Sanctions on the Table?

John Kerry seems to have his finger on the pulse of US – Syrian relations. His visit to Damascus last month preceded improved relations. Kerry is now saying that the US can “loosen sanctions on Syria” in order to nudge along improved relations in the region. He continues to see improved ties with Syria as a means to isolate and weaken Iran, but believes this need not occure as a precondition.

Haaretz quotes Kerry: “We should have no illusion that Syria will immediately end its ties to Iran,” Kerry said, “but that shouldn’t threaten us as long as their relationship ceases to destabilize the region.” “It benefits Syria if Assad looks west for new relationships,” Kerry said. “The sanctions can always be tightened again if Syria backtracks,” he said. 

One friend wrote me this:

John Kerry effectively said to President Assad: “are you serious about Iran? We all know they want nuclear weapons. Are you really going to stand with Iran against the world on this? The time is coming for you to choose.”

 

Apparently President Assad urged the Americans not to force Iran alone into a corner on the issue, saying it would be counter-productive. 

 

The Americans are angry that Syria didn’t ‘give’ them anything concrete and, as you know, the Syrian’s felt the same. Despite the upbeat-ish public statements I got the feeling no-one really felt upbeat. And also the feeling – I suppose unsurprisingly – that the Americans still believe they are fundamentally right on Israel/Hamas/Hizbollah and that Syria is fundamentally wrong and does not have a legitimate case, even on its own terms.

 

It is easy to believe that the Americans are not serious about a peace deal and are working on “senario two” — damage control and seeing what they can get without the Golan and only sanctions on the table.

 

Kerry also said something to Assad to the effect that; if you come clean with the IAEA about your nuclear programme, we can make that problem go away. Do the right thing.

 

All of which sounds less like a meaningful conversation, and more like the Americans issuing orders. Perhaps not a new era of dialogue and liberal foreign policy after all?

Here is my op-ed in the National

Friends in need
By Joshua Landis
The National – Op-Ed (March 6, 2009)

See:Kerry calls for easing US sanctions against Syria

What distinguished Kerry’s speech, delivered at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution, were the specifics of how far the United States should go in achieving these goals. He left his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad convinced that it was time for a direct U.S. role in Israel-Syria talks, which the Bush administration had resisted.

The talks could be nudged along by loosening sanctions against Syria, Kerry said, and by not expecting an immediate transformation in Damascus.

“Loosening certain sanctions in return for verifiable changes in behavior could actually benefit U.S. businesses, and the sanctions can always be tightened again if Syria backtracks,” Kerry said.

Notwithstanding “Syria’s long-term interests” being with the West, Kerry said, “We should have no illusions that Syria will immediately end its ties with Iran.” Much of the rationalization for U.S. engagement with Syria until now has been the prospect of peeling it away from Iranian influence.

On West Bank settlements, Kerry said U.S. policy opposing expansion for decades has “existed on paper alone.”

“Nothing will do more to make clear our seriousness about turning the page than demonstrating — with actions rather than words — that we are serious about Israel freezing settlement activity in the West Bank,” Kerry said.

Assad invited to Saudi Arabia
04-03-2009, al-Bawaba

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Wednesday, and held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, indicating an improvement in the relations between the two Arab countries. Syrian state-run news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling the Saudi Minister that “Arabs should find a way to handle their disareements cordially.”

During the meeting, Prince Saud also extended an invitation on behalf of Saudi King Abdullah to Assad for visiting the kingdom, the Syrian state-run agency reported.

Building healthy ties with Syria: Prince Saud
Saudi Gazette, 27 February 2009

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister, said Thursday the Kingdom wanted to build “healthy” new ties with Syria, two days after his Damascus counterpart paid a landmark visit to Riyadh.

“There will be other visits between Syria and Saudi Arabia,” Prince Saud told reporters following talks with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. “We hope for a reconciliation between Syria and Saudi Arabia on healthy foundations,” he said.

“Divergences on Arab issues are behind us, buried,” Prince Saud said and described Tuesday’s visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem “very positive.”…

In response to a question, the Saudi Foreign Minister described the statements by Iran over the Kingdom of Bahrain as worrying….

“Britain will talk to Hizbullah,” in Haaretz
“We should have no illusion that Syria will immediately end its ties to Iran,” Kerry said, “but that shouldn’t threaten us as long as their relationship ceases to destabilize the region.”

