Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Single 'Front' Is Established By Iran, Syria

Benny Avni, The New York Sun:
As Rafik Hariri was laid to rest yesterday in Beirut, Lebanon, there were signs that his assassination on Monday has rocked neighboring capitals, with Damascus and Tehran reaffirming that their regimes form "one front," flexing their muscles - and exhibiting some fear of outside pressures.

The goal of a Tehran visit by Syria's prime minister yesterday was to project strength to world, send a message to Washington and Jerusalem, and allay Syria's own public unease, officials and observers in the region and abroad said.

The reaffirmation of the alliance followed international and Lebanese outrage since Hariri's assassination. "I suppose this is a sign of uneasiness in Syria," a former American ambassador in Damascus, Richard Murphy, told The New York Sun. ...

A day after America recalled its ambassador in Damascus for urgent consultations in the aftermath of the Hariri killing, Iran's vice president, Mohammad-Reza Aref, hosted Syria's prime minister, Naji Al-Otari.

"Iran will share its experiences, those of sanctions in particular, with Syria given the situation Damascus is faced with at the present time," Mr. Aref said according to the Iranian News Agency IRNA. Mr. Al-Otari reciprocated. "My visit to Tehran is in line with promoting the level of mutual transactions," he said. "We are going to discuss cooperation in areas such as transportation, oil, housing, irrigation, energy, and industry."

American lawmakers and officials said they intend to increase Syria's isolation and pressure its Baath regime economically, but IRNA noted that Iranian businessmen have invested $600 million Syria recently and quoted Mr. Aref's announcement that Iran intends to reach a level of $3 billion a year in "mutual economic relations." ...

One Israeli intelligence source who asked not to be named said that the Syrian-Iranian terrorist proxy organization Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon, has increased its pressures on Palestinian Arabs in the territories since Yasser Arafat's death and the signals by Mr. Abbas that he intends to put an end to the armed struggle. He cited in particular the fact that since Mr. Abbas's election, Hezbollah has doubled the "prize money" awarded to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, to $100,000 from $50,000. ...

President Chirac yesterday paid his condolences to Nadia Hariri, the widow of the slain former foreign minister whose funeral turned into huge anti-Syrian rally. The presence of Mr. Chirac in Lebanon, France's former colony, was a strong signal to Syria.

However, one Washington-based advocate of democracy, the president of the Reform Party of Syria, Farid Ghadry, said that Syrian Baathists still assume they are winning, and that their display of alliance with Iran was part of a strategy to fight international isolation. "Don't be surprised if in the next few days a deal with Russia will be announced publicly," he told the Sun.