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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
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Bashir al-Asad

Update No: 023 - (03/10/05)

Leveraging On the Murder of Rafiq Hariri to Put Pressure on Syria
The United States is further marginalizing Syria leveraging on the current investigation led by UN appointed prosecutor Detlev Mehlis into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri last February 14 in Beirut. Some analysts believe the pressure is akin to that used in the 1990's against Libya, to compel a complete turnaround in the regime. That turnaround, presumably, would involve Syria making far more concessions toward the Golan Heights and influence over Lebanese political proxy groups such as Hezbollah and Amal, to give Israel more room for maneuver. The United States needs to show political progress in the Middle East as the war in Iraq gathers an ever growing number of critics from both political parties. By forcing Syria's guard down, it will be easier to start a negotiations process with Israel to discuss a solution to the Golan and the Palestinian Territories. Indeed, Israeli 'hawks' in the Likud ruling coalition such as Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz insist they will never give up the Golan, while Syria insists there can be no separate final peace deals with the Palestinian Authority over the Occupied Territories, unless the deal includes the Golan. One of the main reasons for the Syria's reluctance to leave Lebanon was that it would lose influence in eventual negotiations with Israel. In Lebanon, Syria could use Hezbollah to maintain pressure on Israel. The Hariri murder was the pivot around which the United States intensified pressure on Syria to move out of Lebanon. 
The United States is mounting a campaign similar to the one of the early spring and late winter of 2005 against Syria, without necessarily using sanctions. On the Iraqi front, there is the ever present complaint of foreign fighters crossing the border. The US proxy leadership in Iraq issues monthly criticisms of Syria over this issue and in September the United States also tried to get Turkey involved. Turkish sources said that Hadley and Secretary of State Aide for Public Diplomacy, Karin Hughes, who were in Ankara in late September, conveyed an American demand to Turkey as regards a scenario to change the regime in Syria. Turkish sources also said that Erdogan and Gol warned Hadley not to interfere in changing of the Syrian regime affirming, "?Ankara knows very well the characteristics of the Syrian regime. In addition, Ankara always advises Syrians to realize democracy." It should be noted that Syria and Turkey have had very close relations over the past two years, also involving joint infrastructure projects over water and electricity. Both countries, moreover, share a similar concern over the federalist tendency of the new Iraqi constitution, which would give more autonomy to Iraqi Kurdistan, raising separatist tension among the Kurds in Syria and Turkey. 

As ad Snubbed at UN General Assembly - (he did not even go)
The first visible sign of the new isolation of the Syrian regime came when Syrian President Basher al-Asad cancelled his planned trip to attend the United Nations summit in New York in mid-September at the last minute amid clear indications that he would not be welcome in the United States. Meanwhile, leading figures of the Lebanese opposition, who called for Syria's pullout last spring, received a warm welcome, which could not have been better conceived to convey the message of the United States to Damascus. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted a multilateral gathering in support of Lebanon featuring UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Russia, among others. They agreed to sponsor an international donor conference for Lebanon in November and encourage Lebanese domestic reforms while furthering Syria's international isolation. 

The Mehlis Investigation Helping the US Cause in Syria
The renewed impetus of US pressure is impelled by the fact that some of his closest regime colleagues could be implicated in the final UN report into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. In other words, the Hariri murder investigation is helping to destabilize the Syrian regime. In late September, Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor leading the UN investigation commission, traveled to Damascus to interview several senior Syrian military intelligence officers who were serving in Lebanon when Mr. Hariri was killed. In August, Mehlis' inquiry already led to the arrest of four pro-Syrian Lebanese intelligence and security chiefs were arrested last month on suspicion of involvement in the assassination. The investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is drawing on debriefings from one or more defectors from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Asad. The defectors have provided evidence of Syrian government complicity in Hariri's death, according to two U.S. officials. There is a widespread concern that should Mehlis' report, which is expected toward the end of October, implicate senior Syrian officials, it could lead to UN sanctions and the severing of Syria's diplomatic relations with Europe as well as the United States. It would indeed be almost a repeat of the sanctions and international isolation of Libya in the 1990's. Unlike, Col. Qadhafi however, there are doubts as to the power and influence of Basher al-Asad to maintain a grip on power and keep opposition forces at bay. 
Meanwhile, Bush's national security team was due to meet Saturday, October 1 to review its options in Syria, which range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. However, despite the repeated accusations - the latest offered by the US "ambassador" to Iraq and after Khalilzad to the effect that the patience of the United States is running out - not everyone in the US administration necessarily believes Syria has direct involvement in favoring the passage of foreign fighters in Iraq to back the Iraqi resistance or insurgence. Syria has repeatedly denied this, while the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency have reported that the evidence against Syria is inconclusive. There is also the concern that a toppled Asad regime - secular and centralizing - offers undesirable political options. Therefore, even limited military action now, say observers, could destabilize or even topple Asad's government, with no good replacement at hand. Former CIA analyst Flynt Everett says the Bush administration has "…an undeclared posture of `regime change' on the cheap". He notes that the administration hopes to topple Asad without resorting to a costly invasion as in Iraq. Setting aside the military option, the United States will likely press for more sanctions on Syria, as part of the 2003 Syria Accountability Act and reaching out to Syrian opposition groups. The United States might even consider limited military action to stop the flow of insurgents - if this is actually occurring, as reports from Iraq suggest the number of foreign fighters in the insurgency is very small and the great majority of suicide bombers in particular, are held to be Saudi young men from across the very long Saudi border with Iraq. For the time being, the Mehlis investigation is playing into the United States' plan to isolate Syria, and impetuous military strikes or threats could break this momentum and potential international consensus on pressuring the Baathist leadership in Syria. 

Russia to the Aid?
Perhaps fearing some form of international isolation, in September Syria tried to secure new armament and military training agreements with Russia. The Syrian army's chief-of-staff General Ali Habib went on a four-day visit to Moscow to upgrade Syria's arsenal and strengthen defense cooperation with Russia already sold short-range surface to air missiles to Syria for defense purposes. Habib met Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov last September 27 to discuss "maintenance and modernization of Syrian military equipment by Russian experts, the training of Syrian military in Russian military academies and potential purchases of Russian weapons," as noted in a Russian defense ministry statement. The Syrian general agreed to buy ammunition and visited a weapons factory specializing in high-precision anti-tank rockets in Tula region south of Moscow on Tuesday. The factory is Russia's seventh largest arms exporter and produces small arms, "active armored" systems and Kornet-E anti-tank missiles. Habib was also said to have talked to officials from Rosoboronexport, the official Russian body charged with arms exports. Russo-Syrian military cooperation will also include more opportunities for Syrian officers to study at Russian military academies. The meetings also "examined deliveries to Syria of advanced Russian weapons, the updating of weapons and hardware of Soviet and Russian production, with which the Syrian army is equipped," said the Itar-Tass news agency. 

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INA teams up with Syria's Petrol, Gas 

Croatian oil company INA has inked a long-term agreement on the sale of gas to the Syrian Petroleum Company and the Syrian Gas Company, the Croatian news agency Hina reported, citing INA in a statement.
The gas was discovered in the research bloc Hayan northeast of Damascus, covering an area of 5,000 square kilometres. INA holds a 100 per cent concession in the area. The company said the deal marks the start of joint work of INA and the two Syrian companies on putting the discovered oil and gas field into operation.


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