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Iranian ships reach Syria, China warns of civil war

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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Erika Solomon
AMMAN/BEIRUT | Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:16am EST

(Reuters) – China’s main newspaper accused Western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.

Despite pursuing a sustained military crackdown on the opposition in cities across the country, President Bashar al-Assad forged ahead with plans to hold a referendum at the end of the week.

Activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, isolating neighborhoods from each other.

“Hama is cut off from the outside world. There is no landlines, no mobile phone network and no internet. House to house arrest take place daily and sometimes repeatedly in the same neighborhoods,” an opposition statement said.

Government troops extended their control on Hama after an offensive last week that concentrated on northern neighborhoods on the edge of farmland that have provided shelter for Free Syrian Army rebels.

The rebel fighters have been attacking militiamen, known as shabbiha, while avoiding open confrontations with armored forces that had amassed around Hama.

Government forces also maintained their siege of pro-opposition neighborhoods of Homs, south of Hama on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Opposition activists reported sporadic morning shelling of Baba Amro district.

Security forces also mounted a campaign of arrests and raids in two suburbs of Deraa city and loud gunfire was heard, activists said. The reports could not be independently verified.

The Monday actions followed a weekend which saw one of the biggest demonstrations yet in the capital as the pro-democracy uprising against Assad’s 11 year-rule neared its first anniversary.

Security forces have killed at least 5,000 people, according to human rights groups, in a campaign to crush the revolt while the Assad government says it has lost more than 2,000 soldiers and security agents in what it describes as a struggle against foreign-backed terrorists,

The conflict has also pitted Western and Gulf-led Arab powers against Assad allies Russia, China and Iran.

The former have condemned Assad for the bloodshed and called for him to step down. Beijing and Moscow say all sides are to blame for the violence and the crisis should be resolved through talks, not foreign intervention.

China’s Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, in a front page commentary on Monday, said: “If Western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention.”

A Chinese envoy met Assad in Damascus on Saturday and backed his plan to hold a referendum this coming Sunday on a new constitution which would lead to multi-party parliamentary elections within 90 days.

Syria’s official SANA news agency said about 14,600,000 people throughout the country were eligible to take part in the referendum. The West and Syrian opposition figures have dismissed the plan as joke, saying it is impossible to have a valid election amid the continuing repression.

WESTERN FEARS

Assad has ruled Syria for 11 years after succeeding his father Hafez on his death. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, and there are fears the uprising could break down into a full sectarian conflict.

Meanwhile two Iranian naval ships docked at the Syrian port of Tartous on Saturday, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported. The ships were said to be providing training for Syrian naval forces under an agreement signed a year ago.

Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi, quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency, said: “Our ships passed through the Suez canal and it is Iran’s right to have a presence in international waters.”

With Shi’te-led Iran already at odds with the United States, Europe and Israel over its nuclear program, the deployment was

likely to add to Western concerns that the Syria crisis could boil over into a regional conflict if it not resolved soon.

Foreign ministers at a G20 industrialized and emerging nations meeting in Mexico were increasingly worried about whether a peaceful solution could be found.

“There is grave concern about the fact that existing structures of the United Nations have not delivered an outcome,”

Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, told reporters in Los Cabos, Mexico.

The West has ruled out any Libya-style military intervention but the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, has indicated some of its member states were prepared to arm the opposition.

In Washington the senior U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be “very difficult” because it was not like Libya.

Syria’s army is very capable, with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said. It was also not clear who or what the fragmented opposition was exactly, he said.

A so-called “Friends of Syria” conference is scheduled to take place in Tunisia this Friday, bringing together Western and Arab powers.

Australia’s Rudd said the group aims “to place maximum pressure on president Assad to go, to end the butchery that we see day by day unfolding in Syria and to make sure we have a durable and peaceful political transition.”

(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran; Susan Cornwell in Washington; Krista Hughes in Los Cabos, Mexico; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Middle East Crumbles Around Obama’s Foreign Policy

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Mike Brownfield

Thousands are dead in Syria, with more blood spilled each day. Iran is within arm’s reach of a nuclear weapon, threatening Israel’s very existence. And in Egypt, 19 Americans are banned from leaving the country, making them veritable hostages in an unfriendly land. All indications are that the Middle East is crumbling, and President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is collapsing right along with it.

