France Recalls Syria Envoy

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – France recalled its ambassador to Damascus and Syria’s suspension from the Arab League took effect on Wednesday, intensifying diplomatic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent eight-month-old crackdown on protests.

Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus in a high-profile assault that showed how close the popular uprising is to sliding into armed conflict.

Hours after the Arab League suspension took effect, Assad supporters threw stones and debris at the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and smeared its walls with graffiti, witnesses said. The embassy is in one of the most secure districts of the capital, near Assad’s home and offices.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution at the United Nations.

Last month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Damascus, but since then the normally cautious Arab League has suspended Syria for failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

“New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris,” Juppe said, referring to weekend attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on French diplomatic premises, as well as Turkish and Saudi missions, in Syria.

Arab foreign ministers met in Rabat for an Arab-Turkish forum, where a Syrian flag was placed by an empty chair.

Turkey, now a fierce critic of its former ally, said Syria had failed to honor an Arab peace plan to halt the unrest.

Speaking through a translator, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu compared Syria with Libya, where rebels captured, humiliated and killed Muammar Gaddafi last month.

“The regime should meet the demands of its people,” he said. “The collective massacres in Syria and … the bloodshed cannot continue like this.”

IRAN DEFENDS SYRIA

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized the Arab League for “acting in a way that will hurt the security of the region.” He told the official news agency IRNA that Syria, an ally of Iran since 1980, had repeatedly pledged to meet legitimate popular demands and enact reforms.

“Unfortunately, some countries believe that they are outside the crisis … but they are mistaken because if a crisis happens they will be entangled by its consequences.”

Saudi Arabia, which is eager to loosen the ties between its regional rival Iran and Syria, said the Arab League was acting in Syria’s interest, not interfering in its affairs.

“What’s important is not about suspending or not suspending (Syria from the League), it’s stopping the bloodshed, starting the dialogue, and withdrawing troops from Syrian cities,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Al Arabiya channel.

Western countries have tightened sanctions on Syria and on Monday Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab head of state to urge Assad to quit after ensuring a smooth handover.

In the early months of the uprising, attempts by security forces to crush mainly peaceful protests accounted for most of the violence. But since August there has been a growing number of reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting back.

Activists said Free Syrian Army fighters fired machineguns and rockets at a large Air Force Intelligence complex on the northern edge of the capital at about 7:30 p.m. EST.

A gunfight ensued and helicopters circled over the complex, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Syrian state media did not mention the attack.

The U.S. State Department said it had few details and no direct confirmation of the incident, but blamed Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

“It’s not surprising that we are now seeing this kind of violence,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form. But let’s be very clear that it is the brutal tactics of Assad and his regime in dealing with what began as a non-violent movement is now taking Syria down a very dangerous path.”

“HUGELY SYMBOLIC”

A Western diplomat in Damascus described the assault as “hugely symbolic and tactically new,” saying that if the reported details were true it would be “much much more coordinated than anything we have seen before.”

“To actually attack a base like this is something else, and so close to Damascus as well,” said the diplomat, adding that fighting in recent weeks involving army deserters in the town of Rastan and the city of Homs resembled a localized civil war.

“It’s not a nationwide civil war, but in very specific locations, it is looking like that,” said the diplomat.

The Free Syrian Army was set up by deserters and is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, who is based in southern Turkey.

It announced this week that it had formed a “temporary military council” of nine defecting officers, led by Asaad.

The statement said the Syrian Free Army aimed to “bring down the regime and protect citizens from the repression … and prevent chaos as soon as the regime falls,” adding that it would form a military court to try “members of the regime who are proven to have been involved in killing operations.”

Syrian television showed thousands of Assad’s supporters rallying in Damascus and Latakia to mark the day his father Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970. It said the crowds were also voicing their rejection of the Arab League’s decision.

“God, Syria, Bashar, that’s all!” demonstrators shouted in central Damascus after turning out in heavy rain to wave flags and posters of the president. Two large posters of Assad and his father hung from a building. “Neither rain nor sanctions will stop us expressing our nationalism,” they said, according to the television report.

The Arab League has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure or proposing any Libya-style military intervention, but its ostracism of Syria is a blow to a country whose ruling Baath party puts Arab nationalism at the center of its credo.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media. They blame the unrest on “armed terrorist gangs” and foreign-backed militants who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Hundreds of people have been killed this month, one of the bloodiest periods of the revolt.

