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Friday, April 15, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama backing Assad regime; Palestinian agenda deemed higher priority than reform in Syria

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has been divided over U.S. policy toward the besieged regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


Administration sources and analysts said the White House was arguing over whether Washington should support the Syrian opposition against Assad. They said senior members of the National Security Council were debating whether Assad still marked a U.S. foreign policy asset.

"Right now, supporters of the status quo have the upper hand," an administration source said. "Their argument is that if Assad falls then the entire U.S. policy of arranging an Israeli-Palestinian peace and establishing a Palestinian cell will be threatened."

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Obama, who has assured Arab leaders that the Arab revolt would not hamper U.S. policy, was said to side with the Assad supporters in NSC and the State Department. On April 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration, amid the Arab revolt, would launch another diplomatic offensive to establish a Palestinian state throughout the West Bank, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The president will be speaking in greater detail about America's policy in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks," Ms. Clinton told the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. "America's core interests and values have not changed, including our commitment to promote human rights, resolve long-standing conflicts, counter Iran's threats and defeat Al Qaida and its extremist allies. This includes renewed pursuit of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace."

The White House was said to have assessed that Assad remained crucial for U.S. policy in the Middle East. They said the Syrian president's ouster could lead to either an Iranian takeover or that by Al Qaida-aligned elements, both of whom would reject any U.S. initiative.

"There are indications that some of Obama's advisers are aware of the need for change in Syria," former NSC member Michael Singh said. "However, some argue that the problem is not President Bashar Assad, but rather the old guard who were put in place by his father, [the late Syrian President] Hafez Assad, and who he [Bashar] is surrounded by."

Singh, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Saudi newspaper A-Sharq Al Awsat that many in the White House have been ignoring the rising opposition to Assad. He said some of Obama's advisers wanted to improve relations with the Assad regime.

The analysts said the division within the White House has resulted in conflicting statements regarding Assad's crackdown on the opposition, in which more than 200 civilians have been killed. At one point, Ms. Clinton referred to Assad as a reformer.

"Paralyzed by concerns of what comes next, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — continues to cling to the status quo," former Pentagon official David Schenker said.

The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran was providing significant help to Assad to quell the protests. At this point, however, the Iranian help was limited to technology and equipment with little evidence of that Iranian officers were actually participating in the crackdown on the opposition movement.

The sources said the administration has sought to use the Arab revolt to prod Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority over the next few months. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet Obama in May.

"The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months," Ms. Clinton said.

Opponents of the pro-Assad policy have warned that failure to move forcefully against the Syrian regime would anger a range of Middle East allies, particularly Saudi Arabia. They argued that the Saudis as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council states viewed Assad as a puppet of Iran.

"The questions we're being asked is why the administration was so gung-ho against [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak while we have been hands-off regarding Assad," a congressional aide close to the administration said.

So far, the administration has been mulling a range of options toward Assad. The sources said this included the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Syria, although such an option was not preferred.

"President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied," the White House said on April 12.


It sounds like Obama likes and supports any muslim reformers, and democratic revolt as long as it sides with Iranian Shiites. Boy, I just don't see a lot of Iran's in the area as a good thing.

Roger Russell      1:22 p.m. / Sunday, April 17, 2011

I agree with Syd about the Jimmy Carter style of the State Dept. When the Iranian Wacko captured and tortured our Marines at the American Embassy, an individual I know, who was a Navy Seal team leader was sent to rescue the Marines, and had the Embassy surrounded within 24 hours. They waited for one week for Carter's orders, which never came, before pulling out. I’m sure my friend had the “Iranian Wacko” in his sights, and could have changed history.

Bob L      9:35 a.m. / Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ghadafi kills protesting civilians, and he is a tyrant and should go. Assad kills protesting civilians, and he is a reformer and shouldn't be touched. Hamas fires missiles at Israeli school buses and there is no comment, as that, apparently, doesn't jeopardize peacemaking. Israel retaliates, and that jeopardizes peacemaking. Is Jimmy Carter secretly running the State Department?

Syd Chaden      4:32 p.m. / Friday, April 15, 2011

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