect on Iraq" and that "America must tread carefully."  Many writers opined that Syria "is the latest chapter of the global fight for the 'forced' democratization of the Middle East."


France more inclined to 'diplomatic and economic pressure'--  Many dailies outside the region saw the increased pressure on Syria from the "United States and Europe" as a positive development.  However, while America and France do "have a common stance on the issue of Syria and Lebanon," most outlets argued that France was more interested in using diplomacy to resolve the situation.  The center-left Irish Times argued that while "Washington would like to see 'regime change' in Damascus, Paris is likely to be more cautious."  Another analyst suggested France only wanted to "'discover' those responsible for the attack."


The 'Iran-Syria common front is an unpleasant surprise to Washington'--  Commentators were troubled by the apparent strengthening of Syria-Iran ties, although many observed that "it is no surprise that Iran is supporting Syria now, since the mullahs are also in the pillory because of their destabilizing policy in the region."  Italy's centrist Corriere della Sera concluded that pressure from Washington caused Syria to respond "to American warnings concerning Lebanon by creating a 'common front' with Iran," and another writer stated that the isolation of Syria and Iran led the "two outcasts" to "form a club."


Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888,


EDITOR:  David Meyers


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 interprites foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 33 reports from 21 countries over 18 - 24 February 2005. 




BRITAIN:  "The Bush Administration Must Be Careful Not To Start More Fires In The Middle East"


The left-of-center Independent commented (2/18):  "It is imperative, too, that America recognizes how inter-connected all the different problems are in this volatile region.  Toppling the Syrian regime would have an unpredictable effect on Iraq.  The Sunni insurgency could easily spread across the border into Syria.  There is also a risk that civil war could break out again in Lebanon if the Syrian withdrawal is not handled delicately.  America must tread carefully."


FRANCE:  "Hope For Beirut"


An editorial in left-of-center Le Monde read (2/23):  "[Bush and Chirac] have a common stance on the issue of Syria and Lebanon. However the U.S. is more concerned with putting pressure on Syria in view of a new geopolitical order in the Middle East while France is concerned, above all, with re-establishing Lebanon's independence."


"Washington Increases the Pressure to Isolate Syria"


Washington correspondent for left-of-center Liberation Pascal Riche held (2/18):  "Since Iraq officially joined the ranks of the 'good guys' there was a vacancy to fill in the ranks of the 'Axis of Evil.' Since the assassination of Rafic Hariri, Damascus has come to the forefront to fill that spot. Bush intends to make the issue of Syria the 'main course' when he has dinner with Jacques Chirac in Brussels next Monday. In the past, Bush has openly praised Chirac's analyses on the Lebano-Syrian question, Perhaps Franco-American reconciliation will take place at Damascus' expense."


GERMANY:  "Access To More"


Clements Wergin judged in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (2/18):  "Hariri's assassination will help Syria get rid of an embarrassing competitor, but it also sends a signal to Lebanese politicians that it is very dangerous to act against the Syrian troop presence, something Hariri did....  But it may be possible that the plotters were wrong.  For a long time, Syria has been a thorn in the U.S. flesh, but now pressure is also coming from Paris and the UN, and then the issue would not only be the occupation of Lebanon, but also the destabilizing role, Syria is playing in the entire region....  It is no surprise that Iran is supporting Syria now, since the mullahs are also in the pillory because of their destabilizing policy in the region.  But this will not help Syria's President Assad.  At the beginning of September, the UN Security Council again called upon Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.  Now it is up to the world to intensify this pressure to prevent Lebanon from acting as a fountain of youth for a highly problematic regime."


ITALY:  "'United Against America'--Teheran Proposes An Axis With Damascus"


Ennio Caretto commented in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (2/17):  "On a day that was complicated by rumors of a missile attack against an Iranian nuclear plant, Syria responded to American warnings concerning Lebanon by creating a 'common front' with Iran.. Neither the 'common front' nor the accident induced the U.S. to relent on its tug-of-war with Syria and Iran. The U.S. Emissary for the Middle East, William Burns, . called for 'the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.' In Senate testimony, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that Ambassador Margaret Scobey, whom she recalled from Damascus, would return there only after 'Syria has taken taken steps.' Rice did not accuse the Syrians of killing Hariri, but complained that 'their troops and their support of Hezbollah destabilize Lebanon.'"


