Monday, April 30, 2007

Putin's 26 April Speech: Gorchakov's October 1870 Circular
or Stalin's 9 February 1946 Speech, Revidivus?

"Yesterday we paid farewell to First President of Russia Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin. I ask you to honour his memory with a minute of silence....

The spiritual unity of the people and the moral values that unite us are just as important a factor for development as political and economic stability. It is my conviction that a society can set and achieve ambitious national goals only if it has a common system of moral guidelines. We will be able to achieve our goals only if we maintain respect for our native language, for our unique cultural values, for the memory of our forebears and for each page of our country’s history.

This national treasure is the foundation for strengthening our country’s unity and sovereignty. It is the foundation for our everyday life and the basis on which we can build our economic and political relations.

One of this year’s most important events is the election to the State Duma. What principle importance and unifying significance does this election have for our society?

Above all, the results of this election will objectively reflect the level of support among the Russian public for the policies we have been following. Essentially, this election will decide whether the current policies will continue or not, for the implementation of our strategic plans depends directly on the composition of the parliament after December 2.

These strategic plans include the formation of an effectively functioning civil society and development of an effective state able to ensure security and a decent life for our people. They also include the development of free and socially responsible enterprise, the fight against corruption and terrorism, modernisation of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies, and finally, a much more influential role for Russia in world affairs....

To be frank, our policy of stable and gradual development is not to everyone’s taste. Some, making skilful use of pseudo-democratic rhetoric, would like to return us to the recent past, some in order to once again plunder the nation’s resources with impunity and rob the people and the state, and others in order to deprive our country of its economic and political independence.

There has been an increasing influx of money from abroad being used to intervene directly in our internal affairs. Looking back at the more distant past, we recall the talk about the civilising role of colonial powers during the colonial era. Today, ‘civilisation’ has been replaced by democratisation, but the aim is the same ­ to ensure unilateral gains and one’s own advantage, and to pursue one’s own interests.

Some are not above using the dirtiest techniques, attempting to ignite inter-ethnic and inter-religious hatred in our multiethnic and democratic country. In this respect, I ask you to speed up the adoption of amendments to the law introducing stricter liability for extremist actions....

This brings me to the following matter.

As you know, the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO signed the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in 1990. This treaty would have made sense if the Warsaw Pact had continued to exist.

But today all that this treaty means is that we face restrictions on deploying conventional forces on our own territory. It is difficult to imagine a situation where the United States, for example, would accept restrictions on such a basis on the deployment of troops on its own territory. However, not only did Russia sign and ratify this treaty, but it has also observed its provisions in practice.

We have carried out considerable troop reductions. We no longer have any groups in the northwest of army or corps size. Practically all types of heavy arms have been withdrawn from the European part of the country. We are essentially the only country facing so-called ‘flank restrictions’ in the south and north. Even when the situation flared up in Chechnya, Russia continued to observe its commitments under this treaty and coordinated its action with its partners.

But what about our partners? They have not even ratified the adapted treaty, citing the Istanbul Agreements providing for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and Trans-Dniester.

But our country has been working consistently towards resolving these complex tasks. More importantly, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty is not in any way legally bound to the Istanbul Agreements.

This makes us fully justified in saying that in this particular case, our partners are not displaying correct behaviour, to say the least, in their attempts to gain unilateral advantages. While making use of an invented pretext for not ratifying the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, they are taking advantage of the situation to build up their own system of military bases along our borders. Furthermore, they plan to deploy elements of a missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

New NATO members such as Slovenia and the Baltic states, despite the preliminary agreements reached with NATO, have not signed the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty at all. This creates a real threat and an unpredictable situation for Russia.

In this context, I believe that the right course of action is for Russia to declare a moratorium on its observance of this treaty until such time as all NATO members without exception ratify it and start strictly observing its provisions, as Russia has been doing so far on a unilateral basis.

It is time for our partners to also make their contribution to arms reductions, not just in word but in deed. At the moment, they are only increasing arms, but it is time for them to start making cutbacks, if only in Europe.

I propose that we discuss this problem at the Russia-NATO Council. If no progress can be made through negotiations, then I propose that we examine the possibility of suspending our commitments under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (Applause). I was about to say that I call on the Federal Assembly to support this proposal, but I understand from your reaction that you do support it.

I also call your attention to the fact that elements of U.S. strategic weapons systems could be deployed in Europe for the first time. It is clear that the U.S. plans to deploy a missile defence system in Europe is not just an issue for bilateral Russian-American relations.

This issue, in one way or another, affects the interests of all European countries, including those in NATO. In this respect, this subject should be, and I would even say must be, discussed in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe as part of this organisation’s political and military dimension.

It is time for us to give the OSCE real substance and have it address the issues of genuine concern to the peoples of Europe rather than just hunting for fleas in the post-Soviet area.

Incidentally, we support the candidacy of Kazakhstan for the presidency of this organisation and we hope that Kazakhstan’s presidency would help to give the organisation the needed positive boost to its work.


Our foreign policy is aimed at joint, pragmatic, and non-ideological work to resolve the important problems we face.

In broader terms, what I am speaking about is a culture of international relations based on international law ¬ without attempts to impose development models or to force the natural pace of the historical process. This makes the democratisation of international life and a new ethic in relations between states and peoples particularly important. It also calls for the expansion of economic and humanitarian cooperation between countries.

This explains the attention we must pay to building up the common humanitarian space within the CIS, making our work with Russians abroad more effective, and making greater use of cooperation between civil society organisations that has proved its worth. Youth, education, cultural and professional exchanges are all an important part of humanitarian cooperation.

As it rebuilds its economic potential and becomes more aware of its possibilities, today’s Russia seeks to develop equal relations with all countries avoiding any attitude of arrogance. We will do no more than defend our economic interests and make use of our competitive advantages in the way that all countries around the world do.

We support the development of institutions and mechanisms that give equal consideration to the interests of all partners. This is true for projects in all fields ¬ in the energy sector, in industry, and in the area of international transit. These projects exist and are being implemented.

Russia will continue to show initiative in pursuing economic integration in the CIS area and, more broadly, throughout the Eurasian region. We need to bolster the integration processes taking place in the Eurasian Economic Community and in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This, I stress, is precisely a case where economic development is synonymous with security, including the security of our borders.

I would like to reiterate our approach to building the Union State between Russia and Belarus.

Russia is open to all forms and models of integration. We are prepared to go as far in this respect as our Belarusian friends are ready to go. The pace at which we build the Union State depends only on the substance and the real depth of the integration processes underway.

We are not hurrying anyone. We are ready to hold frank discussions with our partners on any of the problems that arise on the way. But we remain unswervingly committed to our policy of comprehensive development of relations with Belarus in vital areas such as the economy, transport, social protection, healthcare and humanitarian cooperation.

Whatever the case, we will act in keeping with the interests of the peoples of both Russia and Belarus.

I note also that we are developing an increasingly constructive partnership with the European Union. We believe that all of these positive elements in our relations should now be cemented and developed in the new basic strategic partnership agreement between Russia and the EU.

Overall, we need to conduct a serious discussion involving the politicians and members of the business and academic communities on ways to facilitate the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour on the European and Asian continents. Russia, with its geopolitical position, can and will play an important part in this respect and will do all it can to encourage these processes.

I propose that we begin this discussion at the International Economic Forum in June 2007 in St Petersburg."

Vladimir Putin, Annual Speech to the Federal Assembly, Marble Hall, Kremlin, Moskva 26 April 2007, in

The reaction to Grazhdanin Putin's speech to the Russian Federal Assembly has been a mixture of bewilderment and alarm. With the official American reaction one of disbelief that Russia would carry out its threat to put on hold, Russia's adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. As the State Department's official spokesman put it, the United States: "certainly wouldn't see the placement of ten interceptors and a radar anything that can conceivably be seen as altering the strategic balance of power" (see: & the articles in the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune on the day after the Putin Speech in: & Of course strictly speaking, the American State Department's reaction is accurate enough. Per se, there is nothing remotely threatening to the European balance of power, in the proposed American set-up of the anti-ballastic missile placements in Poland and the Cech Republic. However, in this instance, the diplomatic pas de deux, has nothing to do with what is and is not true. It is much more a case of perceptions, and, in this instance Russian perceptions. Au fond, Russia's rulers at the moment, feel and display a heady mixture of fear and aggressiveness. Not mind you the aggressiveness of a Great Power which is embarked upon adventures abroad (AKA the USA prior the the invasion of Iraq...), rather it is the aggressiveness of a power which feels that it has the bit between its teeth, and that it can push its points without much fear of the negative consequences of doing so. In that respect it somewhat resembles current Persian foreign policy. Russian outbursts over the removal of the World War II statute in Tallin, a contretemps of almost childish proportions (by both sides mind you: both Estonian and Russian), is part and parcel of this current mood.

The 'fear' element in Russian behavior is based upon the residual concern that the USA, and some of its 'New Europe' allies, are still interested in overturning the status quo ante, in Russia in favor of some specifically Russian variant of the so-called Colored Revolution, `a la Georgia, and Ukraine. At this late date, with Georgia somewhat marginalized and President Yuschenko of Ukraine neutralized, it would appear on the surface that such fears have little substance. And, no doubt there is an element of bogus zealousness in Putin's talk of "influx of money from abroad", painting a portrait of the likes of Mr. George Soros, attempting to replicate the role of Aleksandr Parvus-Helphand in 1916-1917. However absurd such talk may sound to many outside of Matushka Roissya, it is probably the case that Putin and his circle do in fact believe to a small degree, that Washington et. al., would indeed like to engineer a situation in which the current regime is replaced, tutte quanti, by some Russian equivalent of Saakashvili (Kasparov or Kasyanov anyone?). And, of course it is the case, that there are elements within both the current American and Polish governments (I cannot speak for the government in Prague who would like to see such a result. The only caveat that I would add to such fears is that such elements are at the moment somewhat marginal, at the moment. Due not so much to any liking for Putin and his regime but due to the American preoccupation and indeed obsession with Iraq.

