News & Current Affairs

November 18, 2008

UK minister in Damascus meeting

UK minister in Damascus meeting

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband talks to reporters on arrival in Damascus

Mr Miliband wants Syria to play a role in Middle East peace-building

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is holding talks with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The visit, the first to Damascus by a top-level British official since 2001, is part of a tour that includes Israel, the West Bank and Lebanon.

Mr Miliband told that Syria had a role to play as a force for stability in the Middle East.

The visit is the latest in a run of exchanges between Syria and European nations aimed at easing tense ties.

It comes a month after Mr Miliband met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in London for talks.

‘Understanding’

Building mutual understanding between the UK and Syria was important, Mr Miliband told .

“Syria has a big potential role to play in stability in the Middle East – it can be a force for stability or it can be a force for instability,” he said.

“Over the last 18 months I’ve been talking with the Syrian foreign minister about her (Syria’s) responsibilities in the region, in respect of terrorism, in respect of Iraq, in respect of the Middle East peace process, and we’ve got the chance now to take those discussions further forward.”

Mr Miliband will meet the Syrian president and other top officials on Tuesday morning, before flying on to Lebanon.

Syria has faced diplomatic isolation since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, even though it denies any role in the killing.

It has also been shunned by the US because of its ties with Iran, the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese Shia political and militant movement Hezbollah.

But European nations, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, are now initiating steps to bring Syria back into the international fold, arguing that engagement is the way forward.

On Monday David Milliband visited Israel and the West Bank for talks with top leaders.

He called on both Israelis and Palestinians to maintain the five-month-old ceasefire in Gaza, following recent outbreaks of violence that have triggered an Israeli blockade of the territory.

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September 8, 2008

Sarkozy leads EU trio to Moscow

Sarkozy leads EU trio to Moscow

Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands with Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev in August 2008

President Sarkozy (L) brokered a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to arrive in Moscow for talks with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the crisis in Georgia.

He is joined by the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the European Commission head, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Sarkozy is expected to press Russia to fully implement a peace plan he brokered to end the fighting.

Meanwhile, Georgia has gone to the UN’s highest court over what it claims are Russian human rights abuses.

Judges at the International Court of Justice in the Hague are being asked to impose emergency measures to halt what Georgia says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Russia in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian forces remain in South Ossetia and large parts of Georgian territory after it responded heavily to Georgian attempts last month to recapture the separatist region.

Difficult goals

After talks in Moscow, the three senior European figures are due to go on to the Georgian capital, Tblisi, to meet President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russia says it is honoring the terms of a six-point plan agreed to end the conflict.

However, European nations do not agree.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions but Russian peacekeepers may take unspecified “additional security measures”
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

President Sarkozy wants Russian troops to pull back from their current positions in Georgia – well beyond the boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The European trio is also expected to press the Russians on arrangements for a strengthened international effort to monitor developments on the ground.

Some European leaders have already warned that there can be “no business as usual” with Russia until the peace plan is fully implemented, and the European Union has suspended talks on a new partnership agreement with Moscow.

However, with winter approaching, individual European countries continue to consume Russian oil and gas as usual.

Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and its continuing failure to implement the agreement to the letter, will have profound consequences for Russian relations with the EU.

It will also make it difficult for President Sarkozy to achieve his goals in Moscow, he says.

August 17, 2008

Ukraine offers West radar warning

Ukraine offers West radar warning

Viktor Yushchenko (file)

Mr Yushchenko said only a collective security pact could protect Ukraine

Ukraine has said it is ready to make its missile early warning systems available to European nations following Russia’s conflict with Georgia.

The foreign ministry said Moscow’s abrogation earlier this year of an accord involving two tracking stations allowed it to co-operate with others.

President Viktor Yushchenko said his country could ensure its sovereignty only through collective security.

Last week, Kiev limited the freedom of movement of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The move came after several of the fleet’s warships, based at Sevastopol in Ukraine’s Crimea’s peninsula, were deployed along the Georgian coastline.

Moscow denounced the restrictions as anti-Russian and said its military commanders would answer only to the Russian president.

‘Unprecedented situation’

In a statement, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said that because the country was no longer party to the 1992 agreement with Russia on the use of its radar stations, it could now “launch active co-operation with European nations”.

Only a collective security system will provide the highest international guarantees… that could prevent any actions like those which occurred in… South Ossetia
President Viktor Yushchenko

This might include “the integration of Ukrainian elements of missile early warning and space control systems with those of foreign countries that are interested in gathering space data”, it said.

Earlier this week, President Yushchenko issued a decree putting an end to Ukraine’s participation in the accord in view of Russia’s abrogation of it.

He said the situation was unprecedented and showed that his country could only ensure its national sovereignty through collective security.

Only that, he said, “could prevent any actions like those which occurred on 7-8 August at first in South Ossetia, and then in other regions of Georgia”.

The decision is evidence Ukraine is now more desperate to embrace the West as its fear of Russia intensifies and Moscow seemingly becomes more determined to prevent any neighboring states from joining Nato.

Russia clearly sees Nato as America’s sphere of influence, despite US President George W Bush’s insistence that it is a purely defensive alliance of sovereign democracies, our correspondent says.

Increasingly, the events of the past 10 days demonstrate Russia has gone back to arm-wrestling with its neighbours and the West after the immediate post-Soviet years, when it felt too weak, he adds.

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