"And Moscow Adds Fuel To The Fire: Missiles For Assad"


Vladmir Sapozhnikov stated in leading business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore (2/17): "Moscow aggravates U.S. anger with Syria and introduces a further element of discord into next week's meeting between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Bratislava.. In fact, Russia yesterday confirmed that it is currently negotiating the sale of short-range surface-to-air missiles to Syria.. Despite Moscow's reassurances that it would 'prevent weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists,' Washington yesterday expressed concern just as it is about to replace Iraq with Syria in the 'axis of evil' triad.. Moscow will try to add items to the list of common interests, which is currently limited to two points: the fight against international terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. But even on this issue there is much discord, fueled by the nuclear cooperation between Iran and Russia."


"Iran-Syria, Common Front Against U.S. And Israel"


Stefano Trincia wrote in Rome-based center-left Il Messaggero (2/17): "The U.S. Ambassador in Syria was called back to Washington for urgent consultations the day following the assassination. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used strong words of condemnation in denouncing the deteriorating relations with Syria, a 'destabilizing factor for the Middle East.' Iran and Syria responded as follows: by forming 'a common front' and by 'strengthening their relations' in order to resist to 'U.S. and Israeli' pressures. The Syrian question is becoming increasingly important on George Bush's agenda; it is the latest chapter of the global fight for the 'forced' democratization of the Middle East....  During a Senate deposition....  Secretary of State Rice...said that 'the conditions created by Syria's presence have produced an unstable situation in Lebanon.' The recall of the U.S. Ambassador in Syria is an unequivocal gesture toward the Syrian regime that has 'unfortunately taken a path that will...exacerbate relations with the United States."


RUSSIA:  "An Anti-American Front"


Yevgeniy Shestakov wrote in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (2/18): "The U.S. Administration pretends not to see the emergence of a newmilitary and political alliance.   But sources close to the U.S. State Department say that the Iran-Syria common front is an unpleasant surprise to Washington.   The two countries share a position on Palestine.  They actively support Lebanon's Hezbollah considered terrorist by the Americans. Syria was the only Arab country to offer political and moral support to the Ayatollahs' regime in the grim days of the war against Iraq.    So further rapprochement between Tehran and Damascus in the face of the United States' threats seems logical."


"The U.S. Exercises Restraint"


Aleksey Bausin observed in reformist Izvestiya (2/18): "America's reaction to a nascent Damascus-Tehran axis has been restrained, as Washington realizes that the Syrians and Iranians are aware of their possibilities and, rather than thinking of some sort of a militant coalition, seek moral support from one another."


"Clouds Over Syrian Horizon"


Aleksandr Samokhotkin said in reformist Vremya Novostey (2/18): "It is a vicious circle.   U.S. pressure throws 'axis-of-evil' members into each other's arms.   And as it does, Washington becomes even more certain of those countries' evil intent and of a need to talk to them from the position of strength."


AUSTRIA:  "Muddle Of Conflicts In The Middle East"


Senior editor Helmut L Mueller observed in independent Salzburger Nachrichten (2/17):  "After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's 'charm offensive' and before President Bush's European tour, America's new front against Damascus and Teheran is another serious test case for the transatlantic relations. In the conflict with Syria, Bush could soon be urging the Europeans to participate in internationally coordinated actions. Also, in the nuclear dispute with Iran, the strategies of the US and Europe are not really coordinated, as it is always said, but run parallel in an uncoordinated manner. In addition, a new breaking point between the US and Russia can be made out. Cornered, Syria has appealed to its old sponsor in Moscow and is once again receiving weapons deliveries from Russia. In Iran, too, one of Russia's traditional spheres of influence, Washington and Moscow are getting in each other's way. The Russians supply the Iranians with the technical equipment for those nuclear reactors that the US perceives to be the instrument with which Teheran will produce nuclear weapons." 


IRELAND:  "Turmoil In Lebanon"


The center-left Irish Times editorialized (2/24):  "Lebanon is in turmoil following the assassination last week of Rafik Hariri....  Internationally, too, there has been greatly increased pressure on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, led by President George Bush on his current European trip. These calls are closely associated with the wider Middle East political environment, including Iraq, Iran and Israel....  Rafik Hariri tolerated the Syrian presence as prime minister but indicated before his death that he was moving towards the anti-Syrian opposition in this summer's elections. That may well explain why he was targeted, as many Lebanese believe. But not all of them are opposed to the Syrian presence, since the Shia Amal and Hizbullah parties, both represented in the parliament, align themselves with Damascus and Tehran. France and the US are united on the need for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, but differ on whether Hizbullah is a terrorist organization. This echoes French and US differences on Israel and Iran and serve as a reminder that civil and regional wars are the backdrop to Lebanon's fractured politics."