“It benefits Syria if Assad looks west for new relationships,” Kerry said.

“The sanctions can always be tightened again if Syria backtracks,” he said.

Evidence mounts of Syrian nuclear cover-up: U.S. Reuters

Les échanges commerciaux entre la Syrie et les États-Unis ont atteint leur plus haut niveau depuis 16 ans4 mars 2009

Selon les chiffres publiés par le bureau des statistiques US, les échanges entre la Syrie et les Etats-Unis ont atteint 760,9 millions de dollars en 2008, en hausse de 61 % sur un an.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad calls for stronger alliance with Syria
Khaleej Times, 1 March 2009

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday called for a stronger alliance with Syria in a bid to resist Israel and its allies over the Palestinian crisis.
In a meeting with visiting Syrian Prime Minister Mahmoud Naji Otri, Ahmadinejad praised the two countries’ position on the international and regional issues, particularly the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

‘Recent developments in the world proved that Iran and Syria were moving on the right track insisting on the need of resistance against enemies,’ the Iranian leader said.

Tehran does not recognize Israel and is the main supporter of the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza.

Israel and the United States have accused Iran of training Hamas militants in Gaza as well as providing them financing and weapons. Tehran however insists it only gives spiritual and political support to anti-Israel militia groups both in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

‘If Iran and Syria have an eminent position in the region, it is because of their resistance based on their correct decisions,’ Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the website of state television IRIB.

Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi, in a separate meeting with Otri, urged Damascus to be more on alert about their political enemies’ tricks, saying: ‘Both countries (Iran and Syria) should be active in supporting unity among all Palestinian groups and the reconstruction of Gaza.’…

Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by major Western countries, has recently agreed to conciliatory talks with the secular Palestinian Fatah movement, whose representatives were expelled from Gaza by Hamas in June 2007.

Syria eases visa restrictions on Iraqi tourists

Damascus is easing entry visa restrictions to Iraqi tourists after 17 months of strict regulations that barred most from entering. SANA says the Syrian Immigration Department’s new regulations require tourists to be part of a group and enter the country only through Damascus International Airport. Tourists should have a return ticket, at least $1,000 in cash, and should leave their passports at the tourist office after arrival. The Syrian move comes after the improvement of security conditions in Iraq and amid an international financial crisis that makes Syria in need for tourists and money.

US Overtures Could Force Syria Into Tough Choices
Reuters, 1 March 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama has signalled he wants a dialogue with Syria that could further rehabilitate Damascus internationally but also force it to choose whether to loosen ties with Iran and anti-Israeli groups.

“If the (Obama) administration could somehow engineer the strategic realignment of Syria — away from Iran toward the peace camp — it would prove a real blow to regional militants,” David Schenker, a senior fellow at Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a research note.

Syria would find it harder to maintain backing for militant groups and its longstanding alliance with Iran if the United States normalised ties and sought to broker peace between Israel and Syria, as it did for almost a decade until 2000.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week it was too early to predict a thaw in ties after a senior U.S. official met Imad Mustafa, Syria’s ambassador in Washington.

But Mustafa said the meeting could herald a new chapter in ties and that Syria was open to discuss all issues.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said direct U.S. involvement is vital in any peace talks with Israel aimed as securing the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights…

TURKEY/ISRAEL: Gaza tensions strain relations
Oxford Analytica, 27 February 2009

EVENT: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on February 24 chided Israeli prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu for disregarding the Palestinians’ right to statehood and repeated his call to include Hamas in talks.

SIGNIFICANCE: Erdogan’s continued support for Hamas, and his criticism of Israel’s likely next leader, will hamper efforts by both sides to contain the fallout from his high-profile clash with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month and further strain ties between the two.

ANALYSIS: The Turkish public’s reaction to Israel’s war in Gaza has been for the most part one of outrage. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has reflected this by engaging in harsh criticism of Israel and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people — and therefore with Hamas). Tension between the two countries peaked on January 29 in Davos, where Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion on the Gaza crisis following a strongly-worded response to Peres’s lengthy defence of Israel’s offensive.

MEDIATION EFFORTS: Part of Erdogan’s anger stems from the fact that Israel launched its operation on the heels of Turkey’s efforts to initiate direct talks between Syria and Israel.

DAMAGE CONTROL: Immediately after the spat, both countries rushed to strike a reconciliatory note.

