Archive for July, 2011

FORMER DICTATOR OF TUNISIA GUILTY OF CORRUPT PROPERTY DEALS

July 29, 2011

Tunisia’s former dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, his daughter and son-in-law have been given jail terms in absentia over corrupt property deals according to BBC News on July 29, 2011.

They were also ordered to collectively pay $100m (£61m) in damages.

This is the third guilty verdict against Ben Ali, who fled in January to Saudi Arabia after weeks of protest – the first of the “Arab Spring” revolts.

Saudi Arabia has so far failed to extradite Ben Ali, despite a request by Tunisia’s new interim government.

Ben Ali was accused of using his power to get property for his family at prices far below the market value in the capital, Tunis.

He and his son-in-law, businessman Sakher El Materi, were sentenced to 16 years in prison.

His daughter, Nesrine, who is married to El Materi, was given an eight-year jail term.

Ben Ali was first sentenced in June, along with his wife Leila, to 35 years in prison for embezzlement and misuse of state funds.

Earlier this month, he was convicted on charges of possessing illegal drugs and weapons after a one-day trial and given 15 years in jail.

STATE DEPARTMENT EXPERT: ‘CHANGE IS COMING TO SYRIA.’

July 28, 2011

Assistant Secretary Jeffrey D. Feltman, on July 27, 2011, told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad isn’t going to survive the 5-month long uprising against his regime. “He can’t win this,” said Feltman, head of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs—which, barring any revisions or corrections coming from the White House, now seems to be the administration’s official assessment. Assad is going down.

Congressman Gary Ackerman seems to want the administration to go even further, saying that Obama should call for Assad to step down. Ackerman calls him a “blood-soaked dictator,” and Feltman seemed to concur.

Feltman knows all about Assad and the Syrians. He was the ambassador to Lebanon when the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005 touched off a series of murders and bombings throughout Lebanon, which also included an attempt on Feltman’s own life. It must have been hard for Feltman the last few years as the administration insisted on trying to engage a regime he knew from first-hand experience was incorrigible. If and when the White House takes the final step to turn its back officially on the regime, it will invariably come as a relief to Feltman. In the meantime, he got some shots in this afternoon.

UK RECOGNIZES LIBYA REBELS

July 27, 2011

CNN on July 27, 2011, reported that The United Kingdom recognizes Libya’s rebel umbrella group, not Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, as the legitimate government, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

“We are dealing with them as if they are the state of Libya and that is how we are treating them,” Hague said.

He said London was working on ways to unfreeze Libyan government assets and get funds to the rebels.

His announcement came shortly after the Foreign Office said it had expelled all Libyan Embassy staff from the country.

The United States recognized the TNC as the “legitimate governing authority” in Libya two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced.

Hague also blasted the appearance of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi on Libyan television overnight, saying that his appearance proved his release from prison was a mistake and that the medical advice he did not have long to live was “worthless.”

Al Megrahi, the only person convicted over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people, appeared at a pro-Gadhafi forum in Tripoli on July 26.

He was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 on the grounds that he had cancer and was not likely to live more than three more months.

Hague Wednesday reiterated his stance that Moammar Gadhafi could remain in Libya if he leaves power, but added that the best thing would be for him to face justice at the International Criminal Court, which is seeking his arrest.

ISRAELI PRESIDENT DEMANDS SYRIAN PRESIDENT ASSAD MUST STEP DOWN

July 27, 2011

AP quoted Israeli President on July 26, 2011, on declaring Syrian leader Bashar Assad must step down. This was at an unprecedented news conference with Arab media.

Israel’s government has largely kept quiet as anti-government protests swept the Arab world in recent months. While some Israeli officials have predicted the Assad regime will fall, President Shimon Peres’ comments marked the first time an Israeli leader has openly called for the end of the Syrian regime.

Peres alleged that Assad’s forces killed some 2,000 civilians and imprisoned tens of thousands during the four-month-old uprising. “Assad must go,” Peres said. “The sooner he will leave, the better it will be for his people,” Peres said.

