May 17, 2004
'COUNTER-FIRE TO DIVERT ATTENTION' FROM IRAQ
** Dailies link U.S.
sanctions against Syria to the "escalation of the security situation in
** Many Arab papers warn
the sanctions will "pour oil on the fire" of anti-Americanism.
** Hardline Arab writers
decry the "Zionist influence" behind Washington's decision.
** The sanctions are an
"early warning," not a "knock-out punch," to Syria's
'America's failure in Iraq' has led to pressure on Syria-- French, Chinese and Arab writers termed the
sanctions an effort to "divert world attention away from the...U.S. crisis
in Iraq." Egypt's pro-government Al-Akhbar
alleged that Washington was using the sanctions to "cover up the scandal
of Iraqi prisoners being sexually abused," while China's official Global
Times criticized the U.S. move to "suppress and intimidate Syria"
to lessen attention on the "cruel facts of the U.S. military abusing war
prisoners." Lebanese and German
dailies speculated that the true aim of the sanctions is to make Damascus help
"manage the Iraqi quagmire."
'This will only increase the wrath of the Arabs'-- Arab writers blasted the sanctions as "reckless,
short-sighted and selfish," and "not only tyrannical but
insolent." Egyptian and Saudi
outlets warned that this "big mistake" will "add to the
anti-American sentiments" in the region due to widespread anger towards
the Washington's "irresponsible power, arrogant superiority and the use of
the law of the jungle." Syria's
government-owned Tishreen called for "constructive dialogue"
instead of "a policy of unjustified pressures" that will only
"aggravate tensions in the region."
Force Syria to 'grant concessions to the Zionists'-- Aggressive Arab outlets assailed the
"Zionist objectives...hidden behind" the sanctions. The UAE's expatriate-oriented Gulf News
accused the U.S. of continuing to "feed Israeli belligerence";
Kuwait's independent Al-Watan alleged the measure sought to "please
the Zionist lobby and Zionist radicals."
Syria's state-owned media called the sanctions an "Israeli decision
in form, content and timing" and claimed the U.S. was behaving
"according to Sharon's desires";
Al-Thawra declared that "Israel alone" had interest in
"deepening the rift between Syria and America."
U.S. pressure could impact Syria's 'reform pioneers'-- Some observers debated whether U.S. pressure
could "become counter-productive."
France's left-of-center Le Monde predicted that Damascus would
reduce the "certain degree of freedom of speech and criticism" that
Damascus has recently allowed, but Beirut's moderate Daily Star
countered that sanctions could make Syria "press ahead with a genuine
reform program" to persuade the U.S. to "ease its unrelenting
political squeeze." Pro-Syria
dailies stressed that Damascus is "capable of facing the challenge"
posed by the "futile" sanctions.
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
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. 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
29 reports from 13 countries over 12 -
17 May 2004. Editorial excerpts from
each country are listed from the most recent date.
FRANCE: "Wall Of Fear
Mouna Naim wrote in left-of-center Le Monde (5/14): "For President Bashir al-Asad, the U.S.
has become 'for the first time a source of instability' in the Near
East.... The Syrian head of state made
this statement...on the eve of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on his
country. They come at a time when Syria
is hesitating between reforms and maintaining the status quo.... A certain degree of freedom of speech and
criticism--even relating to delicate issues, such as nationalism or
democracy--has been authorized.... These
entirely relative freedoms appear to be safety valves authorized by the regime,
in a country that seems to be in the state of uncertainty, the ponderousness
and inconsistencies of the government having apparently been exacerbated by the
prevailing doubts concerning relations with the U.S. and the pressures brought
to bear by Washington. This is the
situation in Syria, contradictory and confused, it being unclear...who decides
what, when, and why.... Some people do
not rule out the possibility that it was partly in order to appease Washington
that Syria chose a US-Canadian consortium, in preference to France's Total
company, for the exploitation of gas deposits.... Hitherto the tone of the official line toward
Washington has varied according to the vicissitudes of the situation in
Iraq--vigorous when the coalition forces suffer setbacks, otherwise more
discreet. Nevertheless, whichever way
the wind blows in relations with the United States, the opposition will pay the
price.... The uncertainty is not
confined solely to the United States.