First look toward Homs, Syria — ground zero in the 11-month-old uprising against the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad, which is unleashing death upon its people minute by minute and hour by hour. The United Nations estimates that Assad’s regime has killed more than 5,000 anti-government protesters in the last 11 months, with 200 killed on Friday night alone. The Arab League has stationed observers in country, whose mission was to oversee compliance with a peace plan. That failed.

The Obama Administration rushed to the United Nations Security Council and attempted to pass a resolution calling for Assad to step aside. Predictably, China and Russia laid down a veto. On Monday, the United States finally closed the doors to its embassy in Damascus and withdrew the diplomatic staff over continuing security concerns. Meanwhile, intelligence experts are examining the risk of terrorists gaining control of Syria’s weapons stockpiles should the Assad regime fall.

To the east in Iran, the regime’s full-steam-ahead pursuit of nuclear weapons is reaching a crescendo, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently remarking that the country could build a bomb within one year and have the means for delivering it one or two years later.

Finally, in Egypt, officials there published a list of 43 people, including 19 Americans, accused of interfering in Egypt’s internal politics. They are not allowed to leave the country and could soon be brought to trial on claims that they illegally funded political groups in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Heritage’s James Phillips explains that “they have become hostages in a much larger struggle: the struggle for freedom in Egypt against an unholy alliance between Egypt’s transitional military government and the Islamist political parties who will soon assume power.”

President Obama and members of his Cabinet tried to reach Egyptian leaders on the matter, but in the words of Lorne Craner, head of the pro-democracy organization IRI, “things are getting worse . . . We are all scratching our heads over here. I did two tours at State and one at the [National Security Council]. If the president called someone, something gets worked out.” But as was the case under President Jimmy Carter, the White House appears helpless while Americans are held captive.

None of these crises occurs in a vacuum — except for the vacuum of a cogent U.S. strategy for dealing with these ever-worsening conditions. Since President Obama took office, he has pursued a diplomatic strategy of charm and restraint: attempting to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, engaging with Syria and Iran, and withdrawing from Iraq. Now we are seeing the results.

The international rogue that is Iran continues to rise, along with its threat to the world. Thousands are dead in Syria under a brutal dictator while the international community is serving up effete condemnations. America’s ally Israel appears ready to take matters into its own hands in order to ensure its survival, while prospects for peace with Palestine remain dim. U.S. citizens are trapped in Egypt as anti-Western Islamists seek to consolidate their power. And Iraq’s once-peaceful prospects have been marred by one terrorist attack after another after America’s military forces departed.  Obama has failed at every turn to safeguard U.S. interests in the region or take effective proactive initiatives to deal with threat of rising extremism and spiraling violence that could lead to regional conflict.

There are actions the United States can and should take. Phillips explains that in Syria,  “the best assistance that the United States can give to ease the suffering of Syrians is to help speed the fall of the Assad regime.” And it can do it by working with European allies, Turkey, and Arab states to escalate sanctions, provide humanitarian relief to refugees, and provide diplomatic and economic support for the Syrian opposition — while holding back from military intervention.

To address Israel and Iran, Phillips and James Carafano advise that the United States must have a clear and unambiguous policy that it will protect itself and its interests.

As for Egypt, Phillips writes that America should “freeze U.S. foreign aid to Cairo and give Egypt’s new leaders an ultimatum: free the American hostages or permanently lose U.S. foreign aid and any American help in refinancing Egypt’s burdensome national debt.”

More broadly, President Obama must fundamentally change course toward the Middle East. His policy of engagement has not worked, and the world is seeing the results. The Middle East is crumbling, and an ineffectual and inert Obama Administration is leading from behind with a foreign policy that has entirely failed to cope with the rapidly devolving conditions along the Mediterranean’s southeastern shores and beyond, with consequences reaching around the world.

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China paper defends Syria veto, doubts West’s intentions

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BEIJING | Sun Feb 5, 2012 9:07pm EST

(Reuters) – China’s top newspaper on Monday defended Beijing’s rejection of a U.N. resolution pressing Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad to abandon power, saying Western campaigns in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq showed the error of forced regime change.

The commentary in the People’s Daily, the top newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, was Beijing’s clearest defence of its decision to join Moscow at the weekend in vetoing a draft United Nations resolution that would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to quit after months of bloodshed.

The commentary suggested that Chinese distrust of Western intervention lay behind the veto, which was described by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “travesty.”