Syrian rights groups have put the death toll at more than 1,600.

Peres also praised the protesters. “It is easy to go out and demonstrate, but when they shoot at you? It is amazing,” the president said. “Their courage and firm stance are honorable.”

He suggested that regime change could help pave the way for an eventual peace treaty between Israel and Syria.

“Those who seek peace will prevail,” he said.

As president, Peres has largely refrained from voicing political opinions, making Tuesday’s comments all the more unusual. The setting was also unprecedented, with Peres speaking to about 30 correspondents from leading Arab news organizations, including some from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Peres spoke just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interview on Al-Arabiya TV, his first with an Arab media outlet since taking office two years ago. In the interview, Netanyahu took a more diplomatic line toward Syria, saying the country’s young people deserve a better future but only Syrians could determine who their leader should be.

The interviews have highlighted Israel’s efforts at engaging its neighbors as Mideast upheaval continues, and as the Palestinians seek statehood recognition at the U.N. this September.

Peres claimed Israel is “closer than ever” to peace with the Palestinians and insisted gaps between the two sides could be bridged before the U.N. vote in September.

Peace talks have been deadlocked since 2008 over issues like borders, Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements expansion on war-won lands. In the 1990s, Peres won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Peres has hosted Arab journalists before, but this was his first official news conference aimed at a wide range of Arabic-language outlets.

Peres aides tried to ensure a smooth entry procedures for the journalists, following complaints of humiliating security examinations at Netanyahu events.

Now the security check for the Peres news conference took just a few minutes.

THE UNITED STATES SPACE GUARD (USSG), A NEW U.S. GOVERNMENT AGENCY?

July 24, 2011

The New Atlantis (Washington D.C.) in it’s Winter Issue recently started a debate on creating

I. The United States Space Guard (USSG), an agency of the U.S. government at the subcabinet level, consisting of a uniformed, armed service along with its civilian employees and auxiliary organizations. It would be established by an act of Congress and attached to a civilian Cabinet department (probably Transportation, or possibly Commerce). It would be headed by a uniformed commandant appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and reporting to the secretary of the relevant department. During times of war or specified national emergency, the Space Guard would be integrated into the command structure of the U.S. Air Force, on the model of the Coast Guard’s operations with the Navy during the Second World War.

The Space Guard proposal outlined in this essay aims to fix what’s ailing the U.S. space sector by learning what works in other, similar sectors, and reorienting its efforts along their lines, both in its public and private modes of operation. Moreover, it is a proposal in keeping with some of the United States greatest traditions and successes. The American people are mindful of the limitations of government bureaucracy and confident in the resourcefulness of private enterprise. For too long, the United States has followed a path in space development that is fundamentally inconsistent with our country’s values. It is time that our space sector was reconceived and restructured to reflect those values — as well as the finest examples of American practical success.

The author of the essay, James C. Bennett, has been involved in space entrepreneurship, consulting, and advocacy for more than three decades.

The uniformed personnel of the Space Guard would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice; this would permit USSG personnel to serve in the field alongside USAF personnel with minimal adjustments, just as Coast Guard personnel and ships have historically been used interchangeably with the Navy when needed. Civilian employees of the USSG would be treated as normal civil-service employees, although consideration should be given to granting the USSG certain exemptions on hiring and firing similar to those originally granted to NASA.

