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Eurasia Security Watch - No. 191
Edited by Jeff M. Smith
December 5, 2008
SYRIAN NUKE SITE REVEALED
When a surprise Israeli air strike destroyed an unknown facility deep in the Syrian desert in September 2007, observers quickly came to the consensus that the site was probably home to a covert Syrian nuclear facility. Syria has consistently denied these allegations, but a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that the prevailing narrative is, in fact, the correct one. Inspectors visiting the site of the strike in June are said to have found “significant” traces of uranium and a complex bearing the features of a nuclear reactor. The evidence was found despite a sustained effort by Syria to “sweep” the site clean and erect new buildings on the grounds immediately after the attack. Washington provided evidence to the IAEA last April suggesting the site was built with the help of North Korea and designed to produce plutonium. (Reuters, November 19, 2008)
IRAQIS HAPPY, TURKS NERVOUS ABOUT SOFA
The signing of the long-awaited U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement in November was greeted with an overwhelming sense of relief in Washington and many capitals throughout the region. Though still subject to a popular referendum in 2009, the agreement paves the way for the transfer of full sovereignty to Baghdad and a mechanism for American forces to withdraw in a measured and honorable fashion. As expected, opposition to the agreement has arisen from anti-U.S. forces in the region, which believe the withdrawal does not come quickly enough.
Istanbul, however, has very different concerns. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Cemil Cicek, has publicly expressed concern that the withdrawal envisioned by the SOFA would come “too early.” Other Turkish officials similarly fear that an “untimely departure” could “spark a chain of events that could eventually destabilize the entire region.” “An untimely withdrawal could turn the region into hell,” says Murat Mercan, head of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission. “If we cannot protect the territorial integrity of Iraq, there will be risks of sectarian and civil war...” (Istanbul Zaman, November 18, 2008)
LOOKING FOR LAND ROUTES IN CENTRAL ASIA
Shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S.-led Coalition found itself on the horns of a logistical dilemma: the only viable overland supply route transits through Pakistan. Ever since, the United States and its allies have made efforts to explore alternative options. But, due to Afghanistan’s geography, only two exist: Iran and Central Asia. The former is off the table, given tensions between Tehran and the West, but European and U.S. leaders are now giving Central Asia – and Uzbekistan in particular – serious consideration. “Secretive” negotiations during the Spring of 2008 saw Uzbekistan ease over-flight air-transit restrictions and grant NATO access to the Uzbek railway system. The moves come as part of an overall thaw in the West's relations with Uzbekistan, which have been on ice since a 2005 row over human rights abuses during a crackdown on Islamist militants in the Uzbek town of Andijan.
But significant obstacles remain before Central Asia can be deemed a viable alternative to Pakistan, the largest of which is Russia. Any overland route from Europe through the region must first pass through Russia, whose relations with the West have soured in recent years. So European and U.S. leaders are now looking at a costlier route which could bypass Russia, bringing supplies from Georgia to Azerbaijan via rail and on to Kazakhstan via the Caspian Sea. From Kazakhstan, they would again board trains for transit to Afghanistan through Uzbekistan via a railway that would have to be extended an extra 67 miles to reach the country’s northernmost city, Mazar-i-Sharif. In return for its cooperation, Uzbekistan is reportedly seeking greater economic and military assistance, as well as a security guarantee for the regime of strongman Islam Karimov. (Eurasianet.org, November 19, 2008)
KUWAIT CABINET RESIGNS... AGAIN
Kuwait’s 16-member Cabinet submitted its resignation to the Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, in November, and al-Sabah has reluctantly accepted. The en masse resignation stemmed from a dispute over whether the prime minister – also the emir’s nephew – should submit to questions from three parliamentarians angered by his decision to allow a visit by a controversial Shi’ite cleric from Iran. Political crises have become rather commonplace in Kuwait. The parliament has been dissolved five time since 1976, including once earlier this year, and the latest political gridlock has begun to hamper economic policy at a time when the Gulf state is feeling the heat from the global financial crisis. (Doha Al-Jazeera, December 1, 2008)