Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 19th, 2009
Syria on the Potomac, Fri, 04/17/2009. Foreign Policy’s “the Cable” prepares to go to “National Day” celebrations held by the Syrian Embassy:
It’s not quite the same thing as returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. But the Obama administration is sending a delegation to Syrian National Day celebrations to be held tonight at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
It’s the first time the U.S. government has sent officials to grace the event in six years. The top U.S. diplomat attending tonight’s festivities is Obama’s recently nominated assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, Amb. Jeffrey Feltman, along with other less senior officials.
The Lebanese embassy received an invitation to the event as well, if only yesterday, a Washington Middle East hand heard….
But the Obama administration appears to be proceeding cautiously and without great haste towards greater engagement with Damascus.
Yesterday evening, I wanted to pay my respects to a fellow blogger and lover of the arts, Imad Moustapha – who also happens to be the Ambassador of Syria to Washington. I got a snapshot at that Mandarin Hotel party of what incredible impact Barack Obama has had in Washington….
Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN’s Situation Room, stayed for a great long time and met not only Moustapha and his entourage but many others at the party. And then — punctuating the change in the DC game — Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and former US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman was there, along with State Department Middle East watcher Nicole Shampaine and Frederic Hof — who is staffing George Mitchell’s Middle East efforts.
Amazing actually. This is a dramatic change in tone and posture since the departure of the George W. Bush administration.
Others at the party were the Boston Globe‘s Farah Stockman, CNN’s Elise Labott, Ambassador of Yemen to the US Abdulwahab Abdulla Al-Hajjri, Middle East Institute President and former US Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain, Algerian Ambassador to the US Abdallah Baali, New School professor Alon Ben-Muir, former Colin Powell State Department Advisor and now AAAS International Programs czar Norman Neuriter and his AAAS international policy colleague Vaughn Turekian, and many other interesting journalists, think tank types, and then those trade association, lawyers and consultants looking to cash in on the rapidly changing Syria-US tone.
David Lesch was also there. See the wonderful write up of him in the LA Times:
Syria: How an American scholar made friends and influenced a leader
By Borzou Daragahi
San Antonio professor David Lesch, who led yearly trips to Syria for students learning Arabic, struck up a friendship with President Bashar Assad. ‘He values my opinions and ideas,’ he says….
“He is very low-key, he is a very amiable, very humble individual, not intimidating at all,” Lesch says….
Read Shai’s and Yossi’s account of their trip to the Golan. Shai and Yossi are Israelis that met commenting on this blog. They have been part of the SC family for two years now. They have patiently endured insults from those who don’t know them and become much respected by most regulars on SC. Here is an opening bit from Yossi’s blog:
I picked Yossi up in the morning in Haifa, and we drove straight to the Golan (about 1.5-2 hours away). We already had our morning-coffee at the beach-highway cafe “Maxim” (where in October 2003, a 29 year-old female lawyer from Jenin blew herself up, killing some 21 Israeli Jews and Arabs), so we were all “tanked” up.
One thing worth noting, on the way up, is just how natural the ride feels. In the past, I still remember a distinct separation between the Heights and the valley below. Perhaps it was the old Bailey-bridges we’d cross, or the quality of the roads that connected the Golan to the rest of Israel. But today, the bridges are modern, as are the roads. We left Haifa, and “suddenly” found ourselves on the Golan. Just like that….
We asked ourselves, why is it that after nearly 3 decades of annexation, with zero security issues (no Hamas, no Qassams, no Intifadas, etc.), absolutely gorgeous landscape and (still) relatively inexpensive real-estate, only some 26,000 Jews reside on the Golan? It is a question I hope Dr. Yigal Kipnis will help us answer….