US Dialogue with Syria Ruled Out For Now

As Syria challenges the United States and its March 14 allies in Lebanon through continuing support of Hizbullah, Washington will refuse to reward it with dialogue on Iraq or the Golan. It is hard to see how the US is going to make substantial headway in Iraq. General Abizaid gives the US a window of 3 to 6 months to stabilize Iraq, beef up the Iraqi Army, and help PM Malki destroy the competing militias that threaten to drag it into civil war. If something is not done within six months, America's top commander in the field suggests, all out civil war will be unstoppable.

Robin Wright of the Washington Post spells out the dilemma for the US in her article "As Pressure for Talks Grows, Iran and Syria Gain Leverage" She quotes a number of experts, including yours truly, to explain how the Bush administration's political woes give the negotiating edge to Tehran and Damascus and complicate any U.S. outreach.

"Neither Iran nor Syria will do a favor for the U.S. without wanting something back — and what both countries want are things that the U.S. is not willing to give them," said Shaul Bakhash, a George Mason University expert on Iran.

Cooperating with the United States also carries dangers. "Syria and Iran both believe that the U.S. is tilting at windmills and will not lend their leverage to a venture which they see as doomed," said Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma specialist who recently spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Damascus.

David Ignatius writes "that Iran will demand a price for any help it offers in Iraq. So will Syria, which is already positioning its proxies for restoration of Syrian influence in Lebanon. There will be a temptation to overreach, as the Syrians clearly are doing, and the prices demanded may be too steep for America to pay. But the essence of a negotiation is that, in the pursuit of mutual interest, the parties narrow their demands to ones that are achievable." 

Some analysts, according to Knickmeyer in the Washington Post, believe it may already be too late for Iraq. They paint a bleak picture of neighboring states getting sucked into sectarian strife.

"When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Germany's Der Spiegel newsweekly recently. "It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars — no one will be able to get a grip on the consequences."

In Damascus, a Syrian analyst close to the Assad government warned that other countries would intervene if Iraq descended into full-scale civil war. "Iran will get involved, Turkey will get involved, Saudi Arabia, Syria," said the analyst, who spoke on condition he not be identified further.

Between 2 percent and 5 percent of Iraq's 27 million people have been killed, wounded or uprooted since the Americans invaded in 2003, calculates Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies. "This is civil war," he said.

Syria ruled out of Iraq solution as State Department looks to Iran: Julian Borger in The Guardian, Nov. 16

The US state department's top official on Iraq policy said yesterday that America had ruled out negotiations with Syria on curbing the violence in Iraq, but was considering talks with Iran. David Satterfield was giving testimony to the Senate armed services committee, which was reviewing Iraq policy for the first time since the Democrats' election victory and the resignation of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. With respect to Syria, we do not believe that the issue involving Syria's negative behaviours toward Iraq, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Iran or Palestinian radical groups is a question of lack of dialogue or lack of engagement," Mr Satterfield said.

"With respect to Iran, we are prepared, in principle, to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq. The timing of such a direct dialogue is one we still have under review. His remarks appeared to conflict with the position taken by President George Bush – that the Iranians would have to bring a verifiable halt to the enrichment of uranium before talks could occur.

Syria’s official paper reported that the government is open to talks with the United States on stabilizing Iraq and the region, according to Agence France-Presse.

But the article questioned whether the position of the Bush administration had changed “to correct the errors committed” in the past.

“American, European, Japanese and Russian delegations have all said that Washington’s attitude of not talking to Syria was a mistake,” the article said.

On Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for talks with Iran and Syria to find ways to ease the conflict within Iraq and prevent it from spreading through the region, if they adopted a constructive approach. President Bush later reiterated his position that talks with those countries could only come after they give up what Washington sees as their support of terrorism.