So to sum up, I strongly suggest that the proper response to Putin's threat, is not to respond in kind with counter-charges, but to attempt to remove as much as possible irritants and annoyances from the Russian-American-European policy menu. While no doubt these can seem to be aiding and abetting a semi-dictatorial regime (a not entirely accurate characterization of Putin's regime), which has lessend political pluralism at home, and, attempted to do so abroad, that cannot gainsay the fact that in the current International situation, to needlessly alienate Russia, over what appears to be a quite inefficient, missile defence system, is a policy of reductio ad absurdum. And, best be avoided at all costs. And to answer the question posed by the title of this posting, Putin's speech tends much more towards Gorchakov's Circular of 31st of October 1870, rather than Iosif Vissarionovich's 9th of February 1946 speech. In the nature of things, just as Kyniaz Gorchakov, took skillful advantage of Europe's pre-occupation with the ongoing Franco-Prussian war to denounce the neutralization clauses of the Treat of Paris, so Putin has similarly used the weakness of the United States, both diplomatically and otherwise to force the pace on the ballistic missile defence and other issues. This after a long period in which Russia was on the defensive. Obviously no longer...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


As anyone who has read these pages knows, I have had a less than positive opinion of the current American Secretary of State. A time server, mediocrity, whose sole qualification for her current position, and her prior position, was her ability to run the treadmill alongside President Bush the Younger. And, of course to discuss policy at a debased level that the American chief executive seems to prefer.I can easily think of many men who are much more qualified to hold office at foggy bottom, than Mme. Secretary Rice. Which is not to gainsay the fact that under her tenure, there has been the stirrings of a return of intelligence (admittedly from a very low base) and open mindedness to American Diplomacy. Something that anyone will welcome considering the disastrous nature of the American diplomatic track record between 2001 and 2005. All one needs do is pronounce the horrible word: Iraq. And, that is enough to conjure up the debacle on all fronts which the Bush regime's diplomatic ineptness has landed the United States in.

What role Rice played in that debacle is something which is not altogether certain.I would surmise that she was more of an enabler of the neo-conservative clique which ran policy prior to 2006, than a convinced adherent. It would appear that while perhaps in some vague fashion recognizing the harm done to the American position by the catastrophic policies pursued, she showed absolutely no wish to fight to prevent injury and damage being done. In short, Secretary Rice, played the role of the 'Good German' in the Bush regime, in those horrible years(horrible for diplomacy that is).

Have things now changed for the better? Yes, I will admit that due to a combination of American diplomatic weakness (due to Iraq), and, a weakened political position at home, Rice has been able to tack (to use a sailing metaphor) the American diplomatic ship, into more sensible and intelligent waters. The agreement with North Korea, the(slight) moderation of American hostility towards the Hamas Government, the willingness to be seen talking with Persia and Syria, all these are signs that in fact, the wilder days of the Bush regime are at an end. However, unlike her acolytes such as the Washington Post's David Ignatius (for his columns, I see little new or particularly unusual in Rice's latest diplomatic endeavors. Having retreated, perhaps markedly so from her 'pro-Democratic' pronouncements of less than two years ago, the idea that she is still engaged in 'transformational diplomacy', is a complete non possumus. It would be truer to state that she is engaged in a diplomatic equivalent of a silent, night retreat, in which the defeated army, under the cover of darkness, withdraws from the field of battle, without allowing the enemy to become aware of the fact. Similarly, Rice's statements that the United States is still pushing for democratization in the Near and Middle East, is of course a smokescreen for the fact that recently it is the authoritarian, Sunni regimes in the region, which the USA has been attempting to corral into an anti-Persian cordon sanitaire. The silent American responses to the recent sham elections in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, speak of course volumes, which I see no need to emphasize.

Of course I am not gainsaying this 'retreat', by Rice, et. al., in fact I happen to believe that such a retreat has been long overdue. And, similarly, I am also of the belief that Rice's dropping of her 'transformational diplomacy' rhetoric (and any policy behind it) are all well and good. Were that the debacle in Iraq, so easily dropped and hidden away. Unfortunately such is not at all possible. A state of affairs that Secretary of State Rice, bears a great deal of responsibility.

Below is a transcript of an interview in the Financial Times with Secretary of State Rice. It has been posted in the Department of State's web site (, and, I run it, for the interesting light it shows on the American Secretary of State at this time, of 'diplomatic retreat'. Read and enjoy!

Interview With The Financial Times Secretary Condoleezza Rice.

Washington, DC April 20, 2007

QUESTION: I thought I would start with a somewhat philosophical question.


QUESTION: Which is, now you've been National Security Advisor four years, Secretary of State for more than two years --

SECRETARY RICE: I know. Getting too long --

QUESTION: Seen a lot --

SECRETARY RICE: Long in the tooth. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But I mean, if you look back now, what sort of lessons do you think you draw about the conduct of American diplomacy and the projection of American power after these six years that you think might have been useful when you started back in January 2001?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is a little bit difficult because so much changed on September 11th. We all knew of transnational threats. We all knew of state-sponsored terrorism and indeed of terrorism of the kind that al-Qaida was. We all knew that there were failing states that were dangerous. We had seen it in Somalia and -- but I think that the degree to which the weak rather than the strong can significantly undermine your security, indeed endanger your security is something that had not been fully accounted for in American foreign policy and in American foreign policy doctrine and not just in American foreign policy, but in international policy.

And so if you look at, for instance, a discussion that we might have had when we were sitting in the office in 2001 about NATO, I doubt that it would have had a section discussing how NATO might fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and find a counterinsurgency doctrine that would require simultaneously to root out terrorists and destroy them while winning the hearts and minds of the population alongside them. I think it was a concept, but it was a concept studied in the National Defense University and perhaps in institutions -- academic institutions, but really not something that was central to either American foreign policy or to the policy of our allies.

And I think that we would not have had a discussion about how to organize ourselves to deal with transnational threats like a black market institution or black marketeer in nuclear weapons technology like A.Q. Khan or how to think about mobilizing financial sanctions to deal with those who were abusing those powers. I just think that after September 11th, the inadequacies of our doctrines and of our policies to deal with those kinds of threats came very, very clearly to us.

I would say that we've reorganized ourselves, both the United States and increasingly, the international system really rather quickly to begin to deal with them, but we've got a lot more work to do.

QUESTION: What about nation-building, because you were famously skeptical and actually that arose in the conversation.

SECRETARY RICE: I still am skeptical about the military having to do nation-building and that was really the point. It's why I've spent a lot of time here at the Department in something that we generally call transformational diplomacy, but it really is kind of fancy term for something which is quite simple, which is that the civilian side of our national security establishment has to be more capable in helping to prevent and if necessary, repair failed states through helping to build governance structures. It usually starts with police forces and justice systems and it moves on to everything from taxation, systems of taxation to helping to create opportunities for development so that people don't turn to nefarious work.

And we are still struggling to organize ourselves appropriately for what some call the nation-building task. It's why we here in the United States have just begun this work on a civilian reserve corps because, rightly, that shouldn't be the business of the military.

QUESTION: I'm going to come to Iraq in a minute, but do you not think that General Petraeus was engaged and is engaged in nation-building?

SECRETARY RICE: I think General Petraeus is engaged in counterinsurgency, which has an aspect of -- certainly of improving the lives of people. But the process of nation-building is a longer-term one. That means giving the institutions or helping to create the institutions so that those people will be able to do it for themselves. And that is something that is absolutely a function that will have to be done by civilians.

But look, we are all involved in one way or another in what is really a continuum between war and peace. It's not a matter that you end the war and begin the peace, but rather that you have in many places, whether it's Afghanistan or Iraq or Haiti, where we've been very involved or -- earlier on, Liberia -- that you're simultaneously trying to deal with the sources of insecurity and the violent forces that are trying to destabilize at the same time that you're trying to build healthy forces. Now if you want to call that nation-building, that's fine, but I think that it is a continuum and we have been -- the whole international community -- we've done it in a sort of ad-hoc way, from Bosnia to Afghanistan, now to Iraq. And I think we finally now are beginning to seek the kind of institutions that will make us capable of doing that on a longer-term basis.

And here in the Department, we've been working to think about how to train people differently. Do we need Foreign Service officers with different skills? I moved quite a few hundred officers out of Europe, for instance, and into places that are on the front lines.

QUESTION: We miss them.


QUESTION: Can we just talk about one recent important development, which the United States with the help of China secured, which was the diplomatic breakthrough on North Korea? Can you give us an update on the dismantling of – or how far the North Koreans have moved?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we believe now that the United States has done what it was obligated to do, which was to resolve the issue of the frozen accounts in Macau coming up out of the Treasury action against the bank there. And we have had discussions with the Chinese and the Macanese authorities and with the North Koreans about the unfreezing of those accounts and that has happened. The ball is really now in North Korea's court.

We continue to hear -- I think there was a statement even today -- that they are committed to the February 13th agreement and don't intend to delay it. There are some technical matters that they are apparently still trying to work out on the banking measures, but those need to get worked out rather quickly and we believe that we need to get on with the denuclearization. But we've discussed and consulted with the Chinese, with our other partners in the six-party talks, and I think everybody believes that we can and should be on track here fairly soon, but --

QUESTION: But is there work being done now by the North Koreans on Yongbyon?