"US and EU Put Pressure on Syria to Withdraw"


The center-left Irish Times declared (2/22):  "The U.S. and Europe increased pressure on Syria yesterday, demanding Damascus remove its 14,000 troops from Lebanon. President Bush branded Syria an "oppressive neighbour" to Lebanon and insisted it "end its occupation".  At around the same time, Syria indicated only that it would start withdrawing some of its troops from Lebanon soon....  Although the EU is also pressing for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, it favours more of an "engagement" approach. It joined calls from the US and France for an international investigation into Hariri's killing....  Syria has been a dominant player in Lebanon since the civil war and took much of the credit for quelling the violence.  The EU communique also underlined support for a UN resolution that calls for Syria to withdraw all its troops from Lebanon."


"Syria High On Agenda For Chirac Talks"


Lara Marlowe noted in the center-left Irish Times (2/21):  "French and US interests converge in Lebanon. Washington would be more inclined to military action; Paris to diplomatic and economic pressure. And while Washington would like to see "regime change" in Damascus, Paris is likely to be more cautious; in the eyes of Mr Chirac, Iraq has proven that anarchy can be worse than dictatorship.  Mr Bush and Mr Chirac will probably avoid discussing fundamental differences in their world views."


"US Pressure On Syria Troubles European Allies" 


A report by Conor O'Clery in the center-left Irish Times read (2/18):  "The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri is causing new complications in relations between the US and Europe, just days before a visit by President Bush to Brussels designed partly to ease tensions left over from the Iraq war.  As in the case of the US-led invasion of Iraq, the sharpest differences that have arisen are between Washington and Paris....  The administration, which has already imposed some economic sanctions on Syria since May, is considering restrictions on US-Syria financial dealings and freezing the assets of Syrian officials. The administration is also reportedly debating whether American troops should cross the Syrian border from Iraq in "hot pursuit" of insurgents.  Dr Rice has told Congress that the US favours diplomatic pressure to resolve its differences with Syria, but has not ruled out military force....  She sidestepped a question at a Congressional hearing yesterday on whether Mr Bush would consult Congress before initiating any military operation against either Syria or Iran."


TURKEY:  "The War Drums"


Melih Asik argued in mass-appeal Milliyet (2/17): "The US is preparing for a strike against Syria and Iran.  Interestingly enough, Turkey has volunteered to be part of this mess as a self-declared 'strategic partner' of the US.  The pretext for the invasion of Iraq was based on a series of lies, and the US is now doing the very same for Iran.  Strikes against Syria and Iran will certainly be disastrous for this region.  And make no mistake - Turkey undoubtedly will be next on the list.  The Middle East is going through its most critical period, and the US is the primary threat.  Unfortunately Turkey's rulers, especially the Foreign Minister, are in a kind of 'blind love' with the United States that prevents them from seeing the facts." 




ISRAEL:  "Outcasts Iran and Syria Deepen Their Alliance"


Columnist Orly Halpern wrote on page one of the conservative, independent Jerusalem Post (2/18):  "Lebanon, in Syria's backyard, is filled with people calling Syria names and accusing it of murder.  The Iraqi neighbors are accusing Syria of supporting the Iraqi insurgency.  The Jordanians and Turks are neutral, not wanting to upset their big U.S. patron because, although Syria is not on the official U.S. 'Axis of Evil' list, as is Iran, it is undoubtedly an honorary member.  And the Israelis are--well, Israelis.  The only one in the neighborhood willing to befriend the local outcast is Iran, itself not one of the most popular kids on the block, because of its development of nuclear capabilities.  This week the two outcasts decided to form a club.  Russia is an integral supporter; the U.S. and Israel are the bullies to be kept out."


SAUDI ARABIA:  "Murder Of Al-Hariri And Importance Of Investigation"


Dammam's moderate Al-Yaum editorialized (2/24):  "Saudi Arabian's demand to investigate the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Al-Hariri is not only a Saudi request but also an Arab and Lebanese one....  A quick investigation is now an Arab and international demand.  Since Saudi Arabia and the entire Arab world do not want a sister Arab country such as Lebanon to return to a cycle of violence, which it had witnessed during the civil war there."