This short presentation will not go into the question of political feasibility but concentrate on how USSG could contribute to the United States

II. Responsibilities assumed from other agencies. Several components of the Air Force, NASA, and other government entities would be transferred to the USSG and combined. These components might be transferred simultaneously or gradually over time. Exactly which components of these agencies should be transferred would require substantial study, but the criteria for such assignments would be along the following lines:

(a) United States Air Force responsibilities. The USSG should assume those USAF components, facilities, personnel, and functions that are i) primarily space-related; and ii) not directly related to warfighting; nor iii) ones whose customer is solely or primarily warfighting components of the USAF. Some functions, such as space situational awareness, might remain formal responsibilities of the USAF while using substantial numbers of USSG personnel integrated into operations, in the same manner that Canadian personnel historically have been integrated into the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

(b) National Aeronautics and Space Administration responsibilities. NASA operations that are primarily routine space operations or infrastructure-supporting operations would be transferred to the USSG. NASA would retain functions that are primarily concerned with R&D, exploration, or space science. The McKinley article anticipated transferring the space shuttle program from NASA to the USSG, but it was written before the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and the subsequent scheduled termination of the shuttle program. Given the short remaining life expected for the International Space Station, it may make sense to leave that program in NASA. Going forward, the rule of thumb would be that operations (manned and unmanned) to Earth orbit would become Space Guard functions; operations beyond would be deemed “exploration” and would remain NASA functions until they are reduced to routine. Such a division would be consistent with the Obama administration’s policy mandate that operations in low-Earth orbit, including crewed missions, be primarily contracted from commercial operators. The astronaut corps and its training would become a Space Guard operation, but NASA would retain a Test Astronaut Office and training facilities for testing experimental vehicles, as well as crews for deep-space exploration. Another way of thinking about this new division of responsibility is that NASA would come to focus on a small number of large projects while the USSG would focus on a wide variety of relatively small projects that tend to get shortchanged for attention and resources at NASA.

(c) Department of Transportation responsibilities. The space-regulatory functions of the Department of Transportation under the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 and successive acts are currently embedded in the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (referred to as FAA/AST). Those functions will now be transferred to the USSG. Unlike the current FAA/AST, the USSG would have the in-house expertise to review technology-related questions. Moving these regulatory functions to the USSG would also resolve the mismatch in the present system, in which FAA/AST, a civil regulatory body, oversees a field with many opaque military-generated aspects. If left unresolved, this anomaly in regulatory practice, one that violates the spirit if not the letter of the Posse Comitatus Act, will be a sore point as space commerce grows. In general, this space regulatory function has been searching for an organizational home since the Department of Transportation was assigned the role in the 1980s. Commercial space regulation has, until now, been too small to merit a separate subcabinet agency of its own, but it has suffered from inattention at the FAA. Today’s FAA/AST arrangement is also anomalous insofar as the office is trying to administer a regulatory regime founded on one philosophy and specified in one set of statutes, while being embedded in a much larger agency founded on a quite different philosophy and set of statutes.

(d) Other agencies’ responsibilities. Routine space operations that are part of other U.S. government agencies might also be moved over to the Space Guard. So, for instance, the operation of weather satellites, now a function of the Department of Commerce, could be transferred pending a review to determine the degree to which functions other than the actual launch, control, and procurement of weather satellites would be better run by Commerce or by USSG. (Of course, if USSG is housed in the Department of Commerce rather than Transportation, then the transfer of these functions would be an internal matter.)

III. New responsibilities. In addition to these transferred functions, the USSG would use its competencies to serve the following functions not specifically housed elsewhere in the United States government:

(a) Space-transportation contracting. USSG would serve as the routine transportation purchasing and contracting agent for all government space-transportation requirements other than active warfighting capabilities. This function would exclude test flights for research and development items developed by NASA, but would, for example, include launching NASA-developed scientific research payloads, as well as exploration flights for which the launch requirements are not exotic. For example, a research probe might be developed by NASA as an exploration project since the environment to which it is being launched is exotic — like a robotic mission to Pluto — but its launch from Earth and acceleration to velocity would be deemed routine tasks, since they can be accomplished with a variety of existing systems. In such a scenario, NASA might propose that its research and development centers develop a new launch vehicle for launch missions, but it would be treated only as one source of capabilities and it would have to compete against other options, with the USSG making the final decision.