CONCLUSION: Erdogan’s vocal support for Hamas and his temperamental behaviour on the international scene may jeopardise the AKP government’s delicate relationship with the West. However, on the domestic front, Erdogan’s indignant attitude towards Israel has resonated with the majority of the Turkish people and boosted his popularity at a crucial moment ahead of next month’s local elections…

Israel: Syria’s demand to get munitions from seized ship ‘insolent’

Comments (18)


1. norman said:

Thursday, March 5, 2009
SALHANI: Syria is key
Claude Salhani
COMMENTARY:

As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours the Middle East she is likely to find the region facing greater tension than it has in many years.

She is also likely to find that the key to many of the doors to open – or shut – avenues toward peaceful negotiations or toward continued stagnation and the dangers that it involves, lies with Syria. Indeed, once again Syria holds many of the keys to the Middle East dilemma.

How is it that Damascus is in such a position of influence? And how can that influence be used to the advantage of peacemaking in the region?

Much of Syria’s influence today lies in its alliance with Tehran. But as her advisers will no doubt tell Mrs. Clinton, the Syrian-Iranian marriage is one purely of convenience not of love. It was an alliance brought about as a result of the former U.S. administration’s policy of isolating Damascus, which gave Syrian President Bashar Assad little choice. Remain isolated with Israel on one side and the Americans on the other, or form an alliance with Iran and thereby outflank the United States.

By playing his cards close to his chest, as he has been, Mr. Assad has positioned Syria as the only Arab country with enough clout with Iran and the opposition groups (read here what the United States and Israel call terrorist groups) to sway the peace process toward what it should be – a peace process, or toward the unthinkable – a new conflict in the region.

Mrs. Clinton will find as she visits the Middle East mounting Iranian influence in the region through its alliance with Syria and the Islamic Republic’s support of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as support of takfiri groups in Lebanon. All this has placed Tehran firmly on the Middle East political map much to the detriment of some Arab leaders who have recently voiced their displeasure to see “other countries” interfere in Arab affairs.

And recent statements from Iranian officials that Bahrain is “the 14th province of Iran” has done little to appease old fears among the Gulf states of Iran’s old claims to the oil-rich sheikdoms and kingdoms.

Meanwhile in Israel and the Palestinian Territories where Mrs. Clinton is visiting, the situation remains precarious. Israel, two weeks after its elections, remains without a new government as the country – and its immediate neighbors – continue to hold their breath to see who will ultimately emerge to lead in this difficult time. A centrist government, open to peace talks with the Palestinians, or a right-wing coalition taking a much firmer – and more dangerous – approach to the issue of how to resolve the problem?

Mrs. Clinton arrived in Israel amid a new report by Peace Now that Israel could double the number of settlers in the occupied West Bank. Such an eventuality would greatly impede the peace process that the Obama administration is trying to revive. Mrs. Clinton just arrived from a donor’s conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, held to raise money to reconstruct Gaza after the devastating war with Israel that began around Christmas. And as if to remind her, Hamas launched a few rockets at Israel.

What can be done to begin defusing the situation? Start by pushing for an agreement between Israel and Syria where Damascus can reclaim the Golan Heights.

Two things about the Golan: First, given today’s technology and advanced electronics and sophisticated gadgetry in defense techniques, holding the high ground is not a prerequisite to military superiority. Second, once Syria reclaims the Golan and signs a peace treaty it is highly unlikely that Bashar Assad would risk going to war and losing it again all in exchange for the “satisfaction” of firing a few rounds of artillery shells on Israeli localities. That would be more than idiotic.

Any peace deal between Israel and Syria should also include a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon. The importance of the latter cannot be stressed enough. Here are the reasons.

(1) Leaving Lebanon out of the peace process will leave the conflict unresolved and leave the door open to a distinct possibility of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. Resolving the outstanding dispute over the Shebaa Farms and the village of Ghajar in southern Lebanon should – at least officially – remove the license from Hezbollah to retain its armed wing, which it calls a resistance movement.

(2) It should be made clear to Syria that there is a price associated with bringing it out of the cold. In exchange for normalized relations with the United States and for the return of the Golan Heights, Syria is to use its clout with Tehran to rein in and put a stop to military activities by Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups.