"The Need For Lebanese Consolidation"


Makkah's conservative Al-Nadwa stated (2/24):  "As long as there is a danger that threatens Lebanon as a whole, and not just a specific group, then there is a need in the Lebanese government to consolidate its differences and find a common ground to avoid falling into a constitutional vacuum... The death of Hariri has left a big gap. His death was a crime that won't be forgotten easily, not just by the Lebanese, but also by the whole world."


ALGERIA:  "Power:  U.S.A. And Israel Vs. Syria"


Leading Arabic-language El Khabar commented (2/23):  "Syria is completely aware that it is considered an outlaw country....  Thus, that country can think about everything except about provoking a disaster like the one that cost the life of Rafic Hariri.  Syria can only benefit from stability and calm, at least until the storm passes, since it is not able to face the American tide shaking the Arab region more than any other part of the world.  However, a country that needs storms and unrest everywhere is one whose tanks and planes do not stop from destroying others as is the case with the U.S.  It is also the one whose existence is not compatible with stability as is Israel." 


JORDAN:  "America Will Not Liberate Lebanon!"


Fahd Fanek wrote in semi-official, influential Al-Rai (2/21):  "Although the U.S. President promised to liberate all people under oppression in today's world and pledged to support opponents to become the rulers of their countries, the opposition in Lebanon, though cornered, knows that banking on America would surely bring failure.  Add to this the fact that the Syrian presence in Lebanon over these past three decades enjoyed an American green light as part of regional political bargaining.  'Liberating' Lebanon is not an American priority.  What the U.S. administration wants is, firstly, Syria's cooperation in Iraq, and secondly, the elimination of Hizbollah as a military force in Southern Lebanon because it bothers Israel.  As for Lebanon's freedom, that comes last and is nothing more than a bargaining chip useful to blackmail Syria into giving concessions on the Iraqi issue.  Syria, in turn, knows that America lacks effective options to use against Syria given that America is up to its ears in the Iraqi quagmire and does not want another crisis....  Why do we expect solutions to come from America?  Why do the Arabs not move to resolve the issue as they did in Ta'if?  Hariri's assassination may be a national disaster, and whichever party is responsible for the crime, Syria and the Lebanese regime are going to pay the cost.  Why can this cost not be in the form of a new formula devised within the Arab family, stressing Lebanon's stability, safety and sovereignty and Syria's dignity?"


"Is It Not Time For Our 'Ready-made Molds' To Be Left To Rust?!"


Urayb Rintawi asserted in center-left, influential Al-Dustour (2/21):  "There are ready-made political molds, to which most of our political parties and political figures resort when commenting about events around us; simple and simplifying formulas that stem from the hypothesis that the world is divided into two camps: all evil in the American-Israeli camp and all goodness in the other camp.  This hypothesis came up very clearly during the assassination of Hariri.  Since the act was heinous and criminal, who other than Israel would do it to instill sectarianism, weaken the front of steadfastness and destroy the resistance!  And because 'holy Jihad' in Iraq is the duty of every Muslim man and woman, who other than Israel and America would target mosques, Iraqi women, schools and innocent bystanders!  Saddam did not occupy Kuwait except upon the advice of the American Ambassador and even before Kuwait's occupation, the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq was nothing more than discord imported from the 'Great Devil', and the third Gulf War was nothing more than pre-set conspiracy!  We as a nation do not make mistakes, and if we do, then our mistakes are simple and well intentioned, and our fates have been written on CIA boards and Mossad microchips and we have nothing to do but await our destinies..  I have no idea what kind of side effects this political and mental laziness is going to have on us or how a political life can even develop in our countries when we regurgitate these same words and these same sentences year after year."


LEBANON:  "The Last Stop"


Sateh Noureddine noted in Arab nationalist As-Safir (2/22):  "This is the first time President Bush himself issues a direct and frank call to end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.  No U.S. President has done this since 1976....  This is a historic turning point in the U.S. position on Lebanon and away from...the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict...which the U.S. always took into consideration.  In his remarks in Brussels, President Bush decided that Lebanon has no longer a regional mission related to the Arab-Israeli conflict...and placed it within the context of the democratic wave President Bush is working for...the U.S. never used this language with Lebanon and Syria...however, this is not guarantee enough that the U.S. will reach its goal in the end."