Internal balances and/or imbalances are also a crucial factor in this
"White House Imposes Sanctions On Syria"
Jean-Pierre Perrin observed in left-of-center Liberation
(5/12): "U.S. sanctions against
Syria have entered into force.... These
particularly severe sanctions resemble the embargo imposed on Cuba, explained
one US official. They authorize the
White House to freeze Syrian assets in the United States and could damage the
Damascus banking system. They include
restrictions on imports but it is not yet known if US investments will be
affected. The law also includes a ban
on high-tech exports, in principle intended for civilian use but that could
also find a military ones.... Although
it is true that, as soon as the sanctions are imposed, Damascus can turn to
Europe, the fact remains that there is concern within the regime. This could explain the attack in the Syrian
capital on 27 April. According to the
Interior Ministry's version, two attackers, a policeman and a passer-by were
killed during an exchange of fire following a mysterious explosion in a former
UN building. Was this an attack by a
group close to Al-Qa'ida or a show staged by the Syrian authorities designed to
show that the Syrian regime was also the victim of terrorism? Or, as Western diplomatic sources suppose, an
attack by Syrian security services against radical Islamic groups that had
previously been tolerated. To date, Syria,
unlike Jordan and Saudi Arabia, had never been the target of an attack. Washington attributes this to the tolerance
President Bachar al-Asad shows to radical Islamist groups, whether operating in
Iraq or elsewhere. It is true that many
people sought or arrested following attacks spent some time in Syria.... But the US desire to punish Syria because it
permits the transit of Islamist militants on their way to Iraq and could be
secretly pursuing a program to develop WMD does not hide the U.S. desire to
ignite a counter-fire to divert attention from Iraq, especially at a time when
Washington is caught up in the scandal over the torture of Iraqi
Heiko Flottau commented in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung
of Munich (5/13): "Syria will only
make a u-turn when it sees an opportunity on the diplomatic floor to get back
the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967. This will not happen as long as Arial Sharon
and George Bush are in government. Syria
proposed to resume negotiations with Israel that failed in 2000. The country also agreed with the Saudi plan
to acknowledge Israel and guarantee for its security, if it pulled out of the
occupied territories. Damascus will not
offer more than that now; the U.S. embargo will hardly change Syrian leader
Bashar Assad's policy, because he still has something up his sleeve: the regime
could traffic many weapons and fighters to Iraq. Syria must not fear an American military
operation, unless Israel carried it out.
Although the U.S. sees Syria as a sponsor of terrorism, it did not cut
off its relations with Damascus. Bashar
Assad hopes that Washington does not want to miss the last opportunity for
ITALY: “Bush’s Sanctions
Don’t Bend Syria”
Alberto Pasolini Zanelli noted in pro-government, leading
center-right Il Giornale (5/14): “Bush
has made sanctions against Syria official, and Damascus has responded to the
facts with words, by challenging the decree. Yesterday, the White House
measures against the Middle Eastern country became official.... The U.S. will no longer export products to
Syria other than food and medicine....
The White House reserves the right to extend sanctions if Damascus
doesn’t stop supporting Islamic militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.
The Syrian government, for now has responded with a ‘no way’ and Prime Minister
al-Otari stated that ‘the sanctions will not affect our policy.’”
RUSSIA: "Sanctions To
Have No Effect"
Aleksandr Reutov said in business-oriented Kommersant
(5/13): "Damascus is worried not so
much about the sanctions as their possible political implications. The U.S., its officials say, may impel the
EU to follow suit, making the situation bad, indeed. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair
yesterday assuaged Syria's concern by stating that London, while sharing
Washington's fears, will continue cooperating with Damascus in various
spheres. Hearing that from the U.S.'
most loyal ally, Damascus may not worry about the rest of the EU."
"Syrian Sanctions And The Mistake Of Accountability"
Pro-government, aggressive Al-Akhbar
declared (5/14): "A few days ago
the USA issued sanctions against Syria...although the sanctions will not affect
Syria, they will increase tension in both countries relations.... The sanctions are trying to cover up the
scandal of Iraqi prisoners being sexually abused.... It is illogical for Bush to issue a
resolution imposing sanctions against an Arab country, at a time when it is
trying to overcome Arab and international anger after the [prison]
"Sanctions On Syria: A Wrong Decision At The Very Worst Time"
Leading, pro-government Al-Ahram declared
(5/13): "The U.S. has made a big
mistake by imposing sanctions on Syria....