(b) Space-transportation engineering. USSG would maintain an in-house space-transportation engineering competency capable of evaluating specific systems, overseeing the development of systems needed for government use where the market does not provide adequate capability, and serving as an independent external reviewer of NASA and USAF projects.

(c) Space situational awareness. The task of tracking objects in space, whether satellites or debris orbiting the planet, weapons systems launched by other countries, or manmade or natural threats to U.S. assets in space, is called space situational awareness (SSA), and it is currently the responsibility of the U.S. Air Force. But those functions perennially suffer from a shortage of skilled analysts, and Air Force personnel policies and attitudes discourage the accumulation of analytical competence in officers (as opposed to managerial skills). Going forward, the new USSG would serve as the responsible agency for non-military SSA capabilities and would act as the official U.S. governmental representative in international SSA cooperative efforts that are not primarily military in nature. The USSG’s status as an armed service would render it more acceptable as an interface with the USAF-run military side of SSA; its status as a non-DOD agency with a civil regulatory function would render it more acceptable as an international interface with civil agencies.

(d) Space debris reduction and mitigation. Given USSG’s combination of engineering and infrastructure capabilities, SSA capabilities, and regulatory authority, it would provide a natural lead agency for reducing and mitigating space debris, and ultimately for protecting the Earth against other potentially hazardous space objects. This would be a clear analogue to the Coast Guard’s responsibility for hazards to navigation.

(e) Space reserve capacity. The United States has the ability to surge its sealift capacity thanks to the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) program; it has the ability to rapidly step up its aviation capacity thanks to the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. A similar program will someday be necessary to ensure the ability to quickly expand the nation’s capacity for space activities; given the close ties to the U.S. space transportation and orbital operations industry being envisioned for USSG, it would naturally be suited to administer such a program.

(f) Enforcing order. It is worth pointing out that USSG officers would be, like Coast Guardsmen, officers of the U.S. government capable of operating as a constabulary. This is in contrast to NASA personnel (who are only employees, not officers, of the government) and military personnel (who are forbidden under the Posse Comitatus Act from exercising police powers over civilians). To date, there have been no instances of needing to exercise police powers in space. However, as the number and duration of missions increase, this will inevitably change: At some point, having constabulary officers with civil authority and training available will be useful. The USSG could also provide its own physical security at launch sites and other ground infrastructure.

(g) Search, rescue, and recovery operations in space. Again following the Coast Guard model, a USSG would be the logical agency to make responsible for search, rescue, and recovery operations. To date, there have been no active space-rescue missions; rescue operations have been more a matter of backup and contingency plans. But as the level of activity in space increases, permanent rescue capabilities, and staff dedicated to such functions, will probably become a necessary part of the national space establishment.

IV. New supporting institutions. Modeling itself upon the U.S. Coast Guard would permit the USSG substantial flexibility in its operations that neither a regular military service nor a purely civilian agency can enjoy. A small service along USCG lines might use some of the following organizational tools:

(a) A space service academy. The USSG would develop a sense of organizational identity and esprit de corps if it operated a small service academy along the lines of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, New York. A U.S. Space Guard Academy could offer an aerospace engineering curriculum as its core, but also have tracks for management and administration, and possibly pre-law with a concentration in space law. For the purposes of the USSG, it might be desirable to combine the functions of the Coast Guard Academy and Merchant Marine Academy, with the expectation that some graduates, after serving out their obligation, would go into space-related businesses. It might also be worth imitating the “co-op” study program of universities like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in which students spend part of their upper-class years as interns in related industries. One of the strengths of the USCG as a regulatory agency is that its graduates are familiar with the sea, with seafaring, and with the realities of the maritime world. The Coast Guard is not always loved by those it regulates, of course, but there is a sense of “mariners regulating mariners”; an academy that emphasizes industry experience could contribute to a similar sense of the USSG as “spacefarers regulating spacefarers.” It might even be feasible for a space service academy to maintain some small, crewed suborbital or near-space vehicles in order to ensure that its cadets are familiar with spaceflight and spacecraft operations.