“The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and numbers of civilian casualties keep rising. Vetoing the draft Security Council resolution does not mean we are giving free rein to letting this heart-rending state of affairs continue,” said the commentary in the paper, which echoes government thinking.

China, not its Western critics, was acting “responsibly” for the sake of the Syrian people, it said. The author used the pen name “Zhong Sheng,” which can mean “voice of China” and is often used to give Beijing’s position on foreign policy.

“Currently, the situation in Syria is extremely complex. Simplistically supporting one side and suppressing the other might seem a helpful way of turning things around, but in fact it would be sowing fresh seeds of disaster,” said the paper.

China’s siding with Russia over Syria could add to irritants with the United States. Vice President Xi Jinping is due to visit there next week, burnishing his credentials as the Communist Party’s likely next top leader.

Beijing and Washington have also sparred over Iran, which faces tightened Western sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.

The commentary also laid bare broader Chinese concerns about Western-backed intervention in the Arab world and beyond.

China is one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members that hold the power to veto resolutions.

In March, China abstained from a Council vote that authorised Western military intervention in Libya. That resolution became the basis for a NATO air campaign that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, despite misgivings from Beijing and Moscow about the expanded campaign, which they said went beyond the resolution.

“Libya offers a negative case study. NATO abused the Security Council resolution about establishing a no-fly zone, and directly provided firepower assistance to one side in the Libyan war,” said the People’s Daily Commentary.

It also cited Iraq and Afghanistan in its case against the Syria resolution.

“The calamities of Iraq and Afghanistan should be ample to wipe clear the world’s eyes. Forceful prevention of a humanitarian disaster sounds filled with a sense of justice and responsibility,” said the paper.

“But are not the unstoppable attacks and explosions over a decade after regime change a humanitarian disaster?” it said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Obama administration secretly preparing options for aiding the Syrian opposition

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Posted By Josh Rogin

As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama‘s administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.

Critics on Capitol Hill accuse the Obama administration of being slow to react to the quickening deterioration of the security situation in Syria, where over 5,000 have died, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many lawmakers say the White House is once again “leading from behind,” while the Turks,  the French, and the Arab League — which sent an observer mission to Syria this week – take the initiative to pursue more aggressive strategies for pressuring the Assad regime. But U.S. officials said that they are moving cautiously in order to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country’s complex dynamics before getting more involved.

But the administration does see the status quo in Syria as unsustainable. The Bashar al Assad regime is a “dead man walking,” State Department official Fred Hof said this month. So the administration is now ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue. After several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis, the National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.

The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee (IPC), Deputies Committee (DC), or Principals Committee (PC) meetings, the officials said. Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.

The options that are under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.

“The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it’s still at the preliminary stage,” one official said. “There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future.”

After imposing several rounds of financial sanctions on Syrian regime leaders, the focus is now shifting to assisting the opposition directly. The interagency process is still ongoing and the NSC has tasked State and DOD to present options in the near future, but nothing has been decided, said the officials – one of whom told The Cable that the administration was being intentionally cautious out of concern about what comes next in Syria.

“Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious,” the official said. “The criticism could be we’re not doing enough to change the status quo because we’re leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it’s mindboggling.”

A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.

“This isn’t Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher,” the official said. “Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow.”

The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on the Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.

“That’s theoretically one of the options, but it’s so far out of the realm that no one is thinking about that seriously at the moment,” another administration official said.

Although the opposition is decidedly split on the issue, Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the Syrian National Council, earlier this month called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.

“Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine,” said Ghalioun. “We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights.”

Is the U.S. bark worse than its bite?

Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and protecting the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve that result. “The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.

On Tuesday, Dec. 27, the administration hinted at stronger action if the Syrian government doesn’t let the Arab League monitors do their work. “If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the primary organization representing the opposition, has been very clear that it is seeking more than rhetorical support from the United States and the international community. An extensive policy paper titled, “Safe Area for Syria,” edited by SNC member Ausama Monajed, laid out the argument for armed intervention by the international community to aid Syrian civilians.

“The Syrian National Council (SNC) is entering a critical phase in the Syrian revolution whereby the hope of a continued campaign of passive resistance to an exceptionally brutal and unrestrained regime is becoming more and more akin to a suicide pact,” Monajed wrote.