(3) It is imperative that the U.S. secretary of state and the Obama administration understand and recognize that Lebanon must not be made the scapegoat of a separate peace deal. That would simply shift the cards around. Lebanon must be part and parcel of any peace deal in the Middle East. Anything short of that would invest in a future conflict.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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March 6th, 2009, 1:01 am

 

2. majid said:

A friend of Landis said: “All of which sounds less like a meaningful conversation, and more like the Americans issuing orders. Perhaps not a new era of dialogue and liberal foreign policy after all?

How else can the US talk to the Syrians?

The Syrian regime should know very well how to receive orders. After all it is a dictatorship!

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March 6th, 2009, 7:51 pm

 

3. Alex said:

Joshua,

While I am not sure if a Syria Israel peace process can, or will, reach its desired conclusion, I don’t see how the American administration can possibly hope to avoid inevitable future disasters in the Middle East without working with Syria.

There is no need to wait longer hoping to get a better bargain from Syria. The Middle East is a dangerous place and Syria will not be negotiated away from the only sane options that CAN work.

America is a great country and it has been learning the Middle East for the past few decades… Damascus has been there for thousands of years.

It is simple .. With very few exceptions, whenever Syria and the United States could not agree on something in the Middle East, Syria was right, the Unites States was wrong.

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March 6th, 2009, 8:07 pm

 
 

5. Seeking the Truth said:

On the subject of Syrian nuclear cover-up:

In the past year, I posted a question for someone to clarify the apparent contradiction arising from that we first had reports talking about a nuclear reactor for plutonium production, and later the UN finding of uranium traces at the bombed site. I guess there is no regular visitor to this blog, who is a nuclear physicist/engineer or a plain chemist. However, I have found out the following scientific explanation:
Metal uranium, which is uranium cladded by magnesium-alluminium alloy, or even natural uranium, is used as fuel for producing plutonium.

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March 6th, 2009, 8:40 pm

 

6. Alex said:

Wonderful 48th birthday post by Abu Fares. A Syrian blogger from Tartous

http://www.abufares.net/2009/02/meaning-of-life.html

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March 6th, 2009, 8:41 pm

 

7. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

ALEX,

The animation you posted #4 is by the same creators of ‘Waltz With Bashir’.
.

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March 6th, 2009, 11:26 pm

 

8. Observer said:

Turkey/Israel

Erdogan represent his people, not the west and not east.
He is working hard for his people.
I wish, other leaders , in the west and east, have the courage to learn from him.

The relationship between these two countries will never be the same.
Turkey lost trust in Israel !!! Israel is getting isolated due to breaking the international laws.

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March 7th, 2009, 3:02 am

 

9. seeking the truth said:

Israel has and used all kind of illegal bombs…don’t you think all efforts should be put on investigating that and bring the responsible people to be judged in an international court? It seems the invisable hands need the world to loose the focus on the issue !!

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March 7th, 2009, 3:12 am

 

10. Off the Wall said:

Friends,
I have been reading SC everyday, but unfortunately, I have not had a moment to comment. As you know, the former administration has substantially reduced science budget and we are forced to write too many proposals to compete for the meager available dollars. Add to that serious teaching responsibilities this semester, I am left with little time for commenting.

I just want you to know that I have not abandoned SC. I wanted to comment on Joshua’s excellent, yet very pessimistic article on the Golan issue, but did not have time.

Seeking the Truth
Even with the assumption of accurate, non-politicized analysis by the IAEA, one is dumbfounded to find material that are used in producing plutonium in a site (allegedly nuclear reactor site) before the site is completed.

Common sense dictates that one asks questions about several aspects of the story. So far, all we have is an accusation, but any logical thinking can put many holes in the story. Furthermore, we only heard of traces. If the site was active, as one would assume from the chatter, IAEA would not only find traces (despite of any massive efforts to bury the site), but would find significant quantities. An honest, non-politicized investigation demands that Israel and the US hand samples of the weapons used in the aggression for complete analysis and identification of whether these weapons can even be remotely the source of uranium traces. Is it beyond Israel actions even to disperse such material intentionally. I would think it is within the realm of possibility. Engineering situations to demonize Syria and Arabs in general has been a trademark of Israel political and intelligence operations. I guess Mosad learned a lesson or two from the Niger story they cooked and fed to their clients in the US.

Until these issues are addressed without dismissing Syria as a guilty party beforehand, I will not accept or reject IAEA assertions. I will consider them suspect.

