Thursday, January 23

DARKO SARIC:"SECRET SERVICE AND POLICE SCANDAL".

Tomislav Nikolić was "absolutely right" when he said that "that some police members informed drug dealers about police actions," Aleksandar Vučić has said. The first deputy prime minister also stressed that "all those who act in the interest of criminals will soon be arrested and processed."

Commenting on the president's statement that information leaks from the Interior Ministry (MUP) and that someone is warning drug lords in advance, Vučić told Tanjug on Thursday that the president has received precise information from authorized security services. 

The first deputy prime minister specified that MUP and Security Services, acting at the orders of the Security Services Coordination Bureau, have launched major campaigns to apprehend the perpetrators of most serious crimes, particularly those relating to drug production and trafficking. 

"Serious results have been achieved, but the president of Serbia is absolutely right, and just as I said earlier, and as the president very clearly noted now - certain members of MUP notified drug dealers about the actions, even their exact time,” said Vučić. 

The first deputy PM stressed that the majority of police officers perform their duties honestly and honorably, but that those who act in the interest of criminals and in their own personal interests will soon be arrested and processed. 

"I expect that in the coming period our security services will take measures to apprehend the perpetrators of serious crimes, so we could finally put an end to this chief menace of the modern world, and arrest members of the police and other security services who had access to information and notified drug dealers or their henchmen about the time of state actions against them," said Vučić.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić warned that information was leaking and that "someone is notifying drug lords about police operations in advance," and called on MUP and the Criminal Police Department to carry out the fight against drug traffickers in a better and more efficient way. 

Political analysts in the meantime believe that the statement was criticism directed at Vučić and PM Ivica Dačić, while chiefs of police in Belgrade have been quoted as saying that it is "indeed possible" that information was leaking from the MUP. 

IRAN'S HEAVYWEITGHT ABSENCE HANG OVER SYRIA TALKS

As an international conference on Syria kicked off Wednesday with the participation of more than 40 countries, Iran's absence hung over the meeting, following a diplomatic debacle that saw the U.N. withdraw a last-minute invitation after an uproar from the United States and the Syrian opposition.

The absence of Damascus' strongest regional ally stood out even more given that the biggest supporters of the opposition were all present: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The question of Iran's participation underlines how the international powers that have lined up behind either Assad or the rebels trying to topple him are as crucial to a solution as Syria's warring parties themselves.

Like any of the regional players, Iran can be a spoiler for a resolution it opposes or can be a force for pressuring its side to make concessions. "The decision to exclude Iran from the Montreux talks is a huge diplomatic mistake," said David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

"As a major backer of the current regime, Iran has enormous potential leverage in Damascus," he said. As talks took a break Thursday — due to resume the following day — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Iran is "fully prepared" to engage with its neighbors on a range of regional issues — including the Syria conflict.

"The best solution is to organize free and fair elections inside Syria," he said. "No outside party or power can decide for the Syrian people and Syria as a country." Syria's 3-year-old conflict is locked into a brutal, bloody deadlock — which in many ways favors Assad's government. Neither side has been able to militarily overwhelm the other, but Assad's forces have gained some momentum, and his government and military have remained cohesive, while rebels have fallen into infighting between Islamic extremist and more moderate factions.

The military dynamic on the ground has given Assad little reason to allow the creation of a transitional government in which he is not a part — and which the U.S. and the opposition says is the peace conference's goal.

But the fight is also a proxy war, with the influence of international powers enabling both sides to dig in. Shiite-led Iran has poured money into keeping Assad's government afloat financially, has supplied it with weapons and has backed the intervention of fighters from Lebanon's Shiite guerrilla force Hezbollah and from Iraq's Shiite militias on the side of the Syrian military. Tehran is adamant in ensuring the survival of its vital ally that gives it influence squarely in the center of the Arab world. Meanwhile, Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, has provided Damascus important diplomatic cover, blocking several resolutions against it at the U.N. Security Council.

On the other side, Sunni Arab nations in the Gulf — particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar — as well as the United States have thrown their backing behind the rebellion, trying to stem the influence of their rival Iran.

Given Tehran's entrenched interest in Assad's survival, it is unclear whether Iran's presence at the conference would have helped in convincing him to bend on a transitional government. But backers of Iran's participation say it would at least have brought engagement in these early stages. If the talks do lead to even small breakthroughs — like deals to create humanitarian corridors to besieged rebel-held areas — Iran couldn't stand in their way by arguing it was not involved.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem called Tehran's exclusion a "big mistake," saying that "it is not possible to ignore Iran's important role in bringing stability to the region." Asked about the subject at a press conference following the talks Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Iran's ability to "make a difference" but reiterated that it has yet to accept the basis for the talks, which is the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria.