(b) Reserve and auxiliary organizations. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard all have associated reserve forces — service members who generally perform part-time duty and who sometimes rotate to full-time (active) duty. The USAF has had some success using the Air Force Reserve for space functions; this example could serve as a model for the USSG Reserve. Such a reserve force would permit a wide range of flexible arrangements to retain organizational knowledge even after uniformed personnel leave active, full-time service. NASA in particular has suffered from the dispersal of trained personnel due to stop-and-start funding; a Reserve program could, among other things, preserve access to specific operational knowledge of systems or environments by retaining team members on reserve status and bringing them together periodically. It would also allow for the rapid expansion of capability in times of need.

The USSG could also organize an auxiliary program, with civic and educational entities analogous to the U.S. Power Squadrons (a maritime safety organization) and the Civil Air Patrol (an aviation service organization). A space auxiliary could generate enormous enthusiasm and participation, particularly among students — undertaking such activities as amateur rocketry operations or asteroid watches with amateur astronomers participating in the tracking and cataloguing of potentially hazardous asteroids.

(c) Other civil-society organizations. The existence of a USSG would also likely produce a penumbra of organizations, not officially affiliated, that would connect it to both the political system and to the wider emerging space industrial and commercial field. Indeed, an advocacy and support organization analogous to the Navy League or the Air Force Association, dedicated to making the case for the service and its role in national life, might even be created before the USSG. Other organizations might include retirees’ associations and an alumni organization for academy graduates.

U.S. TAKES HARD LINE AS RESIDENT POWER WITH VITAL STRATEGIC INTEREST IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC

July 24, 2011

On July 23, 2011, AP reported that the U.S. too a tough line on resolving tensions in the South China Sea.

Declaring the U.S. a “resident power” with vital strategic interests throughout the Asia-Pacific, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said North Korea must do more to improve ties with the South before Washington will consider resuming talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons in return for concessions.

In addition, Clinton laid out specific guidelines for the peaceful settlement of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying recent threats and flare-ups are endangering the security that has driven the region’s economic growth and prosperity.

The ASEAN Regional Forum that brought together 27 nations from the U.S., Asia and Europe opened with a buzz early Saturday, with South Korea’s foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, and the North’s Pak Ui Chun chatting and walking casually into the conference hall together.

A day before, their top nuclear negotiators met for the first time since disarmament talks collapsed in 2008 when Pyongyang walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch.

Clinton told diplomats she was encouraged at the signs of progress.

“But we remain firm that in order for six-party talks to resume, North Korea must take steps to improve North-South relations,” she said. “North Korea continues to present a critical proliferation challenge to the international community and to threaten regional stability with its provocative actions.”

Since the last round of talks, North Korea has conducted a second nuclear test and revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it another way to make atomic bombs. Recent threats against Seoul’s conservative government include a vow to retaliate over soldiers’ use of pictures of the ruling North Korean family for target practice.

The South China Sea is believed to have vast oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed and is teeming with fish.

The loudest protests have come from the Philippines and Vietnam, saying increasingly assertive Chinese ships have interfered with their oil-exploration efforts or bullied crews, something Beijing denies. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have also laid claim to overlapping areas.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said there have been at least seven aggressive intrusions this year in waters that were 85 nautical miles from the nearest island in his country and 600 nautical miles from China’s coast.

“If Philippine sovereign rights can be denigrated” by China’s baseless historical claims to the South China Sea, he said, “many countries should begin to contemplate the potential threat to navigation.”

Clinton urged all parties to show restraint and to comply with international law “and resolve their disputes through peaceful means.” It’s vital, she said, that they work together.

As a starting point, the Obama administration wants all nations to map out their territory in terms consistent with customary international law, a senior U.S. official said on condition he not be named, adding that many of the claims seem to be “exaggerated.”

Japan’s foreign minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, said he hoped continuing solidarity between the three allies would help to further deter provocative actions by the North.