SECRETARY RICE: We are not aware of any work there. They were again in touch with the IAEA to say that they would shortly as soon as these matters were resolved. So there was -- the banking matters turned out to be far more complicated to resolve than I think anybody realized. And so we got a bit of a late start on finishing the obligations after 30 days, but the parties are still very committed to this and we expect it to go forward. We expect the North to live up to its obligations.

QUESTION: Now this was an important creative approach, I think, by Americans in the sense there was some echoes -- perhaps I'm reading too much into this -- of the 2+4 arrangement within the six-party talks. And you were looking at -- you know, baskets beyond simply the nuclear issue and perhaps even a peace treaty eventually.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, eventually.

QUESTION: So this was a comprehensive diplomatic approach adopted towards a member of the "axis of evil." Help me understand.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, a comprehensive approach is the 2005 -- the September 2005 agreement is really the framework agreement for all of this and these are now implementing agreements based on the '05 agreement. I really do believe that in order to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that also deals with the political realities on the Korean Peninsula and in the region more broadly, you have to have a --

QUESTION: So it's a realist -- a bit of a realist approach, isn't it?


QUESTION: There's a bit of --


QUESTION: -- well, Baker-ism, isn't --

SECRETARY RICE: No, nobody --

QUESTION: The ghost of Jim Baker?

SECRETARY RICE: Nobody is going to suggest that we have no difficulties with the North Korean regime. That's not the issue. But what we have been able to do is to join forces with all of the really directly interested parties in the region -- and I say directly interested because we're really talking about the neighbors -- to get incentives and disincentives properly aligned here, I think, to come to a solution.

Now, this is perhaps a metaphor that's not quite as appropriate for you; we're in the first quarter, right? I don't know what the --

QUESTION: I don't know about actual quarters. These are like football quarters.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know what the soccer equivalent would be. But in any case, we're at the beginning and there's still a lot of work to do. But yes, I think we would like to get to the place where there's an overall political resolution.

QUESTION: But in the beginning when you trashed the Sunshine Policy, you were actually behind the goal line.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, but even the Sunshine Policy, which by the way, the President -- we've said all along that we understood why North Korea wanted to pursue this. But the genesis of this policy was to try to align the interests of all of the important powers here, because we knew that everybody wanted to denuclearize North Korea.

QUESTION: Just help me to understand why you couldn't have approached the issue with that kind of creative comprehensive approach three years, four years ago.

SECRETARY RICE: It takes times to get alignments right. When we first started, we knew that we all shared, particularly with China, a desire to have a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. But we had not come together as a coalition, if you will, worked together, worked through the issues, come up with approaches, learned to use both carrots and sticks together until more recently, until at least September 2005. And then we had a couple of situations with the North Koreans' missile test and nuclear test, I think which did nothing but solidify, again, the coalition. Sometimes it just takes time to have the alignment take place and when it does then you can move forward.

I think in 2003, it was still very much the view that this was a North Korea-U.S. problem. And what people really have come to realize is this is a regional problem of which the U.S. is one of the powers. And with that recognition and with the intensive work of the others as well as the United States, we have been freer to engage the North Koreans bilaterally because no one is asking us to engage the North Koreans bilaterally to achieve denuclearization on our own. That's no longer the case. The bilateral contacts now are to reinforce the multilateral framework.

QUESTION: Do you think "axis of evil" was a useful phrase?

SECRETARY RICE: I think it was descriptive. I do think it was descriptive.

QUESTION: Do you think North Korea still is a member of the "axis of evil"?

SECRETARY RICE: The North Koreans, I hope, are about to demonstrate that they've made an important strategic choice.

QUESTION: If you can talk to the North Koreans, Madame Secretary, why not talk to Syria?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have talked to Syria.


SECRETARY RICE: We have diplomatic relations with Syria. And it's not a matter of not -- of having an allergy to talking to certain states. Now, Iran is a bit different because for 27 years we've had no relationship for a variety of historical reasons, although we made the offer to reverse that under certain circumstances.

But with Syria it's simply been a matter that we've talked and talked and we've never been able to get anywhere. And so when we think that it is going to serve moving the policy forward, we could do it --

QUESTION: Tony Blair thinks it's really worth talking to the Syrians.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that Great Britain did talk to the Syrians, to Syria. I think a lot of people have talked to Syria. I haven't seen much in the way of change in Syrian policy.

QUESTION: So they're still allowing terrorists to come across the border?

SECRETARY RICE: I think we do not believe --

QUESTION: -- sponsoring --

SECRETARY RICE: We do not believe that Syria is doing what it should to help stabilize Iraq. But we have a neighbors’ conference coming up. We'll have a chance to, in a sense, test the proposition that the neighbors have more to lose from an unstable Iraq than to gain from it. I think that's a good format in which to have that discussion. And we'll see what develops. This is -- it's important for Iraq's neighbors to really examine what they're doing and ask whether what they're doing is in the best interest of Iraq but also in their own best interest. Sometimes when people come together and have a chance to talk, they get to see these questions differently.

QUESTION: I'm going to allow our Iran expert to come in, but let me ask you one more question about Iraq broadly. What hope is there and what can you do to encourage Iran to play a more constructive role regarding Iraq where things are pretty bad?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I wouldn't --

QUESTION: You know, in terms of the violence --

SECRETARY RICE: I would hope that the Iranians see that their own interests are not going to be particularly well served by an Iraq that can't -- that isn't able to defend its people and able to be a force for stability in the region. Iran lives next door to Iraq. To me, it should be self-evident. Again, we'll have opportunity, I would hope, to discuss these issues. They did discuss them in Baghdad and I hope we'll have an opportunity to discuss them in the ministerial.

QUESTION: On Iran, it would seem to me that the last few months has been a really sharp deterioration in the situation between the U.S. and Iran, particularly since the President made his speech on January the 10th.

SECRETARY RICE: I feel a little differently. I think there's been a rebalancing.

QUESTION: A rebalancing?


QUESTION: What does that mean?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it means that I think after Lebanon, perhaps there were questions about whether and how the United States could defend its interests. I think there were -- apparently the Iranians questioned whether or not it was possible for the world to come together concerning its nuclear program.

And in recent months, meaning since the President's speech, I think we've established first of all that indeed we will defend our interests and our allies in the Gulf, which is frankly the reason for the carrier strike group and the PAC-3s. I think we've demonstrated that we are going to engage in force protection and not permit Iranian personnel who are engaged in activities that are harmful to our soldiers to simply go unchecked.

And I think the Iranians have learned that indeed the international community could come together on not just one but in pretty rapid succession two Security Council resolutions, Chapter 7, 15-0, with a variety, an array of states, that make it very difficult for the Iranian Government to argue that this is a problem between the United States and the West, much less a problem between the United States and -- between -- I'm sorry, between Iran and the West, much less between Iran and the United States.

And I frankly think it was a bit of a shock. I think that the collateral effect of that has been that particularly in the private sector people are making assessments of the reputational and investment risk associated with Iran and you are seeing, to my mind, for the first time, real debate or criticism or searching in Iran for whether or not some of their policies are leading to exactly the kind of isolation that they hope to avoid.

QUESTION: On the ground you have events like a sharp increase in violence in Iraq, you have the Iranians taking the British sailors and marines hostages, and recently there's an American citizen in Kish, you have more evidence of Iranian weapons and movements into Iraq and also recently into Afghanistan, the Iranians have actually increased the number of centrifuges that they've installed rather than decrease, so wouldn't you agree that while you may call this a rebalancing on the U.S. side (inaudible) responding to Iran with stepping up the pressure, actually the events on the ground are contributing to a general escalation? It's not that the Iranians have stepped back in response to your efforts.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it may well be that Iran will again try and defy the circumstances in which it finds itself, but we will see. I think it is a little too early to tell on some of this and we'll see whether or not more reasonable heads prevail in Iran.

In terms of what's going on on the ground in Iraq, I think it was to be expected that when the Iraqi Government and the coalition, principally the United States, started a more aggressive plan to try and bring population security that you would have a reaction to that by hostile forces.

QUESTION: Including Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't -- well, possibly, although I'm really talking now more about what you're seeing in the suicide bombings and which have -- I can't tell you definitively, but which have the hallmark of al-Qaida. And that's perhaps not surprising. And the inputs for the Baghdad security plan have been going well, but they are not yet complete, including an additional two brigades of American forces that are due.

So I think we have to not try and judge the balance of forces on the ground on a kind of day-to-day basis, but we have to have a little time to look at the trend lines.

QUESTION: Do you think there's a chance that Mottaki will come to Sharm el-Sheikh and to the meeting?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know.

QUESTION: They haven't confirmed that they are coming?

SECRETARY RICE: No, they haven't. It'll be a missed opportunity if he doesn't, but obviously it's up to the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Are you going to try to resolve the nuclear issue within Iran -- with Iran before the end of this Administration? Have you set any notional timetable?

SECRETARY RICE: No, but we -- obviously it would be very important to try and do it as quickly as possible. I wouldn't even say to the end of the Administration. I would say as quickly as possible.

And there is a way to resolve it. The Iranian Government tells its people that we want to deny Iran nuclear technology and a civil nuclear program. That's simply not true. The United States and the Europeans have been supportive of Bushehr, for instance. We were supportive of the idea of a joint venture, which was a Russian idea, as long as the enrichment and reprocessing would be done outside the country. There has been discussion of assured fuel supply for countries that will forego the enrichment and reprocessing fuel cycle -- part of the fuel cycle.