In the end, Both Syria and Iran have put so much stock in Obama and in a changing administration. It is too early to tell whether Obama is serious. But with time, if the US can not demonstrate seriousness, both Syria and Iran must declare intention to leave the IAEA. KSA and Egypt should follow suite as should Algeria. On the last point, Obama has been sending very mixed signals. On the diplomatic side, he gave AIPAC and Clinton one of their neocon guys, on the intelligence side, he seems to be doing the best he can to minimize the weight of MOSAD feeds in US intelligence assessments, which is raising the ire of Israel firsters such as that Rosen fellow, and Israel does no wrong crowd such as our dear Chuck Schumer (whome i like and dislike at the same time). As they say, Go figure. But that is, IMHO, a smart president, with a level of intellectual rigor and complexity we have not seen since Clinton or I dare say Nixon.

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March 7th, 2009, 3:24 am

 

11. Joshua said:

Dear Off the Wall, We have missed you.

Sorry to be so pessimistic. I am optimistic about warming relations, especially now that Hillary is beginning to engage Iran. Then strategy of dividing Syria from Iran strikes me as very shortsighted and designed to lead to frustration and wheel spinning.

Esquire Magazine is doing a investigative report on the cross border attack into Syria by US special forces during the last months of the Bush administration. They are uncovering some pretty damning information – damning about US misinformation, that is. I look forward to its publication.

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March 7th, 2009, 2:15 pm

 

12. norman said:

It looks like Turkey is the Islamic country that President Obama will give a major address in an Islamic and the System in Turkey is the System that the US likes for other Islamic nations , That should be very good for Syria.

AP foreign, Saturday March 7 2009 ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says two U.S. representatives are holding discussions with Syrian officials in Damascus.

Clinton also says President Barack Obama will visit the country in the next month or so.

Clinton met Saturday with leaders of Turkey, an ally seen as key to resolving several U.S. foreign policy problems, including moving the U.S. military out of Iraq, blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions and turning around the war in Afghanistan.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Saturday with leaders of Turkey, a strategic ally that is key to resolving several U.S. problems, including moving the military out of Iraq, blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions and turning around the war in Afghanistan.

Clinton talked with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for nearly two hours at his residence before visiting the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s national founder. There, she recalled being in Ankara during her husband’s presidency and said she had returned to help President Barack Obama promote “the work the U.S. and Turkey must do to forge peace, prosperity and progress.”

Erdogan’s office said in a statement that the two discussed bilateral relations, the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan and combatting terrorism.

Clinton also planned a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and a meeting with President Abdullah Gul.

Turkey has been a supply route for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and relations have improved after hitting a low in 2003 when Turkey refused to allow U.S. forces use its territory as a staging ground for the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Turkey has said it is ready to serve as an exit route for U.S. troops pulling out of Iraq. The southern Incirlik air base has been used for transferring U.S. troops and equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turkey, meanwhile, wants the Obama administration to prevent Congress from labeling the killing of Armenians by Turks a century ago as genocide.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

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March 7th, 2009, 2:48 pm

 

13. norman said:

The US is seeing the light,

New US-Syria talks ‘constructive’
A senior US envoy involved in the first high-level contact between the US and Syria since 2005 has said the talks were “very constructive”.

Jeffrey Feltman, acting US secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, met officials including Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in the capital, Damascus.

Speaking after the talks, Mr Feltman said the US looked forward to progress on bilateral ties and regional issues.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also cited Syria’s regional role.

Speaking in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Saturday, Mrs Clinton said that the importance of the Syrian-Israeli peace track “cannot be overstated”.

Turkey has previously mediated in indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel, suspended last year, and has said it is ready to re-launch the talks if both sides are willing.

Syria’s ambassador to Britain told the BBC that the US must consider Arab aspirations and not just those of the Israelis.

US-Syria relations soured after Syria was widely accused of involvement in the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – an allegation Damascus denied.

Shortly afterwards Syria pulled out its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year presence in the country.

‘Long list’

Mr Feltman, a former US ambassador to Lebanon, was accompanied on the Damascus trip by Daniel Shapiro, of the White House’s National Security Council.

The pair have not met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“ Syria is the gateway to peace in the Middle East ”

Sami Khiyami
Syrian ambassador to Britain

Ahead of the trip, Mr Feltman said the US envoys had a “long list” of concerns to discuss with Syrian officials.
Mr Feltman said: “Our trip to Syria… is an opportunity for us to start addressing these concerns and using engagement as a tool to promote our objectives in the region.”