The political situation in Myanmar was also on the agenda Saturday.

Clinton said the military-dominated country has reached a “critical juncture.”

Myanmar’s new civilian government, which took over late last year after a half-century of military rule, needs to make “concrete, measurable progress” in bringing about democratic reforms if it wants to win the confidence of the international community, she said.

That includes releasing more than 2,000 political prisoners and holding meaningful dialogue with its political opponents.

BLAST NEAR PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE IN OSLO, NORWAY

July 22, 2011

BBC News on July 22, 2011, reported a large explosion near government headquarters in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

The blast is thought to have caused damage to the offices of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and a number of other official buildings.

Mr Stoltenberg was unharmed, said local media, but witnesses said at least eight people were injured in the city centre explosion.

Pictures from the scene showed glass from shattered windows in the streets.

All roads into the city centre have been closed, said the NRK newspaper. Television images showed rubble in the street and smoke around some buildings.

An NRK journalist, Ingunn Andersen, said the headquarters of tabloid newspaper VG had also been damaged.

“I see that some windows of the VG building and the government headquarters have been broken. Some people covered with blood are lying in the street,” Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying.

“It’s complete chaos here. The windows are blown out in all the buildings close by.”

FORCING SYRIA’S PRESIDENT ASSAD TO STEP DOWN

July 19, 2011

A Fact Sheet from Foreign Policy Initiative, Washington D.C. on July 14, 2011 presented the facts in the case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. They have killed as many 1,600 civilians since protests began in March. Human rights organizations also estimate that at least 12,000 Syrians have been arrested or detained. In response, the White House has publicly condemned the Assad regime’s violent and lethal suppression of Syrian protestors, and imposed U.S. sanctions on certain Syrian government officials and entities for human rights abuses.

But until recently, the Obama administration had avoided calling for the Syrian dictator to step down—and instead appeared to hold out hope that Assad would yet prove himself to be a “reformer.” That began to change on July 11, 2011, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States has “absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power.”

The Arab Spring has given rise to mass protest movements throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in which everyday people are risking their lives to stand up to tyrannical regimes and demand moderate governance that respects human rights and the rule of law. Syria is no exception.

In the long term, a democratic and moderate Syria is in America’s interest and would benefit regional stability. As the Executive Branch and Congress mull changes to U.S. policy towards Syria, this FPI Fact Sheet outlines five steps that the United States can take to hasten Assad’s exit.

(1) Unequivocally call for Bashar al-Assad to step down

The United States should leave no doubt that it sides with the Syrian people by demanding that President Bashar al-Assad immediately step down. It is worth noting that France has already done this. For example, as French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said: “The situation is now very clear. In Syria, the process of reform is dead and we think that Bashar has lost his legitimacy to rule the country. And so we are in exactly the same position as we are in Libya.”

(2) Further sanction the Assad regime for human rights abuses

The United States should work to impose further unilateral and multilateral sanctions on the Assad regime for its ongoing human rights abuses.

First, the White House should get other countries—especially in Europe—to impose sanctions similar to those that the United States has already imposed on the Syrian government, such as:

• The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-175), which already forbids a wide range of U.S. exports to Syria

• Executive Order 13572, signed by President Obama on April 29, 2011, which targets the property and interests not only of several high-ranking Syrian officials and entities, but also of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force, which is believed to be aiding Syria’s crackdown on protestors.

• Executive Order 13573, signed by President Obama on May 18, 2011, which expands the list of Syrian officials sanctioned by the United States for human rights abuses to include Bashar al-Assad himself, as well as Syria’s vice president, prime minister, defense and interior ministers, and head of military intelligence.

Second, the Executive Branch and Congress should push for multilateral sanctions on Syria’s energy industry and other sectors that fund the Assad regime. The petroleum sector alone provides as much as a third of the Syrian government’s revenue. As the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Andrew J. Tabler said, “If you really want to pressure the Assad regime, targeting energy makes sense because it deprives them of a source of revenue.”

