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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

May 17, 2004

May 17, 2004





**  Dailies link U.S. sanctions against Syria to the "escalation of the security situation in Iraq."   


**  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 regime.




'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 Has Fallen"


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 confusion."


"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 prisoners."


GERMANY:  "Useless Sanctions"


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 talks."


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."




EGYPT:  "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] scandal."


"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."


SAUDI ARABIA:  "Sanctions On Syria:  An Electoral Game"


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 angry reactions."


"New Provocation"


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."


KUWAIT:  "Unjust Punishment"


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 Washington's Sanctions"


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 changed."


"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."


OMAN:  "Sanctions"


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."


SYRIA:  "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 Punished"


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 aggression?"


"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. 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."




CHINA:  "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 intimidate Syria.”


INDONESIA:  “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 Washington.”   



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