There are all kinds of ways that Iran could develop civil nuclear power without the proliferation risk that is concerning to everybody, and we have been completely committed to a diplomatic course, supporting Javier Solana in what he's doing, saying that once enrichment and reprocessing stop and are halted by the Iranians -- the suspension, that there would be -- I would come to the table, too. It would reverse 27 years of policy. We can talk about anything. We didn't say we'll come and we have to talk about these little things. Thus far, Iran has chosen not to take up that path.

QUESTION: Why not go for a multilateral forum in which you could have, if you like, some bilateral contacts within the forum rather than Solana doing a lot of legwork?


QUESTION: I mean a la North Korea.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. No, if in fact Iran were to suspend, it would be – (inaudible) six plus one, because it would be the Permanent Five plus -- and the European three -- Germany, plus Germany, and Iran. And of course, in that context, within the context of those, I wouldn't rule out that there might be some reason for bilateral discussions within that context. But we haven't been able to get to that context because the Iranians won't suspend.

QUESTION: Could security guarantees be part of an overall package --


QUESTION: -- that you dispel this notion that the United States wishes to attack Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, if Iran is after civil nuclear power, I've never understood what the security guarantee argument was, frankly. But I think that the -- it is probably not on the table certainly at this point, but we can talk about whatever is on anyone's mind and we should hear what's on the Iranians' minds. But we can't have a situation in which we're talking and they're perfecting centrifuge technology at the same time.

QUESTION: If I just to follow up on this. I mean it was the case that certainly important members of the Bush Administration in the first term certainly were actively talking about regime change in Iran. Is that still something that you would --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it wasn't the policy of the U.S. Government. The policy of the U.S. Government was to have a change in regime behavior, and that's the policy of the U.S. Government. And look, the President has made very clear that we want every human being on the face of the earth to live in a society and in a political system in which political freedoms are respected, and Iran is no different.

QUESTION: So let's be clear, Madame Secretary. As far as you're concerned as Secretary of State, American policy is for a change in regime behavior --

SECRETARY RICE: American policy is --

QUESTION: -- not regime change?

SECRETARY RICE: American policy is very clear on what -- and it was clear in the May remarks that I made -- that we are seeking the regime to change its behavior. It is very clear in the package of proposals that were put forward by the six that that would open up some possibilities of economic and political dialogue, even advantage. We removed our WTO objection so that Iran could apply for WTO membership. I think it's perfectly clear.

Now, I want to be -- I also want to be clear on another fact. We do believe that the Iranian people deserve the freedoms that everybody deserves. But I think our policy line here has been clear.

QUESTION: This brings me to a somewhat -- the broader point. Again, it's almost coming back to the first question that I asked in your odyssey as being one of the key architects and executioners of American foreign policy, that there is perhaps a slightly more hard-headed pragmatic approach now and that you've seen that a lot of people who talked about bringing democracy to the Middle East, for example, may be an absolutely laudable moment at some point, as you say, with the Iranian people. But at another point, there are certain problems with having elected militias --


QUESTION: -- in Lebanon, Iraq.

SECRETARY RICE: Of course, but --

QUESTION: Palestine, and you much better understand that now --

SECRETARY RICE: No, but I'm a strong believer that if you are (inaudible) choose one, and I'll choose elections and democracy, even if it brings to power people that we don't like. I am not one who believes that the elections in the Palestinian territories were a mistake. I think that the Palestinian people had to have the opportunity to express their preferences. I do think that there are certain responsibilities that come with governing and that Hamas has not lived up to those because it has been unable to deliver because it is isolated from the international system because it will not give up violence. So there's a consequence to being in power and being unable to deliver.

But under no circumstances will this President or this Administration turn its back on what we believe to be the essential fact about the Middle East, which is that without reform and democratization you're going to have a false stability in the Middle East which will continue to give rise to extremism. And I think that one thing that is not perhaps often said is that, yes, extremists who manage to organize themselves politically are dangerous. Extremists who are not forced to organize themselves politically are also dangerous. And what has happened or what was happening is that extremism and political politics was going on; it was just going on in the extremes. What was absent was any really healthy countervailing forces that are the kind of more moderate political forces that one sees emerging in Abu Mazen's Palestinian Authority or Siniora or ultimately with the Iraqis.

And you're going to go through -- we're going to go through a period of time where there's, in these newly emerging democratic systems, contestation between extremist forces and moderate forces.

QUESTION: But there are these really difficult anomalies. You gave an inspiring speech in Cairo. Now how do you fit those laudable aims that you set out in that speech with what is actually going on on the ground in Egypt?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't think any of us expect that after decades, at least the last 60 years, unchallenged authoritarianism, that there will be immediate successful, stable democracies throughout the Middle East. This is a process. And I still believe that the speech that I gave in Cairo is, for me, one of the most important statements that I possibly could have made because I saw it as a challenge to the leadership of Egypt with which we have very good relations on a strategic level, but to meet the expectations of an increasingly modernizing Egypt for democratic change.

Now when people say the United States shouldn't try to impose democracy, I say, well, that's absolutely right because you can't impose democracy. But usually one needs to realize that what you have to impose is tyranny, not democracy. People rather take to the idea that they might have control of their lives. But it's going to take some time. And it has to be now and it has to be an Egyptian process. And frankly, I don't think it's helpful for the United States having made the challenge, having said that we will support those to just always be in the forefront of talking about it.

Egyptians are talking about it. The referendum said something very important about politics in Egypt. I don't think you're ever going to have a situation -- after that presidential election in which there was front page criticism of everything about the president, I don't think you're ever going to have another presidential election in Egypt that looks like the old style of election.

The fact that the referendum was not supported by the population, not by voting against it, simply not voting, says something about a political awakening in Egypt. And so I think that these are things that take time. But you also have to look at Kuwaiti women voting. You have to look at what is happening in political reform in Jordan, legislators coming -- legislatures coming alive in places like Kuwait.

QUESTION: These are noble goals. It's actually the kind of --

SECRETARY RICE: No, it's not -- these are not goals.

QUESTION: Well, they're reality.

SECRETARY RICE: Right, reality.

QUESTION: But some would say that -- what about the impact, though, of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib on America's moral standing in the world and, therefore, its ability to affect some of the -- and influence people? I mean, if I look at the Secretary of State Acheson over there --


QUESTION: -- and you read Present at the Creation --


QUESTION: You can see how he managed -- and his colleagues, the Truman Administration mobilized coalitions around the world. And that was a time when America was really seen as the great liberator, but in the most positive sense. And today that's just -- you don't have that. You've lost it.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've mobilized a pretty good group. Would you have thought NATO fighting in Afghanistan? Would you really have thought that?

QUESTION: Half of them are not turning up, though.

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, that's not -- NATO has its difficulties in Afghanistan and I would be very happy to (inaudible) of the national caveats -- but when you look at what is really going on in Afghanistan -- Canadians, Dutch fighting, and fighting hard -- it's a remarkable thing that that alliance is fighting.

QUESTION: But what about --

SECRETARY RICE: But let me go --

QUESTION: Sorry, please, yeah.

SECRETARY RICE: Abu Ghraib is indefensible. It turned my stomach, just as it did the President's when it happened. Indefensible. The only thing that I can say is that just because you're a democracy doesn't mean that you're perfect. What it does mean, though, when you're a democracy is that there will be consequences and there will be accountability and so people were brought to trial for Abu Ghraib.

Guantanamo, on the other hand, we all want to close Guantanamo. The President, I think, would close Guantanamo tomorrow if someone could answer the question: And what will you do with the dangerous people who are there? And this isn't just America's problem. We could use some help from countries taking their people back and making sure that they would not come back onto the streets. Imagine the day that somebody -- and by the way, we have run into some people who were released from Guantanamo back on the battlefield. So we all have a problem on how to deal with Guantanamo. Most people who go to Guantanamo will tell you that the conditions are humane. The issue is indefinite detention; that's the concern. But there isn't indefinite detention. People are being sent back, people are being reviewed and people will be tried.

Now, that brings to the point that I wanted to make about America and why America retains the high ground on something like Guantanamo. Remarkable that Mr. Hamdan, who was accused of terrorism, can sue the Secretary of Defense of the United States and get a ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States. We are a country of laws. And that's an extraordinary circumstance. And then the Supreme Court ruled and said go back to the legislature and get a law that does this and the President did that. So that's why the United States maintains the moral high ground.

It's not to say that there won't be disagreements, even in the United States, about how we have dealt with terrorist issues. But there is a system in the United States for the rule of law.

QUESTION: So are you saying everyone in Guantanamo will be brought to trial? My understanding from what officials are saying is that only a certain --

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, we're trying as much as we can to transfer people out to their country. That's the first goal is if somebody is -- if a country will take them and they are -- we can make security arrangements, we transfer people out. We've transferred hundreds of people out. Some people will have to be tried, but the -- and will be tried.

But the real -- it goes back to the point I made here at the beginning. This is a different circumstance in which we find ourselves. And it's a circumstance in which we are all having to come to terms with the new demands of having to deal with extremely dangerous people who fight in these terrorist organizations which are not on behalf of any country, they're on behalf of this (inaudible) national movement. What do you do with them? Do you -- it's the same debate that was there about intelligence. Do you really want to say that you shouldn't use all lawful means to learn as much as you can about the next possible attack? Because the difference here is that if you do not learn -- intelligence is a long pole in the tent. If you do not learn of an attack, thousands of people die.

I remember when I testified before the 9/11 Commission that I said at one point that my greatest fear was that as the attacks faded in memory, and we want them to fade into memory, that people would also forget the kinds of things that we were talking about that might have prevented the attacks: better intelligence, the ability of domestic and foreign intelligence to work together, the ability to share intelligence across borders, the kind of failed state that Afghanistan was, that people wondered why didn't we do something earlier, why wasn't there a prevention of the place where terrorists could train? We have to remember that in this kind of war we're in a race for prevention. And when they have to be right once and we have to be right 100 percent of the time, that's a pretty tough fight.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that's going to have to be the last one.