Third, the Obama administration should redouble efforts to get the United Nations Security Council to pass measures in response to the Syrian government’s human rights abuses.
(3) Withdraw the U.S. Ambassador to Syria and expel Syria’s Ambassador to the United States
President Obama should recall the U.S. Ambassador to Syria—unless the administration is willing to use him as a proactive and public advocate for the Syrian people in their struggle against Assad. Notwithstanding Ambassador Robert Ford’s praiseworthy visit to Hama on July 8, 2011, the continued presence of a U.S. envoy in Damascus lends legitimacy to the Assad regime.

In an effort to engage Damascus, Obama used a recess appointment in December 2010 to install Ford as the first U.S. Ambassador to Syria since the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Given that Syria has long been a state sponsor of terror, allied with Iran, and unwilling to conclude a peace deal with Israel, key U.S. lawmakers had objected to sending an envoy to Syria. At the time the administration had countered, “No other U.S. official in Damascus can provide the outreach and high-profile attention to the Syrian people that an ambassador can.”

Despite the Obama administration’s strategy of engagement with Syria, Assad has not renounced his support of terrorism, and his regime’s barbaric campaign against peaceful protesters demonstrates that its sole interest is to maintain power.

(4) Pressure the Assad regime over its secret nuclear program

The continuing controversy over Syria’s covert nuclear program gives the United States another lever to pressure the Assad regime internationally.

In September 2007, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the plutonium-producing nuclear reactor that Syria had secretly built, with North Korean assistance, near the town of al-Kibar—a reactor that the Assad regime could have used to acquire fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Syria was obligated to declare the existence of the al-Kibar reactor to the world’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In response, IAEA inspectors tried to investigate Syria’s nuclear program to make sure that no other undeclared nuclear sites or weapons-related nuclear activities exist. Syria, however, repeatedly stonewalled the IAEA’s investigation. As a result, the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors voted on June 9, 2011, to find Syria in “noncompliance” with its international obligations, and send its case to the U.N. Security Council for further action.

(5) Get Turkey to exert pressure on the Assad regime

Finally, the United States should encourage Turkey to pressure President Assad to step down.

SYRIAN SOLDIERS DEFECT TO LEBANON

July 17, 2011

BBC News reports on July 17, 2011, that Syrians have poured over the Lebanese border near Tal Kalakh in recent days.

Lebanon has detained at least two Syrian soldiers who crossed its border to escape clashes between security forces and protesters, activists say.

The soldiers reportedly fled after opening fire on pro-regime militiamen attacking civilians near a border checkpoint they were manning. A third soldier is said to have been killed.

Activists have appealed to the Lebanese army not to hand the soldiers back.

There has so far been no comment from the Lebanese or Syrian authorities.

Syrian civilians who have poured over the Lebanese border in recent days say security forces have surrounded the western town of Tal Kalakh and the nearby village of Arida, and launched a brutal crackdown.

At least 16 people have been killed and scores arrested, activists say.

“They destroyed the houses, they cut electricity and water. The wounded are dying in our hands and the dead are strewn on the streets,” a Tal Kalakh resident told the Reuters news agency by telephone.

EXPLOSIONS ROCK MUMBAI MARKETS

July 15, 2011

Three separate explosions tore through a business district in India’s Mumbai on July 13, 2010, NDTV.com reported. The country’s Home Ministry reportedly confirmed a terrorist attack and placed the entire city on high alert.

The blasts hit the crowded Dadar neighborhood, the famed jewelry market Jhaveri Bazaar and the busy business district of Opera House, an official at the city’s Police Control Room said according to Fox News.

The explosions happened around 7 p.m., when all the neighborhoods would have been packed with office workers and commuters.

The explosions hit locations where a terror siege nearly three years ago killed 166 people.

The blasts — if confirmed as a terror strike — would mark the first major attack on Mumbai since 10 militants laid siege to India’s financial capital for 60 hours in November 2008.