Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Middle East muddle

I have a long standing interest in the middle east, both in history and current events. While I'm certainly not an expert (see Juan Cole for that), I consider myself fairly well informed. A lot of interesting events are happening over the past few days.
Pelosi in Syria, including a "peace message" from Isreal:

"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a
road to peace," Pelosi told reporters after her talks with Assad.

Pelosi said she and her delegation "expressed our concern about Syria's
connections to Hezbollah and Hamas" and discussed the issue of militant fights
slipping across the Syrian border into Iraq.

"These are important issues not only in the fight against terrorism but important priorities for us for peace in the Middle East," she said.

She said she brought a message to Assad from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel was ready for peace talks with Syria. Assad gave assurances that "he's ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel," Pelosi said. She later left Syria, heading for Saudi Arabia, the next leg of a Mideast tour.

Iran to free hosttages:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the release of 15 captive British
soldiers and sailors Wednesday in what he called an Easter gift to the British

"On the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet (Muhammad) ... and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic Republic government and the Iranian people — with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial — forgave those 15," he said, referring to the Muslim prophet's birthday on March 30 and the Easter holiday.

Saudi frustration with Bush:

Saudi Arabia is trying to bring Syria back to the negotiating table (along with Lebanon and Israel), and is seeking some kind of understanding with Iran - a few days ago President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an important visit to Riyadh .
The Saudi influence even extends to Pakistan (old connections that have existed
since the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan), and it has a huge moderating influence on the decisions of OPEC.

The biggest frustration of the Saudis, however, is named George W. Bush. Despite old ties between the Bush family and the Saudis, King Abdullah feels that he hasn't been listened to on any vital question of recent times - especially the invasion of Iraq. And worse: not even his warnings were taken into account. The King spoke freely and in full during a blunt speech full of acid criticism of the Americans - amongst them, that the occupation of Iraq is illegal.

Most curiously, in part the Israeli diplomats fully agree with the Saudis. "The
Iranians should build a monument in honor of Bush, due to the gifts that Iran
has received due to American policy in the Middle East"

The last is from Munaeems blog, which I recently found. Well worth reading for his perpective as a Pakistani, he's become one of my daily reads.

While it's unclear how this will all sort out, I see some positive signs that maybe cooler heads will prevail over the administrations idiotic lust for war. If anyone can prevent a war with Iran, the whole world will be better off. The Iraq debacle will be with us for decades, no matter when the troops are withdrawn. But maybe diplomacy will minimize the damage. We can at least give it a try.

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