But Washington is uncomfortable acting in concert with the SNC: Officials say there is a lack of confidence that the SNC, which is strongly influenced by expatriate Syrians, has the full support of the internal opposition. U.S. officials are also wary of supporting the Syria Free Army, made up of Syrian military defectors and armed locals, as they do not want to be seen as becoming militarily engaged against the regime — a story line they fear that Assad could use for his own propaganda, officials said.

There is also some internal bureaucratic wrangling at play. This summer, when the issue of sending emergency medical equipment into Syria came up in a formal interagency meeting, disputes over jurisdiction stalled progress on the discussion, officials told The Cable. No medical aid was sent.

So for now, the administration is content to let the Arab League monitoring mission play out and await its Jan. 20 report. The officials said that the administration hopes to use the report to begin a new diplomatic initiative in late January at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad and authorize direct assistance to the opposition.

The officials acknowledged that this new initiative could fail due to Russian support for the Assad regime. If that occurs, the administration would work with its allies such as France and Turkey to establish their own justification for non-military humanitarian intervention in Syria, based on evidence from the Arab League report and other independent reporting on Assad’s human rights abuses. This process could take weeks, however, meaning that material assistance from the United States to the Syrian opposition probably wouldn’t flow at least until late February or early March. Between now and then, hundreds or even thousands more could be killed.

There is also disagreement within the administration about whether the Arab League observer mission is credible and objective.

“This is an Arab issue right now, and the Arab League is really showing initiative for the first time in a long time,” said one administration official.

“[The Arab League monitoring mission] is all Kabuki theatre,” said another administration official who does not work directly on Syria. “We’re intentionally setting the bar too high [for intervention] as means of maintaining the status quo, which is to do nothing.”

Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught off-guard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. The administration’s message had been to urge the opposition to remain peaceful, but that ship has now sailed, he said.

“We have a pretty strong policy of not engaging the Syria Free Army directly, because earlier it was agreed that peaceful protesters had the moral high ground over the regime and were more able to encourage defections,” he said. “But there was no clear light at the end of that peaceful protest strategy. We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn’t happen.”

Most experts in Washington have a deep skepticism toward the Arab League monitoring mission. For one thing, it is led by a Sudanese general who has been accused of founding the Arab militias that wreaked havoc in Darfur. Also, many doubt that 150 monitors that will eventually be in Syria can cover the vast number of protests and monitor such a large country.

The Assad regime has also been accused of subverting the monitoring mission by moving political prisoners to military sites that are off-limits to monitors, repositioning tanks away from cities only when monitors are present, and having soldiers pose as police to downplay the military’s role in cracking down on the protesters.

“It seems awfully risky for the U.S. to be putting its chips all in on that mission,” said Tony Badran, a research fellow with the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “There never was a serious mechanism for it to be a strong initiative.”

Badran said that the Arab League monitoring mission just gives the Assad regime time and space to maneuver, and provides Russia with another excuse to delay international action on Syria.

“Now you understand why the Russians pushed the Syrians to accept the monitors,” he said. “It allows the Syrians to delay the emergence of consensus.”

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the administration is trying to balance the value of protecting civilians with the interests of trying to ensure a measure of stability in Syria.

“The biggest thing is extensive consultation with as many international allies as possible. That’s another feature of this administration,” said Katulis. “And when change does come to Syria, the Syrians have to own it.”

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to requests for comment.

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US troops surround Syria on the eve of invasion?

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US troops circling Syria

A former official from within the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reporting that US and NATO forces have landed outside of Syria and are training militants to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, formerly a translator with the FBI, wrote over the weekend that American soldiers are among the NATO troops that have mysteriously and suddenly landed on the Jordanian and Syrian border. According to her, several sources internationally have confirmed the news, although the US media has been instructed to temporarily censor itself from reporting the news.

Additionally, Edmonds says that American and NATO forces are training Turkish troops as well, to possibly launch a strike from the north of Syria.

Edmonds writes that an Iraqi journalist based out of London has confirmed that US forces that vacated the Ain al-Assad Air Base in Iraq last week did in fact leave the country as part of President Obama’s drawdown of troops, but rather than return home, the soldiers were transferred into Jordan during the late hours of Thursday evening. Another source, writes Edmonds, informs her that “soldiers who speak languages other than Arabic” have been moving through Jordan mere miles from the country’s border with Syria. Troops believed to be NATO/American-affiliated have been spotted between the King Hussein Air Base in al-Mafraq and the Jordanian village of Albaej and its vicinity.

