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SYRIA

 
  
  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Area (sq.km)
185,180


Population
17,585,540

Capital
Damascus

Currency
 Syrian pound (SYP)

President 
Bashir al-Asad


Update No: 021 - (01/08/05)

And the pressure keeps building...

In July, the US stepped up pressure on Damascus diplomatically and militarily. As Condoleeza Rice made another round of visits in the Middle East, including Lebanon, there were no signs that the Bush administration has given any thought to soften its regime-change policy in the Middle East particularly where Syria (and Iran) is concerned. Ms. Rice avoided visiting Damascus to emphasize Washington's displeasure with Syria. Ordinarily, visits to Beirut were followed to ones in Damascus in the protocol of an earlier time. What is truly surprising is the stubborn pursuit of the regime change attitude in spite of the fact that the Iraq war debacle has cost the US over $200 billion not to mention the drain on the military and the dead soldiers. Syria has strengthened ties with all of its traditional allies - Iran - while pursuing a conciliatory policy toward the new government of Iraq itself. In late July, amid reports of growing tensions between Syria and Lebanon, the new Lebanese prime minister Siniora- a close associate of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, who was murdered last February 14 in Beirut- visited Damascus to hold talks with Syrian counterpart Naji Otri. 

Syria has been keen to foster cooperation with neighbors (even offering to restart peace negotiations with Israel) to stave off US pressure. Nevertheless, the United States have hampered these efforts in an attempt to isolate Syria. For Siniora, this is the first foreign visit he made in his new capacity as prime minister. Otri met Siniora at the border between the two countries in the very area where hundreds of trucks from both countries were stranded after the Syrians almost closed the border by imposing stringent checking methods that caused hardship to hundreds of truck drivers and serious damage to their loads. Apart from the Syro-Lebanese tensions following the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the election of a generally 'anti-Syrian' government in Beirut, Siniora's mission in Damascus is made more difficult by discussions over what to do over weapons used by Hizbollah against Israel. Resolution 1559 (the one used to drive Syria out of Lebanon) also provides for the disarmament of Lebanese militias engaged in fighting Israel. 

Last June, the Bush regime asked the European Union not to sign the Syrian-European Association Agreement, a billion dollar trade liberalisation agreement that would give Syrian products greater access to Europeans markets, offering doubts that Damascus has withdrawn all intelligence agents from Lebanon and concerns about its role in Iraq, as its reason. This in spite of the fact that Syria withdrew from Lebanon ahead of the timetable agreed with the United Nations. Condoleeza Rice herself delivered the message to European leaders last May during one of her tours even as Diplomats said some European countries were actually pushing to ratify the agreement to reward Syria for pulling its soldiers out of Lebanon after 29 years. Reuters quoted a European diplomat as saying the Americans made clear they "don't want any positive gestures" made toward Syria at this time. Syria is one of the two countries in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, (which brings together 25 EU countries and their 12 Mediterranean neighbours), yet to sign such an agreement (Libya being the other prospective official member). It is, therefore, not easy to foresee any ease of pressure on Syria suggesting the Bush administration is interested in ousting the Baath regime in Syria. As the last US elections made very clear, Bush's fundamentalist Christian electoral base would welcome heightened tensions in the Middle East as a sign of the clash of civilizations they have long expected between Christianity and Islam. The July terror attack on London's transportation system has heightened the civilization rift between East and West. In July, after the attacks, Bush delivered speeches clearly mentioning Damascus and Teheran as the last remaining obstacles to 'democracy' in the Middle East (i.e. FBI academy speech, July 11, 2005). 

Meanwhile, as the 'crusade mentality' is built into the current political situation, the fact that the US Air Force is not actively engaged now suggests the US leadership has the military tools and even potential support (at home) to strike new targets in the Middle East, which would likely be Syria and/or Iran. Of course, there would have to be a 'casus belli', a trigger making action necessary. As the US administration persists in affirming that terrorists are arriving to Iraq filtering through Syria, there is no want of potential invasion building scenarios. Indeed, there has been an increasing number of skirmishes between US troops and insurgents in western Iraq, along the Syrian border. In July, American troops said they started to build their first long-term military base along, what is believed to be an important 'terrorist smuggling route' near the Syrian border with the stated purpose to stop potential suicide bombers from reaching targets in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities. The base is to be built about 5 km. from the town of Rawah along the Euphrates River and at the crossroads of routes leading to Mosul and Baghdad. US troop have been actively operating in the area since July 16 in a growing offensive involving the deployment of 1,800 soldiers. The Los Angeles Times said, based on a military statement, that the goal of the Rafah base is to disrupt the organization of the elusive 'al-Zarqawi' and facilitate Iraqi government control of the border, isolating 'al-Qaida' from the Iraqi population and eliminating a "safe haven" for insurgents. Plans for the base and the operation would deploy US troops in a more permanent fashion directly along the Syrian border.

Iraqs 'oil for food' Echoes

The US has played the 'UN oil for food programme in Iraq' card against Syria. US officials from the State Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)have accused Syria of having secretly bought about $3.4 billion in Iraqi oil, violating the embargo imposed after the first Gulf War, in the three years leading up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Naturally, those same officials have implied that at least some of the money has been used to fund the insurgency in Iraq. The allegations center on the Commercial Bank of Syria, the country's central bank, which is accused of having served as the financial conduit for the transactions. Syria said it has closed some of those accounts since the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, but Elizabeth L. Dibble, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, believes some the funds are being used to finance insurgents. It was widely acknowledged that the seven-year long oil-for-food program, allowing some Iraqi oil to be sold for the express purpose of buying food and humanitarian aid, was being abused and Jordan - a US ally - bought oil from Iraq circumventing the UN sanctions, but that is being 'overlooked'. Turkey another US ally, is believed similarly to have engaged in such purchases. 

The Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Moustapha refuted charges that Syria is funding terrorists in Iraq noting that Syria invited State and Treasury Department investigators to Damascus for 10 days in 2004 to examine bank accounts set up for Iraq. These accusations come on the heels of a Bush administration block over the financial assets of Syria's interior minister and its chief of military intelligence for Lebanon, as announced by US Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise. Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan and the chief of Syrian Military Intelligence for Lebanon, Rustum Ghazali, will have all their assets in the US frozen and Americans are forbidden from doing business with them. 

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