Rice cool to talks with Iran, Syria 
Reuters, Nov. 15

US Secretary of State Condoloeeza Rice was sceptical on Tuesday about British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plea for US talks with Iran and Syria, saying that neither appeared interested in helping stabilise Iraq or the Middle East.

"There is no lack of opportunity to talk to the Iranians. I think the question is: is there anything about Iranian behaviour that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq and I have to say that at this point, I don't see it," Rice told reporters as she flew to Hanoi for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation regional summit.

Blair and former US Secretary of State James Baker have suggested that talks with both nations may be a way to curb violence in neighbouring Iraq.

The United States has accused Iran and Syria of helping to fuel the Iraqi insurgency. Both have denied doing this.

However, Rice did not rule out talks with Iran about Iraq, noting there is a channel between the US and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq "that, at some point, it could make sense to activate." But she made clear she saw little profit in such discussions.

"I will talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime, under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress," she said.

"But we have had, over the course of this administration, discussions with the Syrians, talks with the Syrians, envoys to the Syrians, and nothing has ever changed in their behaviour."

Syria Stops Taking in Palestinian Refugees 

With the exception of Syria, Arab countries have now closed their borders to Iraqi refugees. Despite Syria's policy of giving Iraqis safe haven, it has started refusing entry to Palestinians from Iraq. With an estimated 700,000 Iraqi refugees (and 2,000 to 3,000 more arriving every day) adding to the 450,000 Palestinian refugees already living in Syria, the country is quickly reaching its limits. Tanf Camp on Syria-Iraq border

Palestinians in Iraq are perceived by many Iraqis to have been favored by the Saddam Hussein regime. As a result, they have been and continue to be major victims of the war. Iraqi Palestinians are recipients of a collective "fatwa" (or death sentence) issued by several militia or sectarian groups, and their ethnicity – displayed on all their identification papers – is tantamount to committing a capital crime. Many have been kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Of the approximately 30,000 Palestinians in Iraq registered in 2003 by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency mandated to respond to the needs of Palestinian refugees, the UN and other organizations now estimate that there are only 5-6,000 left in Iraq. The remaining Palestinians have either been killed or fled the country. With all borders now closed to them, Palestinians forced back to Iraq will face an almost certain death.

372 Palestinians from Iraq are now living near the Al Tanf border crossing between Iraq and Syria in a makeshift refugee camp located in the no man's land in between both borders. They have been denied entry by the Syrian government and they refuse to return to Iraq. As a result, they have been living in increasingly desperate circumstances and uncertainty for the past six months.

Refugees International visited the Palestinian camp at the Al Tanf border crossing on November 8th and interviewed many of the families who lived there. All have stories of extreme violence and terror to share. "I left Iraq because I was so scared for my 18-year-old daughter," one mother told RI. "We decided to leave after one of her friends was kidnapped, gang-raped by 13 men, and killed. The killers then sent the video of the entire thing to her family. They told them all Palestinians would suffer the same fate."

This analysis is stollen from a fellow blogger:

Nasrallah seems confident that he will get what he wants soon – one way or another:

"This government will go and nothing associates us with it (government) after the resignations," Nasrallah late Monday told a crowd of about 6,000 residents who lost their homes in Beirut’s southern suburbs during the destructive Israeli war on Lebanon over the summer.

He was referring to the resignation of the six ministers, five of them from Hizbullah and Amal, hours after the national dialogue collapsed on Saturday.

"This country is ours. We sacrificed tens of thousands of martyrs, wounded, prisoners and disabled for the sake of safeguarding it

(Lebanon) as well as protecting its dignity and glory; and we will not give up (these sacrifices)," the daily As Safir quoted Nasrallah as saying.

A key figure emerging in the crisis is Speaker Nabih Berri. Surprising some observers, Berri has called the cabinet’s approval of the Tribunal "constitutional as long as more than two thirds (of the ministers) remain in the government." Whether this leaves the door open for genuine compromise could become clearer once Nasrallah makes his next move.

