No progress in talks on Syrian constitutional committee

Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev attends a session of the peace talks on Syria in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 April 2019
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No progress in talks on Syrian constitutional committee

  • Opposition blames Assad regime for stalemate

JEDDAH: Two-day talks on Syria concluded on Friday in Astana, Kazakhstan, without notable progress on forming a constitutional committee to drive a political settlement in the war-torn country.

A joint statement by the three cosponsors — Iran, Russia and Turkey — said the meeting had broached the issue of the constitutional committee with the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen. Further talks in Geneva would be needed, it added.

Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi blamed the Assad regime for the stalemate in the talks, telling Arab News: “It doesn’t want a political solution.”

He said: “The regime in particular is obstructing the formation of the constitutional committee in accordance with UN resolution 2254. The regime gets support from Iran in creating hurdles.”

He added: “Russia seems to consider itself a substitute to the UN, when in fact the UN should be the one in charge and the facilitator of negotiations and implementing (resolution) 2254.”

Al-Aridi said the Astana process had a two-fold goal from the start. “The military aspect … was aborted into something called de-escalation zones, but the regime and its supporters turned them into escalation zones,” he added.

“The humanitarian aspect was to establish confidence-building measures, but the regime didn’t do that either.”

Al-Aridi said the issue of the release of prisoners from the regime’s jails was insisted upon in every Astana round, but the regime failed to act.

“Russia said it tried over 300 kinds of weapons on Syrian soil, which means it’s very much for military action, but in the media they portray themselves as favoring a political solution,” he added. “If there’s any terrorism that needs to be fought, it’s the state terrorism of the regime.”

He said “cunning” Iran, which has “a vicious plan for the region,” is out to destroy the Syrian social fabric with its militias.

Bahia Mardini, a human rights campaigner and founder of Syrian House, an organization dedicated to helping Syrians in the UK, told Arab News: “It’s clear that there’s disagreement between the guarantor countries (Iran, Russia and Turkey) over Syria, and that the Russian-American conflict over Syria is still there.”

She urged the international community “to find a real solution that will consolidate democracy and establish a future for Syria on the basis of international resolutions.”

She added: “We call for an end to the suffering of the Syrians … and their participation in building and redrawing the future through a political solution that will lead to the implementation of (resolution) 2254, all relevant international resolutions and the Geneva Declaration to restore the unity of Syrian soil and heal wounds.”


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.