Nizar Nayouf, a correspondent for Edmond’s Boiling Frog Post whistleblower site, says an employee of the London-based offices of Royal Jordanian Airlines has further confirmed that at least one US aircraft transporting military personnel has brought American troops into Jordan in recent days. Nayouf, the former editor-in-chief of Sawt al-Democratiyya (Democracy’s Vote), had previously been sentenced to a decade behind bars for critiquing the Syrian government. He later won several human rights awards and the 2000 UNISCO prize for press freedom.

Since the uprising of rebel forces opposing al-Assad’s regime over Syria nearly a year ago, American officials have been critical of the country’s government but insist that they have otherwise distanced themselves from becoming involved in the protests. Following the deaths of dozens of protesters in the spring of 2011, the United States imposed strict sanctions against the official government of Syria.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, revealed this week that the uprising in Syria has caused over 5,000 deaths since it began in early 2011. In the case of the crackdown against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, NATO involvement began only one month into the uprising. Nine months later, the total death toll of the Libyan Civil War is estimated to be close to 30,000.

In her report, Edmonds says that NATO troops have been training soldiers just outside of Syria since as early as May, and that US media is prohibited from reporting on it until today. The Turkish paper Milliyet also reports that defected Syrian colonel Riad al-Assad is preparing troops to take over the Syrian government as well.

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Shell Exits Syria amid Fresh Sanctions

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

 

LONDON (Dow Jones Newswires), Dec. 2, 2011

Shell said Friday it will pull out of Syria amid a wave of tighter sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime following his violent crackdown on protesters.

A spokesman for the Anglo-Dutch energy giant said: “Shell will cease its activities in Syria in compliance with sanctions. Our main priority is the safety of our employees of whom we are very proud. We hope the situation improves quickly for all Syrians.”

The European Union Friday expanded measures against Assad’s rule to include the Syrian oil and gas industry, including the state-owned General Petroleum Corp. and Syria Trading Oil, or Sytrol.

Shell has interests in three production licenses in Syria covering some 40 oil fields, with its share of production in 2010 approximately 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. It also has exploration interests in the south of the country.

Payments from the government for oil produced in the country, to Shell and other companies, have been interrupted as Syria’s cash reserves continue to dwindle. According to Egbert Wesselink of Dutch charity IKV Pax Christi, Shell hasn’t been paid for the last week at least.

He said Shell’s decision to leave Syria was likely due to a combination of sanctions and reduced payments from Syria’s national oil company.

“Shell isn’t really operational there right now anyway. The effect of this will mean oil production will go right down,” said Wesselink, adding that storage facilities at the country’s export terminals are almost overflowing with crude as Syria runs out of markets to sell to.

Syria pumps about 370,000 barrels of oil a day, about 150,000 of it exported, according to the International Energy Agency. Those exports make up about one-third of Syria’s export income–and nearly all of it is sold to Europe.

“Now sanctions are working, the European boycott is effective,” he said. The country had even tried to switch to selling to Asian buyers instead, Wesselink said, but none of them were prepared to take it.

Shipbrokers who track the passage of oil globally said that exports from Syria have been virtually non-existent in the last two months, while Asian buyers spoken to by Dow Jones Newswires this week said they had no interest in lifting the country’s oil.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

by  Alexis Flynn

Dow Jones Newswires

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Russia Delivers Anti-Ship Missiles To Syria Regime

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Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov

Russia‘s Interfax news agency, quoting what it describes as a diplomatic source in Moscow, has reported that Russia has delivered anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria‘s regime.

No official confirmation or denial of the report was immediately available. The report quotes the source as saying Russia had supplied to Syria Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, as part of Bastion mobile coastal missile systems.

The report does not say when the deliveries took place or how many missiles have been delivered, but says the contract was worth around $300 million.

It says Russia believes the weapons will allow Syria to protect its entire coast from a potential seaborne attack.

The report quotes Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying in February that Moscow intended to fulfill the contract, despite opposition to the deal from Israel and its ally the United States.

The United Nations says that more than 4,000 people have been killed since protests against Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad erupted in mid-March, and that the conflict has now evolved into a “civil war.”