This will only increase the wrath of the Arabs."
"Sanctions On Syria: An
Moderate Al-Watan editorialized (5/14): "Syria is being asked to end its support
to 'terrorist' organizations, despite the fact that they are fighting to
liberate their land from Israeli occupation. As for the U.S. support to the
Israeli occupation of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian territories, this is
something justified by all regimes in the world!"
"U.S. And The Policy Of Inflaming The Region"
Riyadh’s conservative Al-Riyadh editorialized (5/13): "The policy of insulting Arabs will give
a green light for all terrorists....
Syria is an Arab country, a neighbor of Iraq, an ally to Iran, and a
strong supporter of Arab rights and causes.
This is behavior the U.S and Israel dislike.... The policy of rewarding Arabs by more
pressure and wars is an unsound one. And
since the U.S. lacks a sound policy, doors are open for more surprises and
Jeddah’s conservative Al-Madina stated (5/13): "The neo-conservatives in Washington
seem to neither care about the success or failure of their policies, nor do
they learn from their past mistakes.
They are going forward with their plans.
The anticipated Arab summit this month must stand with Syria against the
evil plan--U.S. imposition of economic sanctions--that only aims at isolating
Syria and forcing it to grant concessions to the Zionists of the Pentagon and
Rabbis of the Knesset."
"New Battle Front For American Aggression"
Jeddah’s moderate Al-Bilad noted (5/13): "The U.S. move to impose sanctions
against Syria was expected. Although the sanctions have been limited to
economic activities, which would not have great impact on Syria, the
implications of this action will add to the anti-American sentiments and
animosity in the region. The U.S. and Israel are the ones who deserve
punishment for their crimes in Iraq, Palestine, and the entire region. But the irresponsible power, arrogant
superiority, and use of the law of the jungle have overshadowed all other
international legislation and justice."
Dr. Ayed Al-Mana'a wrote in independent Al-Watan
(5/15): "Why does the U.S. insist
on punishing Syria? Syria has done nothing that can be described as harming the
interests of the U.S. Is the American
pressure on Syria a means to please the Zionist lobby and Zionist radicals in
Israel? Or, is the aim to economically smother Syria and thus weaken her
politically so that Israel can impose its conditions over Damascus? Isn't this
considered unjustified U.S. aggression against Syria? Doesn't the American administration
realize that by harming Syria, or any other Arab country, it is in fact
provoking all Arabs? Or does Washington care to please only the Zionists?"
LEBANON: “The Danger Of
Instability Is An Opportunity For The U.S.”
Rafiq Khoury maintained in centrist Al-Anwar (5/15): “Both Washington and Damascus realize that
the conflict between them is dangerous.
There is a desire in both countries to stick to dialogue...however, the
problem with dialogue is not only the differences between Syria and the U.S.
over the American demands...but also differences over the strategic view of the
Middle East.... What Damascus believes
is dangerous is perceived as an opportunity by the U.S.... Bashar looks at the map of the whole region,
not only Syria, and sees that Washington has become a source of instability,
but the Bush Administration believes that this ‘instability’ is one of its
successes. The Bush Administration is
proud of the biggest transformation it caused in its foreign policy which is
becoming a force of change in the region after being for so many years an
immobile observer of the status quo....
The war against Iraq was only the beginning of implementing this new
U.S. policy...what the neo-conservative current called ‘engineering
chaos.’ Washington is not only looking
for regime change in the region but also for a fundamental change in the
societies themselves in addition to a change in the political
education.... The game is very sensitive
between the option to continue in this adventure for change and the option to
return to the kind of stability in the region that includes neither peace, nor
sovereignty, nor democracy.”
"No (Political) Sense"
Samir Kassir opined in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar
(5/14): "The American style in
imposing sanctions...on other states is tyrannical whatever the justifications
are for these sanctions.... The
sanctions were considered moderate, but the mere fact that they were imposed
means that a new logic will control American-Syrian relations, a logic which is
subjected to Congress' whims and moods....