Syria says it remains committed to the Arab peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of troops from urban areas, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition.

State media said more than 1,000 prisoners, including prominent dissident Kamal Labwani, were freed on Tuesday. But human rights campaigners say tens of thousands have been detained since anti-Assad protests began.

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Indo-Iran Diplomacy: Women As ”Cultural Ambassadors”

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding all the noise being made against Iran over its nuclear program, Indo-Iranian ties have not backtracked. What is more amazing is the definite impact made by women in this field. This month began with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visiting Iran, during which she held extensive discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Economy and Finance Minister Seyed Shamseddin Hosseini and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili. It was Rao’s first visit to Iran as Foreign Secretary. During her visit, both sides emphasized the need for expansion of economic ties. Besides, Rao laid stress that both countries should also give more importance to tourism in keeping with their rich history and tourist attractions.

Rao’s visit is, however, just a minor indicator of the importance India and Iran are giving to strengthen their ties. This point is supported by cultural diplomacy playing a crucial role in bringing the two countries closer. The ministry of cultural diplomacy in the present Indian cabinet setup is one of the few ministries exclusively headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It has not been allocated specifically to any cabinet minister. This also implies that diplomatic steps being taken forward in the cultural field have the direct consent of the Indian Prime Minister.

Interestingly, Iranian women are playing a crucial role regarding cultural diplomacy. The Iranian puppetry troupe- Apple Tree- performed a traditional puppet show, The Bald Hero in New Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon. The all-women troupe was invited to the annual Ishara International Festival, which began in New Delhi on January 27 to continue till February 15 in Mumbai. Majid Giahchi, head of Apple Tree group, said: “The group includes four sisters who have been awarded for their brilliant performance of the puppet show throughout the world.” “The traditional play has been forgotten for years, but the Apple Tree troupe was able to revive the art form after carrying out research on it in 2005,” Giahchi said.

Giahchi adds a diplomatic importance to such puppet shows as well expects them to help promote these arts financially. “When a troupe attends an international event, it acts as an ambassador of the art and culture of Iran, so it needs to be supported financially,” Giahchi said.

Against the backdrop of a largely negative image projected about status of women in Iran, The Bald Hero prompts Indians to naturally think otherwise. By visiting India to participate in the puppet show and also other countries of the world, the Iranian women have not simply played the role of diplomatic ambassadors. They have also conveyed the message that Iranian women should not be presumed to be as suppressed as presented largely by the international media.

In an attempt to change this impression, a silent movement has begun. Though there is no denying that women in Iran still face considerable discrimination and are yearning for more rights as well as greater equality, several facts cannot be ignored. Women across the world, including in the so-called liberal, democratic countries, have not gained much prominence in the political arena and similar areas, which continue to be dominated by men. However, their numerical position in Muslim countries such as Iran is tended to be projected negatively as a sign of their being kept backwards by religious extremists. Yet, if facts and statistics released by reliable sources are studied, they convey a totally different picture.

Of these, perhaps the most significant is that the health minister in Iran’s cabinet is a woman, Marziya Vahid Dastjerdi. Besides, Iranian women acquired the right to vote and started becoming members of the Parliament more than fifty years ago. Since then, even though their representation is fairly small, they have managed to secure entry into the Parliament defeating all the speculations raised about the command of fundamentalists in Iranian society. The same point is also proved by women’s population in Iranian universities being 52 percent, more than that of men’s 48 percent.

Several figures also defy the impression that Iranian women’s role – behind the veil- is restricted to being home-makers. The number of women employed by the government in 2006 was 788488, which was 14.53 percent more than in 1997. In addition to Iranian women being employed in government departments, they have moved forward in other areas also. There has been in 2007, 80 percent increase in the number of books published by Iranian women writers in around a decade’s time. During the same period, there has been a 58 percent increase in number of women film makers whose work has been recognized in international film festivals outside Iran. Similarly, the number of women athletes has increased by 47 percent. The last point is further supported by the formation of women’s football team in 2006. The team visited India to participate in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the first team in October 2007.

Women must certainly be credited for playing a major role in taking forward Indo-Iranian diplomatic relations, culturally and in other areas, including sports. Indian Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Iran is a symbolic indicator of Indo-Iranian ties being on the upswing.

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