Speculation on what that might be has centered on the Parliament where Nasrallah controls around 60 of the 128 member body. If, as some speculate, the next act in the crisis would be for Shia, Amal, and Free Patriotic Movement MP’s to resign from Parliament, the country would almost certainly be thrown into chaos. This would make it impossible for Siniora’s cabinet to maintain any semblance of legitimacy and calls for new elections would almost certainly be in the offing.

Mid-East expert Walid Phares plays out this scenario:

The next move is to have Hezbollah, Amal, and their allies in the Parliament also resign, thus creating "conditions" for what they will coin as new elections and a collapse of the cabinet. Most of these moves have already been accomplished or are on the eve of being implemented.

The pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will declare the Government and the Parliament as "illegitimate," and call for early legislative elections. The latter, if they take place will be under the smashing influence of Hezbollah’s weapons (a show of force was performed in the summer) and of the cohorts of militias and security agencies. Result: a pro-Syrian-Iranian majority in parliament

Bernhard Zand of Deir Speigel has an excellent overview of the Lebanese situation, "Hezbollah Demands Influence in Lebanon."

Mona Yacoubian of the United States Institute of Peace has published a new report on "Syria's Role in Lebanon", based on a number of recent lectures held at the institute. November 2006.

Seth Wikas of WINEP has a new report: "The Golan Heights and Syrian-Israeli Relations: What Does Asad Want?

Conclusion: Asad is a careful leader, and it would be out of character for him to embark on any armed conflict with Israel unprovoked. Having seen the ravages of Israel Defense Forces bombardments during the summer war and the subsequent flow of refugees to Syria, Asad should be well aware of the price of a war with Israel. With Iran and Hizballah's fortunes on the rise, Syria is benefiting greatly. Asad has much reason to wait and see how Hizballah fares in Lebanon's internal power struggle. At the same time, he has emphasized in the past few months that the entire Golan Heights is a precondition for any peace agreement with Israel, and he has stated that Syria is giving its options for peace and war equal consideration.

Farid Ghadry, writing in the Israeli press asks for Israel's help in stopping dialogue with Syria and imposing a democracy on the country he was born in. (A number of readers have commented on this article two posts ago.)

George Ajjan has a fascinating and uproarious appreciation of Ghadry's (Reform Party of Syria's) strategy. He also gives his two cents on Ammar Abdulhamid's efforts to get Khaddam a fair hearing in Washington. He warns Ammar to expect a smear campaign from Frank Ghadry.

Comments (11)


1. t_desco said:

Some common myths and misperceptions (in my humble opinion) that are frequently repeated in the press (including in some of the articles quoted above):

– General Aoun has suddenly become pro-Syrian
– Hizbullah is just doing Syria’s bidding
– Hizbullah is interested in restoring Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon (in fact, Hizbullah has benefited from the Syrian withdrawal; see, for example, Nasrallah’s Al-Hayat interview)
– it’s all about the Hariri tribunal (I think that Hizbullah is far more concerned about possible moves to expand UNIFIL’s mandate and give it authority over the whole of Lebanon)

UN/Somalia update:

Doubts cast on UN report of Somali support for Hizbullah

A UN report that claims 720 fighters from Somalia’s Islamic courts fought alongside Hizbullah during the recent war with Israel has been questioned by experts.

But several Horn of Africa analysts say these and other claims in the report appear exaggerated and lack evidence.

A diplomatic source who follows Somalia and asked not to be named said he feared the 80-page report could become a “very useful propaganda tool” for hawks in the west.

Matt Bryden, a regional consultant to the International Crisis Group, expressed similar reservations. “We need to treat many of these claims with caution until we see firm evidence,” he said.

The four-man monitoring group is mainly based in Nairobi and relies on intelligence from Somalia. The team is respected, although some of its previous reports have been seen by some as alarmist. The latest covers the period from May 5, a month before Sics took control of the capital, Mogadishu.

