Saturday, March 23, 2013

'Enhanced intelligence cooperation with the Free Syria Army'

'As we reported last week, expectations for President Obama’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories were deliberately kept low. After a series of well-received speeches and exchanges with Prime Minister Netanyahu that were more congenial than expected, much commentary in Washington is speculating that a new chapter may be opening in the Middle East peace process, especially in the light of Secretary of State Kerry's added return visit to Israel after Obama completes his trip to Jordan.  Privately, officials in Washington to whom we have spoken are much more cautious. While they acknowledge that the visit atmospherics were cordial, they still strongly doubt that either the Israelis or the Palestinians are – if new negotiations actually start – ready to progress beyond familiar, entrenched positions. As one official put it to us: “Kerry will test the waters, but we will need a lot of convincing before we invest capital in a substantial new engagement from the US side.” As to the optics, the political side of the White House is well pleased. “Now no-one can accuse the President of not getting on with Netanyahu” one Democratic adviser commented to us. This should strengthen Obama’s hand in dealing with Israel over Iran. With the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran set for April 5th/6th in Kazakhstan, Administration officials do not see an immediate crisis ahead. Elsewhere in the Middle East, claims and counterclaims of the use of chemical weapons have made the debate about Syria even more controversial. With both Lebanon and Egypt in crisis, US officials remain reluctant to be drawn more deeply into Syria, but current leaks of enhanced intelligence cooperation with the Free Syria Army born of concerns about the growing strength of Al-Qaeda liked opposition elements point in the other direction...'

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