Posted by Joshua on Thursday, September 17th, 2009
The Neocon anti-Syrians are coming out in full force in an effort to stop engagement between Syria and the US. The pretext is the Iraqi dust up with Damascus over the car bombings in Baghdad last month. Maliki accused Syria of protecting the perpetrators and has demanded Syria hand over a list of ex-Baathist officials living in Syria. Damascus responded that there is no proof of the Iraqi accusations. Syrian officials claim that far from trying to destabilize Iraq, they have every interest in helping to stabilize it now that American troops are on the way out. Syria’s economic plans depend on a prosperous Iraq. It has signed deals for new pipelines between the two countries. Syria was among the first Arab countries to recognize the Maliki government and send an ambassador, something some Gulf countries have not done. David Ignatius, Oxford Analytica and numerous reporters have argued that Maliki is playing politics in his heated campaign to retain the premiership in Iraq.
There is no denying that relations between the US and Syria are on hold. Certainly, there was never a “honeymoon” to justify notions of a divorce. Right now, Mitchell has his hands full with the Israelis and the settlement issue, which is his main focus. All the same, Syria and the US have taken concrete steps toward rapprochement, which remain on target. There are certain people, even at the Department of State, who are not too pleased with such a rapprochement, but by and large, administration figures are keen to keep the engagement on track and are trying not to let the Iraq kerfuffle be blown out of proportion. The Saudi paper alsharq alawsat has weighed in, suggesting that Malaki is being ungrateful. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are trying to smooth over the controversy, in the belief that Syria is not trying to destabilize Iraq,and that moving ahead with engagement in the region is the way to overcome the wounds salted by the Bushites. Talks between Syria and Iraq being held in Turkey today should be telling, although both sides seem prepared to dig in their heals, at least until the Iraqi elections are decided, there is considerable pressure on Maliki by just about everyone to calm down this controversy. Most Iraqi authorities are trying to isolate Maliki on this; the president and vice-president of Iraq have come out solidly against Maliki’s irresponsible accusations. Even Shiite leaders are accusing him of manufacturing this fight in order to play the sectarian and nationalist card for election purposes.
As one friend wrote me yesterday:
I think Marc Lynch is correct – there is a coordinated media push from the neo-con folks – in one week Abrams, Young, Bolton all had nearly the exact same message on Lebanon and Syria – force and pressure is what is really needed… it was truly a Jon Stewart moment!… I mean they literally read like someone’s “war room” circulated a talking points memo – although Michael Young took the cake by accusing Obama of being “artless and arrogant” in his Mideast policy!”
Perhaps David Shenker was trying to outdo them when he wrote: “For the past six years, the Assad regime has provided Al-Qaeda carte blanche to attack neighboring states via its territory.” Such statements are simple propaganda. Of course, Syria encouraged Jihad on Americans in Iraq when the US threatened to attack Syria. As soon as George Bush took broadening his military campaign off the table, reportedly by April 2003, Syria also began to moderate its defensive position and sought a dialog with Washington. Today Syria has that dialog and is trying to work out positive relations with the Iraqi government.
I would also like to add a correction to an earlier post where I wrote:
there aren’t any American officials visiting Beirut this days. They aren’t making grand statements about Lebanon. Anyway, why would the US expend capital to form a Lebanese government that cannot change the status quo in any meaningful way?”
Nicholas Noe, who manages mideastwire.com wrote to correct me:
Thats not really accurate – Fred Hof stayed here for several days ….. Mitchell is on his way supposedly…. there has been a rash of high level military figures – Petreus, Congress people … not to mention Feltman….and key figures from the NSC as well! Lets also not forget the recent visits of ex-Bushies – Khalilzad, David Schenker …. Moreover, Amb Feltman, it seems, has in fact been giving a number of anonymous interviews which sound unfortunately very much like the old, momentarily defeated Bush era rhetoric…. with Hisham Melham for example only recently, but especially in the pro-Saudi/March 14 Arab media.
An example of that pro March 14 media is this article copied below from the Kuwaiti paper, al-Rai. The author is a Syria basher earlier mistranslated remarks made by Ambassador Mustapha at the Middle East Institute a few months ago, which caused a bit of a brohaha. The same newspaper, Al-Rai, mentioned that the Ambassador was not invited to the Iftar dinner thrown by Hilary Clinton. He was not there because he was out of town, but he was invited. His Deputy Chief of Mission Zuheir Jabbour attended the Iftar in his place. Here is a taste of the article:
“American-Syrian honeymoon over...” 2009-09-15
On September 15, the independent Al-Rai al-Aam newspaper carried the following report by its correspondent to Washington Hussein Abdul Hussein: “The American anger toward Syria has reached its peak with the announcement made by the team of American peace envoy George Mitchell regarding the fact that his tour in the region will not include Damascus. For its part, Al-Rai al-Aam learned that the American administration has completely excluded the idea of reinstating the American ambassador to Damascus, less than 100 days after the announcement of this step. Sources in the American capital thus stated that the honeymoon between America and Syria which started after the election of Barack Obama as president ended today, and that the coming weeks heralded an escalation especially on Washington’s end.