But the allegations of battlefield assistance to Hizbullah have aroused widespread scepticism. “To me it’s completely counter-intuitive,” said Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science and Somalia expert at Davidson College in the US. “Somalis, whether secular or Islamist, are parochial, and have never been animated about distant causes.”
The Guardian

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November 16th, 2006, 12:37 pm

 

2. ivanka said:

There is a mistake in one of the articles (the one by a blogger), Berri did not say the government was legitimate. First he issued a declaration denying that and yesterday he blasted the government on Al Arabeya. He practically said he was with the Iran-Syria axis.

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November 16th, 2006, 6:24 pm

 

3. ivanka said:

دبي-العربية.نت-وكالات

اعتبر رئيس مجلس النواب اللبناني نبيه بري في مقابلة بثتها العربية الاربعاء 15-11-2006 ان اجتماعات الحكومة اللبنانية “غير دستورية”.

وقال بري ان “اي جلسة الآن, هي غير دستورية لأنها تمس الميثاق الوطني اللبناني” الذي يضمن تمثيل كافة الطوائف اللبنانية في الحكومة.

وكان بري يشير الى الاجتماع الذي عقدته الحكومة الاثنين وتبنت خلاله مسودة مشروع تشكيل محكمة دولية مكلفة بمحاكمة قتلة رئيس الوزراء السابق رفيق الحريري.

واضاف بري ان “الذريعة بالنسبة للجلسة الاخيرة, لا اقول التحايل, الالتفاف حولها هو انها رفضت الاستقالة. هذا غير كاف لأنه عندئذ على الوزراء ان يعودوا عن استقالتهم”.
وقال: “الأقلية تشكل مجلس قيادة يحكم لبنان باسم الاكثرية. لا اعتبار للدستور ولا اعتبار لـ (اتفاق) الطائف على الاطلاق”, مضيفا “ليست هناك اقلية تريد ان تستبد. هناك اقلية حقيقية تريد ان تشارك”.

واكد بري أن “لا عودة عن استقالة الوزراء دون مشاركة حقيقية في الحكم.. اما مشاركة واما أن يصبح الطلاق بائنا”. وقال ايضا “لا اريد لغة الشارع .. احبذ ان يحل الامر بالتوافق”.
وكان ستة وزراء, بينهم خمسة يمثلون حركة امل وحزب الله المواليين لسوريا, استقالوا بعد فشل المشاورات حول تشكيل حكومة وحدة وطنية تمنح المعارضة مكانة قوية.

ويقول زعماء سياسيون مناهضون لسوريا ان الاستقالات من الحكومة جاءت في اطار محاولة لعرقلة قيام المحكمة ذات الطابع الدولي التي اقرت في غياب الوزراء المؤيدين لسوريا.

وبعث الرئيس اميل لحود المؤيد لسوريا برسالة الى الامين العام للامم المتحدة كوفي عنان امس الثلاثاء يصف فيها اقرار الحكومة للمسودة الخاصة بالمحكمة بأنه غير شرعي وهو الموقف الذي رفضه السنيورة الذي قال ان ما اقدمت عليه الحكومة كان دستوريا

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November 16th, 2006, 6:38 pm

 

4. t_desco said:

Some common myths and misconceptions (in my humble opinion) that are frequently repeated in the press (including in some of the articles quoted above):

– General Aoun has suddenly become pro-Syrian
– Hizbullah is just doing Syria’s bidding
– Hizbullah is interested in restoring Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon (in fact, Hizbullah has benefited from the Syrian withdrawal; see, for example, Nasrallah’s Al-Hayat interview)
– it’s all about the Hariri tribunal (I think that Hizbullah is far more concerned about possible moves to expand UNIFIL’s mandate and give it authority over the whole of Lebanon)

UN/Somalia update:

Doubts cast on UN report of Somali support for Hizbullah

A UN report that claims 720 fighters from Somalia’s Islamic courts fought alongside Hizbullah during the recent war with Israel has been questioned by experts.

