Israel decries Solana's visit to Syria

Livni to EU ministers: Iran still helping Hizbullah, UNIFIL not doing enough.

Solana close 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Solana close 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana's decision to go to Damascus this week is a "mistake" that Israel opposes, senior diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said Saturday night. Solana said Friday he would travel to Syria this week to discuss the crisis in Lebanon. The surprise visit would be the first by a senior EU official to Damascus in more than two years, although European foreign ministers continue to visit there. Solana's announcement came after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking at a meeting with the EU's foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, argued in favor of continuing the diplomatic isolation of Damascus. "To engage the Syrian regime, in the absence of any real change in its actions on the ground, would be to reward the regime for policies that have greatly endangered the Middle East and the cause of peace," Livni said in closed-door comments in Brussels obtained by The Jerusalem Post. "We believe that the international community, including the EU, should make clear to Syria that commitment to peace is demonstrated in actions, not just in words. The message should be that the path to international legitimacy and re-engagement with the international community goes through a clear and decisive shift in Syrian behavior." During her comments to the EU foreign ministers, Livni revealed that "representatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards remain active in Lebanon, working in close cooperation with Hizbullah forces." She also said that while "there is evidence that Hizbullah's freedom of action has been restricted" in south Lebanon, "UNIFIL forces have not always adequately utilized the robust mandate and authority granted to them to ensure, in conjunction with the LAF [Lebanese Army], that the south is free of armed groups, assets and weapons and is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind‚ as stipulated in [Security Council] Resolution 1701." Livni's comments came as Israeli officials have said that UNIFIL would like a more aggressive mandate that would allow it to act more independently in engaging Hizbullah. Livni told the EU foreign ministers there was an absence of any significant steps to disarm and dismantle Hizbullah, as required by the UN Security Council resolution, and that this was compounded by "the failure to effectively implement the arms embargo" against the organization. "Recent months have seen intensive efforts at rearmament by Hizbullah, particularly across the Syria-Lebanon border, with weapons supplied by Damascus and Teheran in direct violation of Resolution 1701," she said. Solana apparently was not overly swayed by Livni's arguments concerning Syria, however. "I'll go to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and then to Syria," he said. "The council has mandated me to undertake this trip." Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said Solana would visit Riyadh on Monday and Beirut on Tuesday. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two years ago angered many in Europe and caused a lasting rift in relations between Damascus and Brussels. French President Jacques Chirac, who was close to Hariri, was the prime mover behind the EU's policy of keeping Damascus at arm's length. Last week diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that with Chirac's presidency at its end, this EU policy was likely to change. Nevertheless, Chirac - who attended the EU summit that issued a statement expressing the bloc's backing for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence - said he approved of Solana's mission. "He leaves with a clear message which has a consensus [at the summit]. We decided that Europe would talk in one voice, that of Mr. Solana," Chirac told reporters. Gallach said Solana would tell the Syrians "the role the EU would like them to play [is] to be a constructive and stabilizing influence in Lebanon." Livni, in her comments to the foreign ministers, said that while Israel was committed to peace with its neighbors and realized that such a peace "would entail compromises," that "notwithstanding recent rhetoric from parts of the Syrian regime, Damascus has thus far failed to demonstrate that it has made a genuine and strategic choice for peace. Syrian policy and actions in a variety of areas continue to show that it is advancing a destabilizing and radical agenda that belies its rhetoric to Western audiences." Livni said Damascus has "been a central cause of the severe destabilization of Lebanon and continues to provide extensive support and weapons to Hizbullah in direct violation of international law and UN Security Council resolutions." Furthermore, she said Syria "proudly hosts and supports" numerous terrorist organizations, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, and "has been especially active in encouraging terrorist activity against Israeli citizens." "This ongoing pattern of destructive behavior shows that Syria is still choosing to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. In light of this record, Syria's recent calls for talks appear to be made for the sake of relieving international pressure and the isolation that its policies have produced, and not as evidence of a genuine commitment to coexistence and peace," she said. Livni was scheduled to leave late Saturday night for the US and Canada, where she is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary-General Ki Ban-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ban announced Friday that he will be making his first trip to Israel and the PA later this month. Livni is also scheduled to meet with her Canadian counterpart, Peter MacKay, and to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference. AP contributed to this report.•