QUESTION: I have a very, very quick question. Just to ask what difference to your life as Secretary of State having Bob Gates and Hank Paulson has made.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, my life as Secretary of State has been pretty good along. But Bob and I are old friends, you know, we go back a long way to the days of the Soviet Union when we were both --

QUESTION: He wasn't quite on the same side.


QUESTION: He wasn't quite on the same line then, was he?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, yeah, oh, absolutely. No, we were very much on the same line. But anyway, you know, we've known each other for a long time. We've worked together for a long time. And I think what's not really known is that we didn't just work together in the government, but long after we both left the government worked together on the Bush Library and then the Bush School. And so he's a good friend and we have a very easy relationship. And Hank I've known for a while, too. And the three of us have a good time together.

QUESTION: There are policy implications to that, I mean, your ability to work well with them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just think it's an easy working relationship. We have a strong belief in just sitting down and talking things through early, not letting them get down to the bureaucracy and come back up to us, which is very often what happens when you're at the top of an organization like this.

QUESTION: I should conclude by saying that after six and a half years, it's really about time that we had the Rice doctrine. You surely deserve --

SECRETARY RICE: I deserve a doctrine? I think we'll skip that part. (Laughter.)


Released on April 23, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007


"Human affairs never stand still for long. Innumerable small, everyday and almost unnoticed changes have a way of undermining existing patterns of behavior and belief until a single individual's action or a single public event may suddenly trigger rapid and far-reaching alterations in the public life of millions or, in in our day, hundreds of millions of people. The Oath of the Tennis Court was such an event in 1789; Lenin was such a triggerman in 1917; and now 200 years after the French Revolution, Mikhail Gorbachev has initiated changes that may well tourn out to be comparatively important even though they hav not yet provoked much revolutionary violence".

William Hardy McNeill, "Winds of Change", in Foreign Affairs (Fall 1990).

"Boris Yeltsin, who has died at the age of 76, secured his place in history by precipitating the end of the Soviet Union and becoming Russia’s first elected president. But by the end of his reign, he had fumbled the founding of the democratic, free-market economy that had been his dream.

Boris Yeltsin had the physical and moral strength to bear on his shoulders the colossal burden of a country in a ferment of transition, its economy struggling with the twin tasks of discarding a tenacious old system and adjusting to an unfamiliarly fast-moving new one. At the beginning of his rule he was able to grasp, either instinctively or through a quick intelligence, much of what was required. But lacking discipline and consistency, he did not set in place, much less sustain, the necessary policies to see his insights through. Increasingly he was forced to observe a country unable, in his period, to reform itself in a coherent way....

For a time Yeltsin really did seem to be, as he once boasted, irreplaceable. By the time he resigned, on New Year’s Eve 1999, he clearly was not. The conflict in Chechnya had not been solved, the rotting away of the military had not been confronted, the power of the oligarchs was untrammelled; and the indiscipline, corruption and inertia at every level of bureaucracy was probably greater than during Soviet days, when the party could sometimes act as a disciplining force. But the failures, which were obvious and grave, must be set against what was a triple breakdown – in the Communist party; in the Soviet central-command economy; and in the imperial boundaries. All three of these sustaining principles and practices crumbled more or less simultaneously: and Yeltsin was, even more than Mr Gorbachev, at the epicentre of the collapse.

It is at least arguable that a stronger hand, wielded in the manner strong hands have always been wielded in Russia, could have been counter productive – inhibiting a destruction that was often necessary, even if necessarily painful. Boris Yeltsin left his successors a constitutional base, the early infrastructure of a market economy and the beginnings of a civil society that he himself had never tried to suppress. He had permitted the flowering of a more or less free media; more or less free travel; and more or less free politics – processes that absorbed many of the energies of active Russians, even if much of this energy was devoted to survival. A man from the people, he rose far above them, appeared often indifferent to them – but probably always wished to improve their lot and broaden their horizons. And he probably did
". 23 April 2007, John Lloyd in

The two quotes are apposite inasmuch as one omits completely mention of the man who passed away today, and, the other one, bearly mentions at all, the man who has not yet passed away. What a difference a mere seventeen years makes in terms of perspective! When the famous American historian William McNeill, was writing for his elite audience, Mikhail Gorbachev was without a doubt the man of the hour. Yeltsin, insofar as he was known at all, was the 'maverick Communist'. An eccentric off-shoot of the Gorbachev revolution from above. Who with his dismissal from the Politburo and Moskva Party Chiefdom, seemd to have become 'yesterday's man'. Such was the consensus, circa the Spring and Fall of anno domini 1990. And, yet within one year's time, it was Gorbachev, who was suddenly, and swiftly shunted aside, as merely 'yesterday's man'. And, it was Boris Yeltsin, who had become the man of the hour. A position which was in essence secured by his heroic stance taken against the opera bouffe coup d'etat, launched in August 1991. Yeltsin's position was further cemented by his whirlwind decision, taken, one may gather, like many of his decisions, in an impulsive and not very thought-out way, to dissolve tout `a coup, Sovietskaya Vlast. Similarly, one may gather, that the decision to proceed with economic 'shock therapy' was approved by Yeltsin, without much in the way of a consideration of the consequences of this momentous decision.

In short, Yeltsin, as a politician, as a man of government (one forbears from calling him a 'statesman'), had the disadvantages of his advantages, and vice `a versa. An instinctual politician, who seemingly at times was able to read the way that the political winds were blowing, in a way that the much more intelligent and disciplined, Gorbachev was not; Yeltsin, singularly failed to carry through, to institutionalize in any seemingly functional fashion, his revolution from above. One hesitates in stating if it was more of a question of incapacity, or perhaps more poignantly, au fond, one of those cases, where the man of action, who has destroyed and defeated his enemies (one thinks of Timurlane), is uttely incapable of building anything positive from his previous victories. Whichever case it was, it was Yeltsin's incapacity to govern the nation, which even apres the end of Sovietskaya Vlast, still covers 1/6th of the earth's surface, which has more than anything else, imprinted itself on the mind of his countrymen. In a way perhaps which is almost beyond comprehension by the Western public, either European or American, the Russia that Yeltsin governed was almost without question, a disaster for the average Russian citizen. Living standards and incomes collapsed, seemingly overnight. Whole industries, were suddenly made redundant. And, of course subsequently, purchased for a song, almost literally. By a small group of men, who prior to 1991, were completely unknown to the entire country. Many of them of them with Polskii last names....

Indeed, by 1996 to all intents and purposes the entire country appeared to have been bought and sold to a small clique of individuals, who notwithstanding the occasional bits of charity and even (later on) idealism, were without a doubt, absolutely ruthless in acquiring both money, and much in the way of political power as well. By this time of course, Yeltsin, was much more of a bystander, of the goings on, in the Kremlin, an object, rather than a subject, acted upon, it would appear rather than acting. Confidence in the government of course essentially collapsed with the Banking crisis of 1998. It only re-emerging with the rise to power of Vladmir Putin in 1999. An event in which it would appear that Yeltsin again played only an indirect role, with it widely supposed that it was the then supreme oligarch, Boris Beresovsky who picked Putin to be Yeltsin's anointed successor. With his surprise New Year's Eve resignation, and simultaneous appointment of Putin to succeed him, it can be claimed that nothing became Yeltsin in government, as his leaving of it...

For the diplomatic observer and historian, what one makes of the Yeltsin era is rather simple: it represented the utter collapse of Russian power, in a way that perhaps only in the aftermath of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and, when the troops of Sigismund II Vasa were in Moskva, can it be compared. The colossus of the second Superpower, who seemingly the day before was without question, accepted as part of the diplomatic landscape, suddenly without warning disappeared. Obviously, the beginnings of the debacle began under Gorbachev. What occurred under Yeltsin, was that a retreat, a disorderly and not well-thought out retreat, but a retreat still, became a rout, pur et simple. Postions of Russian power, for hundreds of years, were overnight, given up, without almost anything in the way of a quid pro quo. It is of course true, that in such revolutionary situations, when all appears to be lost, and when the natural inclination is sauve qui peut, that such monstrous changes take place. And, perhaps even a much greater man than Boris Yeltsin, could not have in reality changed matters for the better. However, it is the case that Yeltsin was in (nominally) in charge. And, the policy to windup Sovietskaya Vlast in the late summer and fall of 1991, was very much his handiwork. With results that even at this vantage point, appear to be so momentous, that serious historians have not yet been able to fully absorb them. Notwithstanding which, it was Yeltsin and his foreign minister, Aleksandr Kozyrev, who enabled via their policy of immediate and needless concessions, to convert a world of American primacy, into one of out and out American hegemony. A hegemony which as can be seen in Iraq today, has not been used either wisely or well.