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the opposition say that government cannot include Assad — a stance Damascus, firmly rejects. "There are plenty of ways that that door can be open in the next weeks and months and my hope is that they will want to join in a constructive solution," Kerry said.

Cortright said that Tehran could eventually come around to a Syrian government without Assad, if it addresses their needs. "Iran's goal in neighboring Syria is to have a regime that is friendly to its interests and that protects the Alawite community," he said, referring to the Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs. "But this does not mean Iranian officials are wedded to the discredited Assad regime."

He said that by inviting Saudi Arabia and excluding Iran, "the United States is taking sides in a regional ethnic power struggle. This could exacerbate the deepening Sunni-Shiite divide and further undermine security in the region."

But reaching a stage that could lead to Assad not holding power is likely to be very far down the line. "We have to be very realistic, the conference won't lead to a political settlement or an end to the conflict," said Ayham Kamel, a London-based Mideast analyst for the political risk assessment Eurasia Group. After the failure of the attempt to remove him by force, "now we are in a different world where an Assad ouster is no longer realistic in the near term."

Instead, he said the aim should be to bring democratic reforms in Syria that reduce the grip on power of Assad and his leadership, paving the way eventually for a post-Assad Syria — and that both Iran and Russia are key to that.

"If you needed a final agreement that included real concessions and eventually finds an avenue for Assad to leave — definitely not in the near term — it would require Iranian and Russian support," he said.

Swedish Foreign minister Carl Bildt, who previously served as a top U.N. official on the post-war Balkans, said negotiations should include anyone with a significant role in the conflict. "You make peace between enemies, you don't have a peace conference to make peace between friends," Bildt said. "So everyone that should have any sort of relevance should be around the table."

POPE FRANCIS: "INTERNET IS A GIFT FROM GOD".

Pope Francis made the observations in a message about Catholic Church communications, meditating on the marvels and perils of the digital era and what that means for the faithful going out into the world and interacting with people of different faiths and backgrounds.

In comments that will likely rile the more conservative wing of the church, Francis suggested that in engaging in that dialogue, Catholics shouldn't be arrogant in insisting that they alone possess the truth.

"To (have a) dialogue means to believe that the 'other' has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective," Francis wrote. "Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the pretense that they alone are valid and absolute."

According to church teaching distilled by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic Church holds the "fullness of the means of salvation" — a message that has long been taken to mean that only Catholics can find salvation. Church teaching also holds that those who don't know about Jesus but seek God can also attain eternal salvation.

Pope Benedict XVI was a strong proponent of engaging in interreligious dialogue, but Francis has offered a softer approach in his sermons and gestures. In one famous off-the-cuff homily, he suggested that even atheists can find salvation. He also riled some conservatives when he washed the feet of two Muslims during the Holy Thursday re-enactment of Christ washing the feet of his apostles.

Archbishop Claudio Mario Celli, the head of the Vatican's social communications office, said he didn't think Francis was making an official policy statement on interreligious dialogue, noting that the message was merely a reflection, "not a conciliar or dogmatic text."

But he acknowledged that Francis is shaking things up in much the same "providential" way Pope John XXIII shook up the church in launching the Second Vatican Council. "We are realizing that there are sensations of, I wouldn't say difficulty, but of discomfort sometimes in certain circles," he said. "I think step by step we must rediscover a sense of the path, of what the pope wants to tell us."

In his message, Francis said the Internet offers "immense possibilities" to encounter people from different cultural and traditional backgrounds and show solidarity with them. "This is something truly good, a gift from God," he wrote. But he warned: "The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us."

He called for communications in the digital era to be like "a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts" and for the church's message to not be one of bombarding others with Christian dogma.

"May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful neighbors to those wounded and left on the side of the road," he said.

Tuesday, January 21

SERBIA:"DIRTY GAME BETWEEN RUSSIA & WEST"

Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament and President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Ranko Krivokapic complimented today Serbian people and Parliament Speaker Nebojsa Stefanovic and members of the parliament regarding the start of the accession talks with the EU.

"I compliment you on starting the key stage in Serbia's European path, through a process of negotiations leading to the adoption and implementation of European standards," he said.

Serbia's and Montenegro's EU integration is the greatest boost to security in the region and a confirmation of commitment to improving the quality of life for the people, he stressed.

Montenegro, as a country focused on joining the EU and NATO, is willing to share its experience with its neighbours, Krivokapic stated.

"To that end, the parliament of Montenegro will, as always, work to strengthen parliamentary cooperation and provide friendly support to our countries' European destiny," he concluded.

"IPSE DIXIT"