As for Syria, we know that the secret of this regime's long survival is
its accurate reading of international politics.... How could the Syrian regime not see where the
SAA is leading? Syria did not believe
that the Congress would actually impose these sanctions and did not believe
that George Bush would actually sign them....
There is no doubt that Syrian diplomacy was blinded, particularly
Minister Sharaa'. In the last four years
Sharaa' has committed two big mistakes:
The first was when he refused to believe that Israel would really
withdraw from Lebanon...and the second mistake is his inability to understand
the changes in the American policy following the occupation of Iraq and
consequently the danger the SAA might impose on Syria."
"Syria Should Turn The Tables On
The moderate English-language Daily Star
held (5/14): "Washington has
tightened the diplomatic thumb screws on Syria.... With the action being taken against Damascus,
a warning has been issued. While it is a warning that Damascus would ignore at
its peril, the opportunity exists for Syria to turn the situation to its
advantage. There is an opportunity
because the announced sanctions are not the knock-out punch that could really
hurt Syria.... No state can have the
comfort of isolation in today's 'globalized' world.... However, the reality is that Syria does not
have enough of a presence in Washington. Damascus' long-term position has been
that Washington is a non-starter--there is nothing that can be done to sway
Middle East policy in the capital of the world's superpower. But the region has
changed. The U.S. has come to Syria--it is now next door, in Iraq. Syria has
been hurt by this, and it has to act. Selling the Arab Peace Initiative in
America and, indeed, wherever it can, is a way to make Damascus a relevant
player in the international diplomatic arena.
The other way Assad can turn the tables is through reform at home.
Slogans are not enough. Syria has to reform, period. It must press ahead with a
genuine reform program for its own sake, to encourage Washington to ease its
unrelenting political squeeze, and ultimately to pre-empt the chilling prospect
of another US adventure in the mold of Iraq--this time in Syria. Syria could
simultaneously rejuvenate itself, and spare the region another American
folly. Reform would necessarily be a
slow process--all the more reason to not waste any more time. The world, in
addition to Syrians, will be thankful."
"The USA And Syria"
Rafiq Khouri observed in centrist Al-Anwar
(5/14): "The policy of sanctions is
not only tyrannical but insolent as well. It has also proved to be a
failure.... The USA has imposed
sanctions on approximately 50 countries over the past years and nothing has
"Sanctions Against Syria"
Ali Hamade asserted in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar
(5/13): "Sanctions against Syria
have been imposed during one of the most difficult times the U.S. is passing
through ever since it launched its war against Iraq. The U.S. status in the Arab world has
declined horribly with the escalation in the security situation in Iraq, the
collapse of the road map in addition to the prison scandal.... However, despite its declined status.... Syria should realizes that confronting the
U.S. is neither easy nor a game.... We
call upon the Syrians to look at their situation with the U.S. with a cool and
realistic head.... Some Syrians believe
that America’s failure in Iraq might push it into interfering with Syria
directly or through Israel.”
“The Sanctions ‘Without Teeth’ And An Early Alert To Syria”
Nicolas Nassif concluded in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar
(5/13): “A report prepared by a
(Lebanese) political figure who visited the U.S. lately concluded the following
about Syrian-American relations and the Syrian role in the upcoming Lebanese
presidential elections: 1) Washington
chose to impose four sanctions that were described by American officials as
sanctions ‘with no teeth’ as an indication that these sanctions are considered
an early warning/heads up to Syria....
2) The decision to begin imposing the SAA reflects...the fact that
America-Syrian relations are getting worse because of the Syrian non-response
to U.S. demands.... 3) The Americans
confine the reasons for their deteriorating relations with Syria to Iraq and
the radical organizations in Damascus....
They say that the slow process of reform has nothing to do with it 4)
Some American officials see the sanctions as a way to bring Syrian to account
for its role in Lebanon, and as a way to limit its impact on the upcoming
Lebanese presidential elections.... 5)
American officials believe that American-Lebanese relations cannot be but good
relations...because they respect the Lebanese democratic system and freedom.”