In short, the Yeltsin era of Russian diplomacy, like the Yeltsin era of Russian domestic policy was one of a grand debacle. In which the possibilities opened up, by the needed downfall of Sovietskaya Vlast were neither pursued nor even really attempted. To draw negative conclusions on the day that a man, a renowned man has passed away is never pleasant. One never likes to break with the admonition of: 'de mortius nil nisi bonum', however such is the Yeltsin legacy, that one is inclined to do little else. Especially of course, once his needed work of destruction was completed by September 1991. After that point, Yeltsin's talents were of precisely the wrong variety, and it was this personal incapacity, more than anything else, which pre-determined the agony of the next eight years. Both for himself and for the Russian narod.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


In the week or so since the end of the Persian hostage crisis, some commentators have attempted, erroneously in my opinion, as I made quite clear on the day that the crisis ended, to make out that it was Great Britain, rather than the Persian regime who had to stage a 'climb down', in order to end the crisis. Notwithstanding the fact that except for some temporary regional popularity, and rather primitive propaganda, Persia was unable to secure any concrete benefits to the crisis, there is a school of thought that says that by taking the fifteen (15) British naval hostages, and then releasing them two weeks later, that Persia was able to advertise its prowess to the International Community and especially the Anglo-American powers(see for example Gregory Djerejian's comments on his online journal: Like much of what he writes these days, it seems written more to the eye to denounce an American Administration, than to offer up a clear-eyed analysis of the contemporary International scene. One wonders if the fact that his pater is part and parcel of the Baker clique, does not influence his thinking excessively at times...). Commentators such as Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr, both trying to bankroll, the 'Persia as the coming colossus', school of thought to journalistic renown, have stated that the crisis demonstrates that Persia can easily and effectively strike back at the Anglo-American powers, when sufficiently provoked (For their 5 April article in the New York Times on this score, In point of fact, as the Persian based sub rosa, commentator "Kamal Nazer Yasin", has recently argued, the whole operation in seizing the British sailors was indeed a reaction to recent American moves both in the Persian Gulf and in Iraq. In the case of the latter, since January of 2007, American forces have staged a series of raids and attacks on targets and personnel believed to be Persian clients and or allies inside Iraq. The seizure of the five Persian 'diplomats' in the Kurdish town of Arbil, being part and parcel of such American activity (see: "Cloak-and-Dagger Occurences mark Iran's relations with the United States, Britain", in But, as has been pointed out, in the aftermath of the crisis, none of the 'Persian five', were released, and, Britain has now, again re-commenced its naval interdiction of the Shatt al-Arab waters, between the two countries for smuggling. To sum up, like Francis Fukuyama below, I will again state for the public record, that it was the Persians in the recent crisis who 'blinked', and staged a climb-down, and not the Anglo-American powers. For Fukuyama's similar take to my own argument, see below:

Actually, Britain didn't blink, the divided Iranians did,

By Francis Fukuyama

"While commentators have charged that Britain capitulated to Iran and handed them a humiliating victory in obtaining the release of the 15 British sailors and marines last week, it would appear that something more like the opposite is actually the case. But to understand why this is so, we have to look at the larger picture of internal Iranian politics against which the crisis played out.

Our Iranian problem is actually a problem with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, or in Persian Pasdaran) and allied institutions like the Basij militia. These are the "power" agencies that serve as the political base for the conservatives inside Iran. In return for its support, political leaders like the one-time president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have allowed the IRGC to grow into a semi-autonomous state-within-a-state. Today it is a large and sprawling enterprise, which controls its own intelligence agency, manufacturing base, and import-export companies, much like the Russian FSB or the Chinese military. Since coming to power, the current Ahmadinejad regime has awarded IRGC-affiliated companies billions of dollars in no-bid contracts, increasing the already great perception among the Iranian public of its corruption.

It is widely believed that Khamenei put President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into office as a means of counterbalancing former President Rafsanjani, and has been regretting this decision ever since as Ahmadinejad spouted off about the Holocaust and pushed Iran deeper into isolation. The current president comes out of the IRGC (specifically, the Ramazan Unit of the Quds Force), and has used that organization and the Basij to help consolidate his power by moving against more liberal political opponents.

No one knows exactly why the naval wing of the IRGC took the 15 British sailors and marines captive at the end of March. Some have speculated that it was a matter of freelancing by the IRGC's command, or the navy, reacting to a local target of opportunity. The IRGC may have wanted some bargaining chips to help secure the release of its members captured in Iraq. It does not seem to be an accident, though, that the capture came quickly after the Security Council passed a very specific set of sanctions against Iran that targeted not just IRGC-affiliated companies and financial institutions like the Ammunition and Metallurgy Industries Group and the Bank Sepah - organizations dealing with nuclear or ballistic missile activities - but also a series of senior IRGC commanders, including Morteza Rezaei, the Guards' deputy commander, Vice Admiral Ali Ahmadian, chief of the Joint Staff, and Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij. By freezing Iranian assets outside of Iran, the United Nations was hitting the IRGC where it hurt: in its pocketbook.

Clearly, whoever was responsible for the decision to take the British sailors and marines prisoner was hoping to rekindle some of the fervor of the 1979 revolution, and use that to force the rest of the leadership into a confrontation with Britain and America. Hence the televised "confessions" that hearkened back to the taking of hostages in the American Embassy (the "nest of spies"), and the rallies against foreign embassies. But the gambit didn't work, and there was clearly a behind-the-scenes power struggle between different parts of the regime. Ahmadinejad was supposed to give a major speech to a huge rally in Tehran, which he cancelled at the last moment; and when he did speak, it was to announce that the captives would soon be released. The IRGC prisoners in Iraq were released, but Britain did not apologize or admit wrongdoing in return. So it would appear that it was the Iranians who blinked first, before the incident could spiral into a genuine 1979-style hostage crisis.

All of this does not mean that there are necessarily "radicals" and "moderates" within the clerical regime in Tehran. Those pulling the IRGC's chain are themselves committed to a revolutionary agenda, and doubtless want a nuclear weapon as badly as the Pasdaran commanders. One of the alleged reasons Khamenei didn't want Rafsanjani as president was because he was not keen enough on the nuclear program.

The Iranian regime is not, however, a totalitarian juggernaut; there are important splits within the leadership and there is an important faction that does not want Iran to be isolated. The IRGC has evolved into something like a mafia organization, with extensive economic interests that lead both to corruption and potential vulnerability to sanctions imposed by the international community.

It is important to remember: those who were responsible for taking the British sailors and marines captive wanted an escalation of the confrontation, both to improve their domestic standing, and to punch back for sanctions that were beginning to bite. This suggests that what the Bush administration has been doing - slowly ratcheting up the pressure through the use of diplomacy to create an international coalition that now includes the Russians - is the proper course to be on".

Francis Fukuyama is dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, and chairman of The American Interest magazine ( THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate-The American Interest (c) (

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


"The history of Sea Power is largely, though by no means solely, a narrative of contests between nations, of mutual rivalries, of violence frequently culminating in war. The profound influence of sea commerce upon the wealth and strength of countries was clearly seen long before the true principles which governed its growth and prosperity were detected. To secure to one's own people a disproportionate share of such benefits, every effort was made to exclude others, either by the peaceful legislative methods of monopoly or prohibitory regulations, or, when these failed, by direct violence.The clash of interests, the angry feelings roused by conflicting attempts thus to appropriate the larger share, if not the whole, of the advantages of commerce, and of distant unsettled commercial regions, led to wars. On the other hand, wars arising from other causes have been greatly modified in their conduct and issue by the control of the sea. Therefore the history of sea power, while embracing in its broad sweep all that tends to make a people great upon the sea or by the sea, is largely a military history".


"If we opt consciously for a maritime supremacy strategy, based on the kind of massive naval buildup the Navy seeks, let us recognize that resource constraints will probably dictate that this be at significant expense to already inadequate NATO and Persian Gulf commitments. Let us also recognize how much this will undermine the network of alliances on which the United States must increasingly depend. Indeed, the basic flaw in any maritime supremacy strategy is that it does not suffice to protect the vital strategic interests in Europe, Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf which we share with our allies".

Robert W. Komer, "Maritime Strategy vs. Coalition Defense," in Foreign Affairs (Summer 1982).

The issue of the importance or lack thereof of Sea power, id est, the control of the seas and the results flowing from therein, has been a topic of heated discussion since Mahan's oeuvre first burst upon the lay educated public in the late 19th century. And, like most such discussions, the protagonists pro and contra have at one time or other enjoyed the advantage and disadvantage repeatedly back and forth. Until that is the fall of Sovietskaya Vlast. Which for the most part put an end to the need or justification for total American naval supremacy in the face of the challenge of the Soviet navy. A challenge which protagonists of the Mahan thesis, such as then American Navy Secretary John Lehmann (1981-1987) argued required that the United States build a 600 fleet navy, built around Fifteen Big carrier 'battle groups'. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the importance of naval power as a topic for discussion, has tended to fade from public view for the most part. Particularly since at this time, there is no one power or even a group of powers which has the ability to challenge even remotely American naval supremacy. Indeed, no one power, can even claim to have the same level of strength that say the Soviet fleet possessed in the 1970's and the 1980's (for contemporary naval estimates see: Even the Chinese navy, which in terms of growth of expenditures, is absolutely nowhere near the strength of the American navy. Viz the American naval intervention in the Formosa Straits tensions in 1995-1996.

Now of course the American naval and military build-up in the Persian Gulf, as well as the capture of the fifteen British naval personnel, public discussions have broken out about the utility of American naval power in any future conflict with Persia. It is for obtaining a better idea of the prospects of the utility of American naval power, that we turn to the following report by the American online journal Stratfor ( And, for once, I almost whole heartily agree with the report, albeit I do not quite hold that the consequences of a negative Persian reaction to an American naval blockade, are as dangerous as Dr. Friedman seems to think. However, I do recommend this timely report for an interesting review of the importance and lack thereof of naval power in a one Super Power world. Read and enjoy!

The Limitations and Necessity of Naval Power,
By George Friedman

It has now been four years since the fall of Baghdad concluded the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We have said much about the Iraq war, and for the moment there is little left to say. The question is whether the United States will withdraw forces from Iraq or whether it will be able to craft some sort of political resolution to the war, both within Iraq and in the region. Military victory, in the sense of the unfettered imposition of U.S. will in Iraq, does not appear to us a possibility. Therefore, over the next few months, against the background of the U.S. offensive in Baghdad, the political equation will play out. The action continues. The analysis must pause and await results.