But several Horn of Africa analysts say these and other claims in the report appear exaggerated and lack evidence.

A diplomatic source who follows Somalia and asked not to be named said he feared the 80-page report could become a “very useful propaganda tool” for hawks in the west.

Matt Bryden, a regional consultant to the International Crisis Group, expressed similar reservations. “We need to treat many of these claims with caution until we see firm evidence,” he said.

The four-man monitoring group is mainly based in Nairobi and relies on intelligence from Somalia. The team is respected, although some of its previous reports have been seen by some as alarmist. The latest covers the period from May 5, a month before Sics took control of the capital, Mogadishu.

But the allegations of battlefield assistance to Hizbullah have aroused widespread scepticism. “To me it’s completely counter-intuitive,” said Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science and Somalia expert at Davidson College in the US. “Somalis, whether secular or Islamist, are parochial, and have never been animated about distant causes.”
The Guardian

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November 16th, 2006, 7:17 pm

 

5. Sami D said:

I reproduce below my response to Ghadry’s article earlier, now more relevant to Joshua’ posting of a link to his article. –SamiD

On Ghadry article “Israelis deserve better” http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3326871,00.html
:

[Basically Ghadry here is begging the conquerors to help put him to power Syria (surely to be labelled “democracy”), against the local dictator. Some of what he says About Asad’s regime is true of course. But to exaggerate that and use it to pander to the conquerors is beyond disgusting.

Highlighting some of his repulsive statements: Arab hatred for Israel is due not to Israeli aggression and racist ideology but Arab dictators, he says. Hizbullah, an organization born out of Israeli aggression, and is quite careful to only RESPOND to Israeli violence, is now “the violent” while Israel yearns for fair and just peace. Asad is a multi-face chameleon; what does that make Olmert/Bush with vastly more PR deceptions and violence at their finger tips, let alone the fact that politicians BY DEFINITION are ALL more or less chameleons?

Asad is a racist, against Jews presumably. But almost all Arab anti-Jewish racism is a result of Israel’s ethnic cleansing project of Palestine; ie hating “Jews” for what they do to Palestinians not because of what they are. And how does Asad’s racism compare to Zionism’s, which has produced an on-going ethnic cleansing of the natives in Palestine? It is Asad’s “apartheid” repression (apartheid??) that produces suicide bombers, not Israeli denial of rights and aggression, according to Ghadry.

Israel’s and US not wanting to push Asad regime to implode is for Ghadry “Israel’s lack of resolve”. And “the Israelis deserve better”, not better ISRAELI leadership that works for real peace, but better SYRIAN leadership that totally submits to Israeli demands and belligerence. Egyptians hate Israelis not because of what Israelis do to Palestinians and Arabs, but because they don’t have democracy. Only a fool wouldn’t notice that with real democracy in Egypt, like most driven-to-extremism Arab world today, would mean that anti-Israel and anti-US Islamists would be voted into power. But Ghadry is not that type of fool; he notices that so he adds a caveat: The way to prevent Islamist from power when the dictators fall in the Arab world, is, in Ghadry’s words, learning the lesson of Iraq, by preparing a “pluralistic government-in-exile ready to go BEFORE a regime falls” (his emphasis). Voila!! Presumably pluralistic means to include people like him.

So, in summary, replace the current dictator by one that somehow sees Israel as a peace loving country — a puppet in other words, who will have to “convince” his people of “Israel’s peace intentions”, which can only be done with massive propaganda and violence. Hence, it will be pro-west/pro-Israel dictatorship, therefore, it is, Ghadry-FoxNews-Orwell-Speak “moderate”, “peace loving” and not a “chameleon”.