"Need Syria To Help In Iraq"
Sateh Nouriddine wrote in Arab nationalist As-Safir
(5/12): "The problem between the
U.S. and Syria is their different positions on post-war Iraq, but Washington
cannot manage the Iraqi quagmire without Damascus' cooperation.... However, Washington and Damascus can still
cooperate on other security issues such as the war on terror. While the sanctions have a psychological
nature more than a practical one, they show that the U.S. may be heading toward
completely severing its relations with Syria unless Damascus responds to
Israeli and Lebanese demands.... The
Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act endorsed by the
White House last year demands that Damascus halt its support of Palestinian
militant groups and Hizbullah, withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon and give up
its quest for WMD.... Relations between
Syria and the U.S. have often been tense, but that a better climate between the
two countries is not possible while Israelis and anti-Syrian Lebanese are
pushing their demands in Washington's power corridors. However, this does not mean
that dialogue will not take place, but most probably that it would be sporadic,
at best.... Hence, the removal of these
imposed sanctions may take decades."
Zuhayr Majid argued in independent,
pro-government Al-Watan (5/14):
"The USA will realize it is a great loser after its move [to impose
sanctions] against Syria.... It will be
difficult for Bush and others to get anything out of their sanctions because
they have not studied the [Syrian] history very well, and they did not study
the role of Damascus in history."
"A Futile Policy"
Mohamed Khair al-Jamali contended in
government-owned Al-Thawra (5/17):
"Contrary to the logic dialogue and its importance in rectifying
international relations, a bouncer' policy emerges as a new method that
violates and pays no heed to the principle of dialogue that serves common
interests.... The sanctions, which the
US uses against any country in the East and the West that has different points
of view regarding international issues and how to address them, can be
characterized under this futile policy.
The unjust US sanctions against Syria are based on this reckless,
short-sighted, and selfish policy.... It
is a futile policy because it does not change Syria's principled stands and it
does not serve the American people's interests. If there is any party that has
interest in these sanctions and in deepening the rift between Syria and
America, or Arabs and America, then it is Israel alone."
"True Credit Punishes, Is Not
Chief Editor Faiz al-Saigh stated in government-owned Al-Thawra
(5/13): "All countries except
Britain have denounced the tendentious sanctions that the U.S. administration
imposed on Syria. Israel, for its part, has expressed joy at this arbitrary
measure because it serves its interests....
Does any government that uses such methods intentionally and in a
premeditated manner have the right to talk about human rights in any part of
the world? Stranger than this is for
Washington to regard as unacceptable an equal and fraternal agreement concluded
by two fraternal Arab countries whose capitals are geographically close to each
other.... What type of values do these
messengers of aggression and proponents of contradictions and reckless policies
have? To what concepts do they subscribe? Nevertheless they are searching for
ways to improve their ugly image before Arab and global public opinion.... Concerning investments, debts, and capital,
we have not seen any U.S. investor or investment companies for decades. We are
not indebted to the U.S. or other countries....
Actually the status of our credit was one of the reasons that President
Bush's administration used to impose its so-called sanctions. Our rich credit
of which we are proud before the world is actually our own population and our
undeniable right. The U.S. administration's hawks cannot freeze the feelings of
our people or restrict their historical movement. This is the credit that Syria
considers to be most important, namely, the profound bonds that its people have
with the various parts of the Arab homeland. The Arab homeland has unanimously
rejected and denounced the sanctions and expressed determination to thwart the
Zionist objectives that are hidden behind them."
"An Israeli Measure"
Izziddin Darwish contended in government-owned Tishreen
(5/13): "There is no indication
that the U.S. Administration is ready to deal realistically with the hot issues
in the region.... In addition to the
mistakes, and provocations, this Administration is committing, and to pour oil
on the fire, the White House decided to apply economic sanctions against
Syria.... Such sanctions are useless for
Syria; on the contrary, the U.S. will be the main loser due to the number of
U.S. firms investing in Syria. Americans
know quite well that a policy of unjustified pressures aggravate tensions in
the region and that there should be constructive dialogue based on mutual
respect, and common interests.... The
U.S. Administration is still under the pressure of Zionist influence and is behaving
in this region according to Sharon's desires, not according to the interests of
the American people.... U.S. mistakes in
the region can only be categorized as real catastrophes due to U.S. political,
military and economic weight....