During this pause, we have been thinking about some of the broader questions involved in Iraq -- and about the nature and limits of American military power in particular. We recently considered the purpose of U.S. wars since World War II in our discussion of U.S. warfare as strategic spoiling attack. Now we turn to another dimension of U.S. military power -- the U.S. Navy -- and consider what role, if any, it plays in national security at this point.

Recent events have directed our attention to the role and limits of naval power. During the detention of the 15 British sailors and marines, an idea floated by many people was that the United States should impose a blockade against Iran. The argument was driven partly by a lack of other options: Neither an invasion nor an extended air campaign seemed a viable alternative. Moreover, the United States' experience in erecting blockades is rich with decisive examples: the Cuban missile crisis, barring Germany's ability to trade during World War II or that of the American South during the Civil War. The one unquestionable military asset the United States has is its Navy, which can impose sea-lane control anywhere in the world. Finally, Iran -- which is rich in oil (all of which is exported by sea) but lacks sufficient refinery capacity of its own -- relies on imported gasoline. Therefore, the argument went, imposing a naval blockade would cripple Iran's economy and bring the leadership to the negotiating table.

Washington never seriously considered the option. This was partly because of diplomatic discussions that indicated that the British detainees would be released under any circumstances. And it was partly because of the difficulties involved in blockading Iran at this time:

1. Iran could mount strategic counters to a blockade, either by increasing anti-U.S. operations by its Shiite allies in Iraq or by inciting Shiite communities in the Arabian Peninsula to unrest. The United States didn't have appetite for the risk.

2. Blockades always involve the interdiction of vessels operated by third countries -- countries that might not appreciate being interdicted. The potential repercussions of interdicting merchant vessels belonging to powers that did not accept the blockade was a price the United States would not pay at this time.

A blockade was not selected because it was not needed, because Iran could retaliate in other ways and because a blockade might damage countries other than Iran that the United States didn't want to damage. It was, therefore, not in the cards. Not imposing a blockade made sense.

The Value of Naval Power

This raises a more fundamental question: What is the value of naval power in a world in which naval battles are not fought? To frame the question more clearly, let us begin by noting that the United States has maintained global maritime hegemony since the end of World War II. Except for the failed Soviet attempt to partially challenge the United States, the most important geopolitical fact since World War II was that the world's oceans were effectively under the control of the U.S. Navy. Prior to World War II, there were multiple contenders for maritime power, such as Britain, Japan and most major powers. No one power, not even Britain, had global maritime hegemony. The United States now does. The question is whether this hegemony has any real value at this time -- a question made relevant by the issue of whether to blockade Iran.

The United States controls the blue water. To be a little more precise, the U.S. Navy can assert direct and overwhelming control over any portion of the blue water it wishes, and it can do so in multiple places. It cannot directly control all of the oceans at the same time. However, the total available naval force that can be deployed by non-U.S. powers (friendly and other) is so limited that they lack the ability, even taken together, to assert control anywhere should the United States challenge their presence. This is an unprecedented situation historically.

The current situation is, of course, invaluable to the United States. It means that a seaborne invasion of the United States by any power is completely impractical. Given the geopolitical condition of the United States, the homeland is secure from conventional military attack but vulnerable to terrorist strikes and nuclear attacks. At the same time, the United States is in a position to project forces at will to any part of the globe. Such power projection might not be wise at times, but even failure does not lead to reciprocation. For instance, no matter how badly U.S. forces fare in Iraq, the Iraqis will not invade the United States if the Americans are defeated there.

This is not a trivial fact. Control of the seas means that military or political failure in Eurasia will not result in a direct conventional threat to the United States. Nor does such failure necessarily preclude future U.S. intervention in that region. It also means that no other state can choose to invade the United States. Control of the seas allows the United States to intervene where it wants, survive the consequences of failure and be immune to occupation itself. It was the most important geopolitical consequence of World War II, and one that still defines the world.

The issue for the United States is not whether it should abandon control of the seas -- that would be irrational in the extreme. Rather, the question is whether it has to exert itself at all in order to retain that control. Other powers either have abandoned attempts to challenge the United States, have fallen short of challenging the United States or have confined their efforts to building navies for extremely limited uses, or for uses aligned with the United States. No one has a shipbuilding program under way that could challenge the United States for several generations.

One argument, then, is that the United States should cut its naval forces radically -- since they have, in effect, done their job. Mothballing a good portion of the fleet would free up resources for other military requirements without threatening U.S. ability to control the sea-lanes. Should other powers attempt to build fleets to challenge the United States, the lead time involved in naval construction is such that the United States would have plenty of opportunities for re-commissioning ships or building new generations of vessels to thwart the potential challenge.

The counterargument normally given is that the U.S. Navy provides a critical service in what is called littoral warfare. In other words, while the Navy might not be needed immediately to control sea-lanes, it carries out critical functions in securing access to those lanes and projecting rapid power into countries where the United States might want to intervene. Thus, U.S. aircraft carriers can bring tactical airpower to bear relatively quickly in any intervention. Moreover, the Navy's amphibious capabilities -- particularly those of deploying and supplying the U.S. Marines -- make for a rapid deployment force that, when coupled with Naval airpower, can secure hostile areas of interest for the United States.

That argument is persuasive, but it poses this problem: The Navy provides a powerful option for war initiation by the United States, but it cannot by itself sustain the war. In any sustained conflict, the Army must be brought in to occupy territory -- or, as in Iraq, the Marines must be diverted from the amphibious specialty to serve essentially as Army units. Naval air by itself is a powerful opening move, but greater infusions of airpower are needed for a longer conflict. Naval transport might well be critically important in the opening stages, but commercial transport sustains the operation.

If one accepts this argument, the case for a Navy of the current size and shape is not proven. How many carrier battle groups are needed and, given the threat to the carriers, is an entire battle group needed to protect them?

If we consider the Iraq war in isolation, for example, it is apparent that the Navy served a function in the defeat of Iraq's conventional forces. It is not clear, however, that the Navy has served an important role in the attempt to occupy and pacify Iraq. And, as we have seen in the case of Iran, a blockade is such a complex politico-military matter that the option not to blockade tends to emerge as the obvious choice.

The Risk Not Taken

The argument for slashing the Navy can be tempting. But consider the counterargument. First, and most important, we must consider the crises the United States has not experienced. The presence of the U.S. Navy has shaped the ambitions of primary and secondary powers. The threshold for challenging the Navy has been so high that few have even initiated serious challenges. Those that might be trying to do so, like the Chinese, understand that it requires a substantial diversion of resources. Therefore, the mere existence of U.S. naval power has been effective in averting crises that likely would have occurred otherwise. Reducing the power of the U.S. Navy, or fine-tuning it, would not only open the door to challenges but also eliminate a useful, if not essential, element in U.S. strategy -- the ability to bring relatively rapid force to bear.

There are times when the Navy's use is tactical, and times when it is strategic. At this moment in U.S. history, the role of naval power is highly strategic. The domination of the world's oceans represents the foundation stone of U.S. grand strategy. It allows the United States to take risks while minimizing consequences. It facilitates risk-taking. Above all, it eliminates the threat of sustained conventional attack against the homeland. U.S. grand strategy has worked so well that this risk appears to be a phantom. The dispersal of U.S. forces around the world attests to what naval power can achieve. It is illusory to believe that this situation cannot be reversed, but it is ultimately a generational threat. Just as U.S. maritime hegemony is measured in generations, the threat to that hegemony will emerge over generations. The apparent lack of utility of naval forces in secondary campaigns, like Iraq, masks the fundamentally indispensable role the Navy plays in U.S. national security.

That does not mean that the Navy as currently structured is sacrosanct -- far from it. Peer powers will be able to challenge the U.S. fleet, but not by building their own fleets. Rather, the construction of effective anti-ship missile systems -- which can destroy merchant ships as well as overwhelm U.S. naval anti-missile systems -- represents a low-cost challenge to U.S. naval power. This is particularly true when these anti-ship missiles are tied to space-based, real-time reconnaissance systems. A major power such as China need not be able to mirror the U.S. Navy in order to challenge it.

Whatever happens in Iraq -- or Iran -- the centrality of naval power is unchanging. But the threat to naval power evolves. The fact that there is no threat to U.S. control of the sea-lanes at this moment does not mean one will not emerge. Whether with simple threats like mines or the most sophisticated anti-ship system, the ability to keep the U.S. Navy from an area or to close off strategic chokepoints for shipping remains the major threat to the United States -- which is, first and foremost, a maritime power.

One of the dangers of wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they soak up resources and intellectual bandwidth. It is said that generals always fight the last war. Another way of stating that is to say they believe the war they are fighting now will go on forever in some form. That belief leads to neglect of capabilities that appear superfluous for the current conflict. That is the true hollowing-out that extended warfare creates. It is an intellectual hollowing-out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The Brussels based International Crisis Group (hereafter ICG), today released another one of their informative bulletins, in which they strongly urged that the Israel and the United States, both re-assess their negative stance on re-opening peace talks with Syria. Something which both governments, has strongly thrown cold water on, in the period after the end of the 2006 Lebanon War (on this see any number of postings in the leading American online journal devoted to Syria and things Syrian professor Joshua Landis': Notwithstanding rumblings in elements of the Israeli establishment, that it was time to re-open talks with Syria, both in an effort to close down Hezbollah's military threat from Lebanon, and to 'turn' Syria away from its alliance with Persia. Whether due to American pressure (likely but not definitive) or for internal Israeli domestic politics (much more important), Tel Aviv, chose to ignore the signals being put out, by Damascus that it wanted to open talks 'without pre-conditions', on 'solving' the Golan Heights question. Indeed, as it was revealed a few months ago, semi-official intermediaries from the Israeli side,were in contact with de jure Syrian officials from 2003 to 2006, over terms to be negotiated between the two countries. Contacts which were only halted in the late Spring of 2006.

