Obama Extends Syria Sanctions for One Year; MI Official: Scud Transfer Is Tip of Iceberg

Brigadier general lowers expectations for current round of talks with Palestinian Authority.

U.S. President Barack Obama renewed his government’s sanctions on Syria by another year on Monday, citing the country’s support for terror groups, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs.

The announcement means that despite Washington’s recent attempts to reduce tensions with Damascus, the economic sanctions instituted against the Assad regime in 1994 will remain in place for at least one more year.

Syria’s actions and policies “pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States,” Obama wrote in a letter to the U.S. Congress.

He noted that the Syrian government had “made some progress in suppressing foreign fighter networks infiltrating suicide bombers into Iraq.”

The Obama administration has been trying to forge a rapprochement with Syria, which it sees as crucial to Middle East peace efforts and stabilizing the nascent democracy in neighboring Iraq.

The outreach effort came under fire last month as a congressional panel questioned its wisdom amid charges that Damascus has sought to arm Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas with Scud missiles.

“As we have communicated to the Syrian government directly, Syrian actions will determine whether this national emergency is renewed or terminated in the future,” Obama said.

Military Intelligence research division chief, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, offered a pessimistic prediction yesterday over prospects that the current round of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians will bear fruit.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said, intends to portray Israel as “uninterested in peace.” Baidatz said the Palestinians are interested in holding negotiations, but do not believe in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his government.

Abbas is hardly eager to return to the negotiating table, given he has little room for flexibility amid a host of internal Palestinian disputes. He understands that Netanyahu himself has little room to maneuver, but should talks fail, the PA president is likely to cast the blame upon the Israeli leader’s intransigence.

Speaking at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Baidatz added, “Abbas seeks an agreement with Israel, but his room to maneuver on final-status issues is limited. We don’t see any real attempt on his part to show flexibility on core issues, and he will likely come to the table with the same positions as he did with previous governments. Abbas is preparing the ground for the talks to fail, which as far as he is concerned would lead to Israel’s true face being revealed.”

Regarding Syria, Baidatz noted that the country’s government “continues to walk down two paths without being required to choose between them by the international community. On one hand it is improving relations with the West and Turkey, but at the same time it is returning to play a significant role in Lebanon and tightening its strategic ties to Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.