"Expectations Of Additional Pressure On Lebanon And Syria In The Shadow Of Bush's European Tour"


An editorial by Khalil Flayhan in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar said (2/22):  "The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said that it cannot speculate over the arrival date of the U.N. team that will investigate the assassination.  However, it is believed that a team of 32 people, (and not four as originally believed) will come...and will include security investigators and experts in explosives...Diplomatic information also indicated that the United States is asking for Lebanon's cooperation on several issues, justifying its demands by saying that Lebanon's record on the issue of political assassinations is not encouraging:  The U.S. wants a participation of quality by the U.N. into the investigation of Hariri's murder, in order to give it credibility. The U.S. also wants Lebanon to understand that getting the assistance of technical Swiss experts is not enough.  Finally, the U.S. does want Lebanon to keep the perpetrators a secret.  ...The same sources indicated that American officials are refusing to decrease the pressure they are currently exerting on Lebanon..."


SYRIA:  "1559 And Plotter Intentions"


Omar Jaftli argued in government-owned Tishreen (2/22):  "President Bush revealed yesterday a very serious issue.  He shed the light on what is being plotted against the area, in particular Syria and Lebanon.  He confirmed the fact that the American administration is going further and further away from Justice and laws, and logic. President Bush said that he talked to president Chirac in June about issuing UNSC resolution calling for Syrian troops to get out of Lebanon, which proves that the position towards Syria was pre determined.  Syria is not responsible for the differences with the American Administration, it is the administration itself which is responsible because the Americans insist on promoting a bundle of accusations and pretexts which are not supported by facts and are not based on visible evidences.  It is not logical to insist on resolution 1559 and purposely neglect all other international resolutions!  This what puts the American credibility on question?  It is worth mentioning also that Israel, supported by the US, ignored so far 40 Security Council resolutions."




JAPAN:  "President's Europe Tour"


An editorial in liberal Asahi read (2/23):  "President Bush and European leaders, who met in Brussels Tuesday, appear to share a common objective to restore transatlantic relations, which have deteriorated since the start of the Iraq war.  The two leaders placed priority on reconciling their views on politically delicate issues such as Iran's nuclear development and the possible European resumption of arms trade with China.  Their joint statement, which calls for Syria's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon, appears to symbolize their reaffirmation to make efforts to enhance Franco-American cooperation.  The positive direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks following the death of PLO leader Arafat and the successful national assembly elections in Iraq seems to have prompted increased cooperation between the U.S. and Europe."




SOUTH AFRICA:  "U.S. Must Watch Its Step In The Middle East"


Liberal Sunday Independent commented (2/22):  "Even if Syria had no hand in the murder [of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri] the case for exerting greater pressure on the regime in Damascus is clear.  Syria's military occupation of Lebanon ought to have ended long ago....  It would be a mistake to regard America's increasingly belligerent stance towards Syria as a sign that its priorities in the Middle East have changed.  The number one threat in the region as far as Washington is concerned is still Iran....  But Washington will continue to treat them very differently.  Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear technology, and Syria is not....  And that is why...America will keep the door open to diplomatic relations with Syria.  With Iran, America has left the diplomacy up to European governments.  The US is right to put pressure on the autocracies of the Middle East to stop funding terrorism and interfering outside their own borders....  But the US administration must be careful.  Sabre-rattling can easily become counterproductive.  The invasion of Iraq has undermined America's moral right to lecture nations....  And America must bear in mind its own responsibility for Iran's dash towards a nuclear capability....  It is imperative, too, that America recognizes how interconnected all the different problems are in this volatile region....  America must tread carefully.  It is already embroiled in one conflagration in the region.  It is in no one's interest, including its own, for the fire to spread any further."


NIGERIA:  "Did Syria Kill Hariri"


The Abuja-based independent weekly Weekly Trust speculated (2/19-25):  "Expectedly, the U.S. is so willing to lend credence to the accusation against Syria that it has already recalled its ambassador from Damascus.  Though it stopped short of actually blaming the Syrian government for the crime, this move by Washington is designed to convince the Lebanese people to look no further than Syria to find their culprits.  Such a tunneled vision approach is always adopted by the U.S. government, if it decides to nail some people to the cross without any proof of their guilt in a given crime.  The opposition in Lebanon must not allow itself to be used to whip up sentiments against Syria to facilitate America's grand designs against Damascus.  In his recent State of the Union address, George W.  Bush made no secret of the fact that he harbors animosity towards one should be deceived into thinking that the U.S. stand with regards to the killing of Mr. Hariri stems out of any genuine concern for the tragedy that has befallen the people of Lebanon, rather it is to heighten suspicion against Syria and find some legitimacy for an already existing plan to invade Syria and further destabilize the Middle East."