He also sought to reassure the Lebanese that US support for Beirut was “unwavering”, despite the latest overtures towards Damascus.

The pair are expected to return to Beirut on Sunday for further consultations.

BBC state department correspondent Kim Ghattas, in Washington, says the US is concerned by Syria’s support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, alleged covert nuclear activities and interference in Lebanon’s affairs.

But Mr Feltman said the talks were not about finger-pointing but about discussing differences and identifying areas where American and Syrian concerns overlapped, our correspondent says.

He said Washington’s strategy for engagement was goal-oriented, a way to achieve objectives for diplomacy, our correspondent adds. No benchmarks or dates for further meetings were set.

Last month several leading US congressmen, including Senator John Kerry, went on an unofficial visit to Damascus for talks with the president.

‘Gateway to peace’

Mr Feltman served as US ambassador in Beirut until 2008, and is currently an acting assistant secretary of state.

As a congressional aide, Mr Shapiro was instrumental in drafting the Syria Accountability Act, which placed sanctions on Damascus in 2003.

During his time in Lebanon, Damascus accused Mr Feltman of orchestrating an anti-Syrian movement in Lebanon.

Syria’s ambassador to Britain, Sami Khiyami, told the BBC before Saturday’s meeting: “Syria is the gateway to peace in the Middle East.

“I think the American government, Mr Obama personally, has to take care of the aspirations of the Arab peoples and not only of the Israeli people.”

The last senior US official to visit Damascus was Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, in January 2005.

Washington withdrew its ambassador from Syria shortly afterwards, following Mr Hariri’s assassination.

Damascus has tried to paint Saturday’s visit as something of a victory, proof that standing fast in the face of US pressure over the last few years has paid off, our correspondent says.

But the choice of envoys seems to signal that Washington is taking a tough but serious approach to its engagement, says our correspondent.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7929819.stm

Published: 2009/03/07 14:36:09 GMT

© BBC MMIX

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March 7th, 2009, 3:50 pm

 
 
 

16. Off the Wall said:

Dear Joshua
You do not have to be sorry for the pessimism. In fact, i found your analysis well grounded and justified and as usual an superbly done intellectual exercise. I think this is what we can call strategic thinking where one tries to present both sides of an argument in order to project possible futures and scenarios. I find that to be essential and worthy, and thank you for doing so.

The only argument I would make would be on the issue that Syria does not have cards to play with. I think Syria itself is the card. Even without trying to actively sabotage the neocon dream, for it has little of tactical ability to do so, sidelining Syria has proven futile. No one in the administration is totally convinced that an Iran-Syria divorce on the model that would allow Israel and
the US to attack Iran,be-it Iraqi war style, or Gaza style, is achievable. The Hariri faction in Lebanon is becoming less relevant in US calculation by the day, and it seem to have reached the point of diminishing return in Saudi’s own calculations. Internal information from KSA point to significant economic troubles starting from employment (in fact employability problem) of Saudi citizen, and reaching to Socialist-style low level corruption. Egypt is in Shamble, and Jordan, despite of my respect and affinity to Jordanian people(both Palestinians and Jordanians), does not have any bargaining cards. The gulf states seem to be sliding economically, and on political level, they find themselves forced to take positions that are at odd with the US and Israel. There are only few states in the region with the potential, and the institutions that will be capable of adopting a Turkish style model, and these would be Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. For the rest, such model will require dramatic changes that would be inconsistent with the countries’ own socio political arrangements.

As such, If done well, Syria would make a much more viable US ally than any of its neighbors. It is less tied to Salafi thinking, despite of the current trends, it has a reasonably well educated middle class, and a strong sense of nationalism, which is a a pre-requisite for Turkish model. What makes Syria even more appealing, is the fact that its sense of nationalism not even mildly xenophobic. Syrians have no problem with others working and living in Syria, and they have not mistreated any group that took refuge in their own country. Starting with our Armenian brother, and I hope ending with the wave of temporary refugees as a result of Israel’s criminal war on Lebanon.

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March 7th, 2009, 9:19 pm

 

17. Off the Wall said:

Alex
Is this Qunfuz or is the video from Qunfuz. ?

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March 7th, 2009, 10:18 pm

 

18. Alex said:

OTW

This is Qunfuz himself.

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March 8th, 2009, 1:29 am

 

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