Towards the end Ghadry unloads another gem: that Asad has the ability to carry out Ahmadinejad’s supposed message of destroying Israel, and is most likely preparing to attack Israel once Israel gives back the Golan height. Israel, one presumes in this scenario, doesn’t have the nuclear bombs and ability to destroy Syria in a blink (even without nukes, as in Lebanon) if Syria launches an annihilating war against Israel.. but please don’t notice this minor wrinkle in Ghadry’s otherwise perfect scenario. And the last label bestowed on Asad by now an infantile suck-up to Israel, is that of the “destroyed of Israeli cities” because of Hizbollah retaliatory-defensive rockets that targeted Israeli cities. Don’t notice, either, that no Hizbollah rocket was fired BEFORE Israel began destruction of South Lebanon.

Basically, Ghadry’s message will be believed only by naive Israelis. To non-naive Israelis he’s the puppet they need, after demonstrating sufficient brown-nosing and sucking up to “the Jewish state”; their part of the deal is just to help him to power. To non-naive Arabs he will remain the repulsive quisling that he is.

Sami D.

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November 16th, 2006, 9:03 pm

 

6. John Robertson said:

2 points I’d like to make:

1. The Baker report is starting to reach the realm of the anti-climactic – or at least over-hyped. There really is no magic bullet here, nor can Baker propose anything too radically different from Bush-Rice’s current track without risking Papa and Barbara Bush’s ire at rattling Boy George’s cage too hard. And Dick Cheney continues to lurk just off stage, ready to dump a bucket of ice water on the Iraq Study Group’s collective head if he feels they’ve overreached.
2. Nothing is going to go forward with the Iranians as long as the Bush administration continues to use language designed to paint them as intransigent, untrustworthy minor-leaguers who refuse to be forces of “stability” in the region. Stability is a code word for doing what the US and Israel wants. Anyone with a sense of Iran’s history knows that their leaders are very aware of Iran’s millennia-long history of great civilization – and political power – in the Middle East, and that, especially over the last 150 years, the West has given Iranians absolutely no reason to believe that it takes Iran’s best interests to heart. Think about European concession-grubbing in the late 19th century; European deposition of Reza Shah in 1940 and nationalist prime minister Mossadeq in 1953; the West’s exploitation of Iran’s petroleum resources in the 1950s and 1960s; the West’s collective demonization of Iran’s Islamic revolution after 1979; and the US’s support for Saddam against Iran in the 1980-1988 war. One could make a strong case that, as a destabilizing force in the Middle East, the US easily matches Iran.

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November 16th, 2006, 9:34 pm

 

7. Atassi said:

Make James Baker the new US envoy to the region
David Ignatius
822 words
16 November 2006
Daily Star
English
(c) 2006 THE DAILY STAR, BEIRUT, LEBANON.

Beirut — In ancient Roman drama, when the plot got too convoluted to be resolved by mere humans, one of the gods would be hoisted over the stage to dispense wisdom and avert tragedy. The practice was known by a Latin term, deus ex machina, or “god from a machine.” In our times, it is called the “Baker-Hamilton commission.”

I am all for smoke and mirrors, and gods descending from cranes, if that will help the United States regain some strategic initiative in the Middle East. And already, the Iraq Study Group seems to be having that effect. Before it has said a word, the group is generating a sense of possibility. Politicians across the Middle East are wondering how to game the new American initiative. That is what diplomacy does – it creates space for maneuver. It also, almost by definition, creates expectations that cannot be realized.

The first step President George W. Bush should take is to institutionalize the momentum created by the Iraq Study Group process by naming its co-chairman, James A. Baker, as a special Middle East emissary. The former secretary of state has given the term “wheeler-dealer” a good name. He’s the only American diplomat I can think of who might cause Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to check for his wallet.