Russia, a traditional ally of the Syrian regime, has helped block moves for UN sanctions targeting Syria over the bloodshed.

compiled from agency reports

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On the world stage, Obama the idealist has taken fright

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Bin Laden’s killing aside, his foreign policy has all been waffle, dither and drift – with a trail of acts of dismaying expediency

Candidates run on hope. Incumbents run on their record. But Barack Obama, lining up for a second term at the White House next year, has little to offer on either score. The heady optimism of 2008 has dissipated. At home, Obama is primarily associated with hard times: only 34% of voters approve of his handling of the economy, according to a recent poll. Abroad, his presidency has come to stand for impotence and incompetence. He promised new beginnings; what he has delivered, for the most part, is waffle, dither and drift.

If this verdict seems harsh, take a quick tour round the globe. Everywhere the pillars of American superpower are crumbling. The old habit of hegemony, formed in the postwar decades and confirmed in 1989 as Soviet power imploded, is fading as fast as a Honolulu sunset.

Part of the explanation is faltering industrial and financial clout, reflecting the rapid rise of rivals like China and India. But that is compounded by another central element: Obama’s persistent failure to stand up, in practical, substantive ways, for the values, beliefs and interests he so eloquently espouses.

Obama’s early, anguished indecision over keeping his promise to close Guantánamo Bay now looks like a grim portent. So, too, does his administration’s failure to support the Iranian students whose “green revolution” was so cruelly suppressed in Tehran in 2009. When the Arab spring took hold this year, the man who in Cairo had preached the pre-eminence of the democratic ideal took fright. Tunisia did not matter much. But when he faced accusations of becoming the president who “lost” Egypt, Obama’s dither default setting was triggered anew.

In the event he achieved the worst of all worlds. Hosni Mubarak, that staunch, unlovely friend of the west, was deposed with Washington’s belated blessing – to the lasting mortification of another key American ally, Saudi Arabia. Now the army-led, supposedly caretaker regime that replaced him appears equally unappealing. Egypt may soon require a second revolution, and next time the Islamists may not act so coy. For its part, Riyadh absorbed the lesson of US unreliability and took matters into its own hands by crushing dissent in Bahrain.

In Libya, as elsewhere, Obama talked the good fight from the sidelines. Speaking about Syria in August, he condemned President Bashar al-Assad‘s “imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering” of pro-democracy demonstrators and demanded he step aside immediately. The call came after months of White House debate about the consequences of supporting change in Damascus. Assad, meanwhile, contemptuously ignores US mouthings, and a fracturing Syria accelerates towards the abyss.

Obama’s handling of his legacy wars – Afghanistan and Iraq – provides little to crow about on the stump. The Afghan troop surge has not brought about the looked-for breakthrough. Instead, casualties are up, while the Taliban, in contrast, have increasingly resorted to targeted terror tactics – such as last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and head of the high peace council.

Any examination of whether Obama and his diplomats and commanders want a negotiated Afghan peace settlement finds President Dither at his most infuriating. Speaking at the end of Ramadan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader, clearly signalled interest in pursuing talks to create a new political order acceptable to all Afghans. But Washington seems more intent on threatening Pakistan than ensuring a peaceful transition in Afghanistan after 2014. Much the same may be said of Iraq, where US concerns focus less on the stability of a country it so massively destabilised than on how Iran may exploit the US withdrawal.

Obama’s foreign policy under-achievement leaves a global trail. He spoke out forcefully in Prague about the necessary inevitability of a nuclear bomb-free world. But his carrots and sticks have had little impact on North Korea’s or Iran’s ambitions, while the Libyan war delivered a clear message: if Muammar Gaddafi had not abandoned his nuclear weapons programme in 2003 he might still be in power now.

As a candidate Obama condemned Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgian territory. But as president he offered Vladimir Putin’s regime a “reset” of relations amounting to a reward for bad behaviour. Along the Pacific rim, meanwhile, widely shared perceptions of a lack of political resolve in the face of China’s military expansionism are fuelling an arms race from Taiwan and Malaysia to Vietnam and Australia.

Amid multiple disappointments, one dismaying act of expediency stands out: Obama’s open-ended threat to veto UN recognition of a Palestinian state. After the three-year runaround handed out by Israel’s last-ditcher, “no surrender” prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama had the chance to deliver a symbolic blow for peace, something surely right up his street. But with a wary eye on the 2012 campaign, he just couldn’t do it. Under Obama, the empire does not strike back. It strikes out.

If Obama is re-elected it won’t be due to his international achievements – unless you think killing Osama bin Laden is worth another four years.

Simon Tisdall

 Original Article

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