UGANDA:  "Intervention Must Be Legal"


The state-owned New Vision editorialized (2/23):  "The U.S. is calling on Syria to withdraw its troops from the same time the U.S. itself is maintaining tens of thousands in Iraq.  Syria maintains 15,000 troops in its tiny neighbor, but this occupation, going by the protests of thousands of Lebanese, is very unpopular.  On the other hand the U.S. presence in Iraq lacks legitimacy because it never received the blessing of the United Nations.  It is ironical, then, that the very same America is asking Syria to leave Lebanon.    The lesson here is that occupation by foreign forces has no place in today's geopolitical world and is almost inevitably unpopular with local peoples.  For any forces to set foot on foreign soil, they must have an international mandate."




CANADA:  "The Other 'Occupation'"


The conservative National Post opined (2/17): "It doesn't really matter whether Mr. Assad was behind Mr. Hariri's death: His killing has already focused world attention on Syria's two-decade-long occupation of Lebanon. Over the past year, the United States and other Western nations - including, to its credit, France - have been pressuring Syria to withdraw its troops.... Enter the word 'occupation' and 'Middle East' into a Web search engine and you will find hundreds of thousands of articles demanding an end to the U.S. 'crusade' in Iraq, and Israel's 'war crimes' in the West Bank and Gaza. But there is almost nothing about Syria's far more brutal treatment of its Arab neighbour. It is the same appalling double-standard that caused much of the world to ignore Hafez Assad's butchery within Syria, Algeria's civil war and the slaughter in Sudan: Too often, Muslim-on-Muslim violence and hegemony is treated as the natural order of things. Thankfully, Middle Eastern Muslims are beginning to debunk this bigoted strain of conventional wisdom. In Iraq and the Palestinian Authority - the two Arab lands under Judeo-Christian 'occupation,' it bears noting - free elections have recently produced democratically accountable leaders who oppose violence. Perhaps the surest proof that a culture of democracy is starting to take hold is that victims of suicide bombers who struck on Iraq's election day are being hailed as martyrs. It is gratifying to see that Mr. Hariri is getting the same treatment: His murder has brought thousands of ordinary Lebanese people into the street, many demanding political reform and an end to Syria's colonial presence. Given the Middle East's new political climate, we wonder how long Mr. Assad will be able to endure this backlash.... Far from intimidating leaders of the anti-Syrian groundswell, [Mr. Hariri's] slaying will only empower them".




Marcelo Cantelmi, international editor of leading Clarín, wrote (2/17):  "The US has pressured Syria to withdraw its 14,000 soldiers from Lebanon, which are stationed there since 1990.  One can predict what the next steps will be. UN Resolution 1559 condemns that military deployment and orders a withdrawal. According to US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Syria has violated the resolution. Said violation is diplomatic 'gold' because it enables (the international community) to ask the UN to impose a sentence and sanctions. If Damascus does not abide by it, everything can happen, including war. Bush needs to show this rebelliousness in order to get international support in troops and basically money, which was not enough in Iraq. This is an illusion that will surely not be fulfilled, but the issue is a concern for Iran. The alliance it announced together with Damascus seeks to warn the US about the risk of an attack on Syria. A cry of alarm that could be useless."


BRAZIL:  "The Syrian Hand"


Liberal Folha de S. Paulo remarked (2/17): "Washington has accused the Syrian dictatorship of arming insurgents who operate in Iraq. It is also known that the Syrian government gives financial and logistic support to the terrorist group Hezbollah. There is in addition the suspicion that Syria possesses chemical weapons that would serve to dissuade possible Israeli military incursions in the country.. The Syrian dictatorship is isolated in the Middle East. It is allied only with Iran, with which it has just announced a union 'against foreign threats,' and sees in the occupation of neighboring Lebanon a way to ensure some regional influence. The assassination of Rafik Hariri reinforces the need that the UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon be fulfilled."



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