“The sources believed that the collapse of the project to restore the relations went back to before the assassination of Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005, saying: “The Syrians do not understand [what] the normalization of relations [means] and Syria’s behavior [is such that it is acting] as though it had defeated America in a world war.” They added with anger: “(President Bashar) Al-Assad has started counting the American eggs in his basket before offering us anything in return”, continuing: “Al-Assad would launch a rocket here or there and expect us to run to him. This is a security blackmail which no longer works in the United States”. However, according to senior American officials, what broke the camel’s back between Washington and Damascus was the Syrian behavior following Mitchell’s last visit and his meeting with Al-Assad in July.
“They said: “During the meeting between Mitchell and Al-Assad in Damascus, the Syrian president asked the American envoy to explain to him the articles of the sanctions on Syria. Mitchell took the draft, read it and explained it to Al-Assad in detail. This lasted over one and a half hours. Mitchell then concluded by explaining the mechanism of the imposition and the lifting of the sanctions and said that these sanctions were reviewed every year and could be lifted in the presence of the required conditions. For its part, the Syrian side which is always in a hurry to say that its relations with Washington are definitely heading toward a breakthrough, intentionally or by mistake, leaked that the United States promised to lift the sanctions imposed on Syria.
“They continued: “Before Mitchell’s plane had landed in the Dallas International Airport in Washington on the way back from the Middle East, an overwhelming wave of anger had come to prevail over the decision-making hallways in Washington,….
More accurate is the analysis by Oxford Analytica. Here are the last paragraphs:
International reactions. Maliki’s accusations against Syria were received cautiously by other states, even though many of them had already condemned Damascus for keeping its borders open since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Significantly, Washington remained largely silent about Maliki’s accusations, suggesting a lack of support for the charges or Maliki’s handling of the dispute.
Most Arab states have remained quiet for similar reasons,…… The Saudi media has reminded Maliki of Syria’s willingness to meet the costs of sheltering 1.5 million Iraqi refugees.
CONCLUSION: It is unlikely that Damascus was behind the Bloody Wednesday bombings. The accusation has had little effect on international attitudes towards Syria, and will not have any significant impact on its other foreign policy advances. Maliki is likely to stand firm in demanding Syrian action to curb militant infiltrations across the border, in an attempt to avoid the blame for his poor security record. However, it is Maliki who will most likely pay the political price, as his upcoming campaign for re-election could be further undermined.”
Iraqi Official: Talks With Syria Over Attacks Fail
2009-09-16, By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
Baghdad, Iraq (AP) — Talks between Iraq and Syria over Iraqi charges that Damascus is harboring militants involved in deadly bombings in Baghdad have failed and will not be repeated, the Iraqi government spokesman said on Wednesday. The talks in Ankara, Turkey, aimed at easing tensions between the two neighbors collapsed after Syria refused to accept a list of people Iraq wants extradited for their alleged involvement in a recent spate of bombings, including an Aug. 19 blast that killed more that 100 people. Iraq accuses Syria of harboring Saddam Hussein loyalists wanted in those bombings. “We consider this security meeting as the final one. Such a meeting won’t happen in the future unless Syria positively responds to the unchallenged evidence and proof presented by Iraq. This is the final meeting,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press.
The Jerusalem Post is pushing the Shenker spin, as it usually does
Analysis: US believes Syria is overplaying its
2009-09-17, Jerusalem Post:
The scheduled meeting Thursday of the Syrian and Iraqi foreign ministers is unlikely to lead to a swift resolution of the simmering feud between the two countries. A huge crater still remains in front of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, one week after …
The government of Iraq is furious at the mounting evidence of Syrian involvement in the car bombings last month in Baghdad which left 95 dead. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has issued a formal request to the UN Security Council for an inquiry into the bombings….
David Schenker, a former Syrian affairs adviser in the office of the US secretary of defense, noted in a recent analysis that Iraq’s accusation of Syrian involvement in the insurgency did not emerge from nowhere….
The administration had sought to make Iraq a focus for US-Syrian rapprochement. Washington assumed that Syria and the US shared a common interest in a stable, peaceful Iraq. This assumption does not appear to have been borne out. Rather, the Syrian interest is in maintaining instability.
The pattern is, of course, repeated in other countries with which Syria shares a border….
More significant is this news, which will have a very big impact on Syria and the region….
LA Times [Reg]: TURKEY, SYRIA: Nations sign historic accord, end
2009-09-17 13:56:39.560 GMT
The two nations’ foreign ministers announced that Syrians could travel to Turkey without visas, and … The two countries also signed a cooperation deal similar to one Turkey penned with Iraq. For years Iranians and Turks have been able to cross their border without visas.
Though a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which hosts a major United States military base, Turkey maintains strong diplomatic and economic relations with many of the Middle East’s main players, including U.S. rivals Iran and Syria….
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was candid about Turkey’s new aim to cement economic and political ties to the region.
“When all of these mechanisms are brought together, we are sure that the environment of economic integration, welfare and peace will make great progress,” he said.
“We want this understanding to spread into our region and the region to turn into a very wide zone of welfare and strong stability,” he said. “We may establish similar mechanisms with Iran and other mechanisms. We want our relationship with our neighbors to turn into maximum cooperation via the principle of zero problems.”