Certainly the White House decision is an Israeli decision in form,
content and timing. Will Americans accept being ridden by Israeli
"Timing Is Important"
Chief Editor Foaud Mardoud argued in the
English-language government-owned Syria Times (5/13): "The U.S. President needs
something--anything--that could help divert world attention away from the real
causes of the U.S. crisis in Iraq.
Nothing was better at hand than accusing Syria and imposing sanctions
against it. President Bush picked up an old file of what is called the Syrian
Accountability Act from his drawer, shook the dust off and signed it on
Tuesday. The timing of the endorsement
of this act shows the real extent of the moral crisis that faces the Bush
Administration over the release of thousands and thousands of ugly images
sneaked out of the Abu-Ghraib prison. As
an independent state with an independent economy and used to similar U.S.
sanctions, Syria is capable of facing the challenge and overcoming the
ramifications of the new U.S. act."
UAE: "U.S. Rushing To
Wield A Big Stick"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf News declared
(5/13): "Once more, a UN envoy has
decried the prevailing culture of confrontation favoured by the U.S.... Terge Roed-Larsen, top Middle East envoy of
Secretary-General Kofi Annan made plain on Tuesday in Damascus...that U.S.
threats against Syria and Iran will prove counterproductive. Roed-Larsen, in the region to explain the
state of play in the search for peace in the Middle East as outlined by the
quartet--the UN, US, EU and Russia--reiterated the need for a comprehensive
settlement. Such a settlement can be reached through UN resolutions, especially
242 and 338. The only reason why a settlement remains elusive is that those
resolutions, which call for full withdrawal from Arab land occupied by Israel
since 1967, are still waiting for Tel Aviv's compliance. To be sure, even as it backs the roadmap,
Washington continues to feed Israeli belligerence with its blatant double
standards, overlooking or condoning Tel Aviv's atrocities in Palestine while
rushing to wield a big stick against Arab nations. The U.S. has been unable to
furnish proof that Syria supports terrorism simply because the claim is false.
Syria is right in giving assistance to Palestinian resistance groups.
Washington is wrong in punishing Damascus for that."
"Syria's Submission Demanded"
Sharjah-based pan-Arab Al-Khaleej
editorialized (5/13): "It is
apparent that the U.S. decision...is a completion of the war against Iraq and
its occupation. The aim is to subjugate the region in the interest of the USA
and Israel.... It is obligatory for the
Arabs at this time to reject these sanctions, and by doing so they will be
standing with one of their own."
"The U.S. Takes Sanction Against Syria: It Can’t Get Off Iraqi
Troubles And Turn To Other Countries”
Liu Aicheng commented in official Communist
Party-run People’s Daily (Renmin Ribao) (5/13):
“Analysts think the White House has chosen this moment to issue
sanctions against Syria because the cruel facts of the U.S. military abusing
war prisoners have aroused fierce dissatisfaction in the Arab world.... The U.S. worries that photos of more prisoner
abuse may stimulate more Arabs and armed militias to move into Iraq through
Syria to strike the U.S. military....
Obviously the U.S. just wants to make a gesture to show its face to
Syria. Meanwhile it also has many
worries. While the Iraq issue is yet
unsolved, the U.S. can’t deal with one more in Syria. Therefore the U.S. decided to suppress and
“U.S. Sanctions Against Syria Could Be Counter-Productive”
Leading independent Kompas observed
(5/14): "President Bush on 5/11
announced economic sanctions against Syria for failing to take the necessary
action against terrorist groups that attack Israel and for failing to stop the
flow of foreign fighters into Iraq....
The U.S. argued that the sanctions represent a loud and clear message to
the Syrian leaders that the U.S. does not turn a blind eye to the many
violations Syria has made. But, the
sanctions might not automatically solve the problem, or it might as well become
counter-productive.... Such U.S.
pressure could as well revive debate in Damascus between the conservative ‘old
guard’ and the reform pioneers who seek to reduce confrontation with