As per the ICG, the time is ripe to re-commence the negotiations that almost lead to a breakthrough, between Tel Aviv and Damascus in 1999-2000. Only faltering at the last second due to Israeli second thoughts at the last moment in Geneva. According to the ICG's Peter Harling, its senior analyst in Syria, the time is ripe for action on the Diplomatic front, arguing that:

"Rejecting Syria's overtures is a mistake which is fast on its way to becoming a missed opportunity....The mood in Damascus is turning decidedly sceptical, and the regime is reverting to its more cautious habits. Mirroring Israeli doubts on Syria's seriousness, officials here are deeply disillusioned with Israel, questioning its ability to negotiate in earnest" (see:

A sorely missed opportunity indeed, as the ICG, correctly argues, notwithstanding the fact that in respect of both its foreign and domestic policies, the Assd regime leaves much to be desired (and which Near Eastern regime does not?), a re-opening of peace talks between the two countries would have immediate and important ramifications in the entire Near East:

"Peace negotiations between Israel and Syria would profoundly alter the regional atmosphere; a peace deal would fundamentally transform it".

The benefits accruing from such an outcome would be: a) a secure peace along the entire Israel-Syrian-Lebanon border zone; b) remove both Syria and the Lebanon, from being 'activated' by Teheran, in case of any Israeli or American moves against Persia; c) greatly enhance Israel's legitimacy among the Arab masses in the Near and Middle East; d) Perhaps begin the process of not 'regime-change' in Syria, but, 'regime-adaptation' by Assad Fils and his inner circle. A quiet transformation, which might, just might, bring political pluralism and some form of democratization, without the side effects of political instability `a la present day Iraq. A transformation which is in both the long term interests of both the United States and Israel. This is not to argue that with signatures on a peace treaty, that Syria will become either Democratic or no longer a ally of the regime in Teheran. Neither option is immediately likely. However that does not gainsay the fact that any peace deal between Syria and Tel Aviv, will open up potentially important roads and possibilities in both Syrian foreign and domestic policies. Alternatives to the current state of affairs in Syria. A state of affairs, which experts have recently shown lead to a rather dismal view of the short much less longterm health of the Syrian economcy and hence society. One does not have to view in a erroneously warm light of the Assad regime to know that however much it falls short on many levels, the Assad regime is perhaps the best available regime on offer in Syria at the moment. A fact which Israeli intelligence has long recognized (on the weak state of the Syrian economy see: & on the Israeli view of the Assad regime see:

Can the moment be seized and will it at the ICG urges? Unfortunately, looking at those who make decisions in both Washington and Tel Aviv, it is highly unlikely that either government has either the willingness or the ability to re-start talks or even to seriously consider them. For the neo-conservative acolytes running Near Eastern policy in Washington, Syria is still, their personal bete noir, for whom even pour parlers are a complete non possumus. A state of affairs which the light-weight and not very intelligent, American Secretary of State, appears to be unable or unwilling to overcome or overrule. In the case of Tel Aviv, the weaken and no doubt terminal Olmert government, is also unwilling to make any movements towards Damascus. Both for reasons of domestic political weakness (fear of the Golan Settler lobby) and, ideology (retreat from the Golan was never in either Sharon's much less Olmert's playbook). Consequently, it seems highly likely that this indeed most opportune moment will be lost. Joining of course many other such 'opportune' moments, in the Near East since 1945. The only difference is that in the current atmosphere engendered by the Iraq, debacle, the negative consequences of leaving the Syrian-Israeli issue unattended are more dangerous than ever before.

Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations,
Middle East Report N°63
10 April 2007


Abruptly interrupted in 2000, Israeli-Syrian negotiations seem only a distant possibility but a renewal is urgent and would have a real chance of success. The obstacles appear daunting, including a weak Israeli government and a U.S. administration intent on isolating Syria. However, Syria’s President Bashar repeatedly has stated his desire to resume talks, and in recent conversations with Crisis Group in Damascus, senior officials have clarified these could take place without any precondition – thereby removing what had been a principal hindrance. Peace negotiations between Israel and Syria would profoundly alter the regional atmosphere; a peace deal between them would fundamentally transform it. This opportunity may not last long and should not be wasted.

The conflict between Israel and Syria is no longer the costliest – the border has been Israel’s quietest since 1974 – but it is harmful all the same. It has taken the shape of bloody proxy wars, involving Lebanese territory and both Lebanese and Palestinian groups, and the opportunity costs have also been substantial. It has prevented broader normalisation of Israel’s relations with the Arab world and helped maintain regional tension which could degenerate – directly or, once again, through Lebanon – into another armed conflict.

In Israel, a government discredited by its performance in the Lebanon war and tarred by myriad scandals will think long and hard before taking on the powerful settler lobby backed by a public that has grown accustomed to controlling the Golan Heights, sees little incentive to part with it and whose suspicion of the Syrian regime – which has provided rockets to Hizbollah – has grown with the Lebanon war. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the 1990s, withdrawal from the relatively quiet Golan today likely would trigger stronger public opposition than would withdrawal from a violent and burdensome West Bank.

U.S. hostility to any dialogue with Damascus – with the recent, limited exception of the regional conference on Iraq – is a further significant obstacle. Although Washington denies it, there is every indication it has signalled to Jerusalem its opposition to resumed negotiations with Damascus which, in its view, Syria would use to break out of isolation, cover up greater intrusion in Lebanese affairs and shift focus away from the investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. As U.S. officials see it, Damascus might like to recover the Golan but desperately wants to recover Lebanon; since that is not something Washington is prepared to concede, there is little to be gained by discussions. Given their highly strained relations with Syria, even leading Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan are said to have privately counselled the U.S. against any move that would relieve pressure on Damascus.

As a result of these domestic and foreign factors, and due to scepticism regarding Syria’s intentions, Israel has conditioned any dialogue on broad, prior change in Syria’s policies: cutting ties to Hamas, halting any assistance to Hizbollah and fundamentally altering its relationship with Iran.

This is a mistake which is fast on its way to becoming a missed opportunity. In March 2007, Crisis Group engaged in a series of high-level discussions in Israel and Syria in order to assess the two parties’ positions and the prospects for renewed talks. While official resistance to negotiations was clear in Israel, it waned rapidly among both senior military and intelligence figures and members of the political establishment who recognised the value of testing Syria’s overtures and the risks entailed in ignoring them. In Syria, appetite for peace talks may have diminished – a function of repeated Israeli rebuffs and of unwillingness to appear to be begging – but persists nonetheless. Most importantly, officials in Damascus provided their clearest indication to date both that they would resume negotiations without any precondition and that the country’s regional posture and relationships with Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran inevitably would change following a peace deal. In other words, what Israel demands could potentially be achieved, but only as part of a final deal, not as preconditions for it.

Even assuming Syria is more interested in the process than the outcome – itself a debatable proposition – the mere fact of Syrians negotiating with Israelis would produce ripple effects in a region where popular opinion is moving away from acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. The onset of a peace process also would affect the behaviour of militant movements close to Syria; Hamas and Hizbollah are not mere tools of Syrian policy but they are adept at reading the regional map and would likely adapt their policies in response to signs of a changing Syrian-Israeli relationship. The same holds for Iran: Syria would be unlikely to break ties with its closest ally for two decades but Tehran would have to adjust its behaviour as it faced the prospect of a peace agreement.

Resuming talks with Syria is all the more imperative given ongoing efforts to revive the Arab (Beirut) peace initiative in the wake of the 28 March 2007 Arab League summit. While both the U.S. and Israel may prefer to give precedence to the Palestinian over the Syrian track, lack of movement on the latter inevitably will hamper the former. Damascus possesses multiple ways of undermining Israeli-Palestinian talks, whether by encouraging Hamas or Islamic Jihad to resort to violence; vocally criticising Palestinian concessions; or, in the event of a peace deal, obstructing the holding of a referendum among Palestinian refugees in Syria. Likewise, unless it makes a deal with Syria, Israel cannot achieve normalisation with the Arab world – a core objective without which its leaders will find it far more difficult to convince their public to endorse historic concessions to the Palestinians.

The outlines of a solution by now are well known. They were put forward in a 2002 Crisis Group report and recently restated in the context of an unofficial peace initiative involving two private Israeli and Syrian citizens. Under such conditions, there is little justification for Israel to put off peace talks – and even less justification for the U.S. to oppose them.


To the Government of Israel:

1. Respond positively to Syria’s unconditional offer to resume peace negotiations.

2. Halt efforts to augment settler presence in the Golan.

3. Facilitate family reunions for Syrian nationals living in the Golan and lift restrictions on visits to Syria by Israeli nationals.

To the Government of Syria:

4. Support Arab League efforts to explain and market its peace initiative to Western and Israeli audiences.

5. Engage in public diplomacy by:

(a) restating clearly that Syria is ready to negotiate without any precondition;

(b) giving select Syrian officials a clear mandate to disseminate both Syria’s version of past negotiations and its current position;

(c) committing to provide information on Israeli soldiers missing in action and return the remains of executed Israeli spy Eli Cohen in the early stages of resumed negotiations; and

(d) facilitating access to Syria for Israeli nationals with relatives or ancestral roots in Syria, including Israelis of Palestinian and Syrian origin.

To the Members of the Quartet (UN, U.S., EU and Russia):

6. Press for renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations, beginning by holding parallel discussions with both sides.

Jerusalem/Damascus/Washington/Brussels, 10 April 2007.