But within the next few weeks, Baker and the other gods must come down from the rafters and confront the all-too-human players on the stage. If the tipsters are right, the commission will recommend a regional dialogue that involves Iraq’s neighbors – including Iran and Syria – along with a new effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Let’s focus on Iran. Baker met in September with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, and heard a detailed explanation of why Iran is wary about such talks. The Iranian envoy is said to have explained that Tehran shares America’s interest in calming the situation in Iraq, and that contrary to US fears, it doesn’t seek a Shiite victory in the Iraqi civil war. The Iranians say they don’t want a partition of Iraq, either. Tehran wants a unified, democratic Iraq – with their Shiite allies in the driver’s seat, to be sure, but with Sunnis content enough that they stop fighting.

Iran is suspicious of a US policy that seeks Iranian help even as it encourages regime change in Tehran. “You don’t negotiate with someone who wants to overthrow you,” one Iranian official told me. Iran’s ruling mullahs are said to worry on a deeper level that in talking with America, the Islamic Republic would lose its legitimacy. There’s an abiding suspicion that such a dialogue would only bring “humiliation and intimidation,” as one Iranian official puts it.

How to bridge this gap? There’s actually a precise formula that was laid out by Iranian diplomats in early 2003, while they were conducting back channel talks about Afghanistan and Iraq with the US. Those conversations, mediated by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, produced an Iranian document outlining the path to a broad “dialogue in mutual respect.”

The Iranians thought they were amending a document drafted by Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state at the time. Armitage tells me he has no recollection of such a proposal, but its provenance matters less than the fact the Iranians found it an acceptable framework. The document they bounced back to the US summarized “Iranian aims,” headed by a “halt in US hostile behavior,” “abolishment of all sanctions” and joint efforts to achieve a democratic Iraq. The Iranians accepted that American aims in the negotiations would include assurances that Iran wouldn’t develop nuclear weapons and would recognize Israel under a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.

This 2003 dialogue collapsed largely because of an Iranian demand for “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists” from the Mujaheddin-e Khalq organization who were in Iraq. Absurdly, the Pentagon balked because of a fantasy that the group could help foment revolution in Iran. The Iranians may now say that the 2003 dialogue for “mutual respect” is off the table, but Baker should find out – by going to Tehran.

Iran will demand a price for any help it offers in Iraq. So will Syria, which is already positioning its proxies for restoration of Syrian influence in Lebanon. There will be a temptation to overreach, as the Syrians clearly are doing, and the prices demanded may be too steep for America to pay. But the essence of a negotiation is that, in the pursuit of mutual interest, the parties narrow their demands to ones that are achievable. This is the kind of conversation America should be having and – god-from-a-machine willing – it may begin soon.

Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR

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November 16th, 2006, 10:43 pm

 

8. ivanka said:

Does Bush or anyone really still hope to achieve something in Iraq? I think Iraq will not become a country where people live normally (let’s say like in other Arabic countries) before another 20 years. I hope I am wrong and it is less.

The Iraq war succeeded in one thing : Destabilizing and destroying Iraq and creating the risk of a similar future for other ME countries.

T-Desco,

That is exactly right. These are important things to remember if you want to understand what is happening in Lebanon.

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November 16th, 2006, 11:41 pm

 

9. Ehsani2 said:

While everyone is busy analyzing the U.S./Iran/Syria/Hizbollah situation, it is worth reminding people about the country’s economic predicemant. I am afraid that the link below might still not be pessimistic enough when it comes to describing the reality on the ground:

http://www.champress.net/?page=show_det&select_page=2&id=13062

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November 16th, 2006, 11:47 pm

 

10. norman said:

Ehsani2,I missed your notes recently , I am happy that these opinions will show up on Sham Press ,free of expresion!.recently Syria started a new tax law with lower rate actualy close to the US system ,you must be proud as i am.actualy i like your writing more than the translated ones.

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November 17th, 2006, 1:56 am

 

11. ivanka said:

I want to recommend the same article as EHSANI. Remember that the author of the article is one of the foremost experts on Syrian economy.

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November 17th, 2006, 5:13 pm

 

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