“U.S. Seems to Soften Syria Stance,” by Solomon & Simpson

U.S. Seems to Soften Syria Stance
Diplomatic Shift Comes
As Peace Talks Expand;
'A Different Dynamic'

By CAM SIMPSON and JAY SOLOMON
November 30, 2007

WASHINGTON — Two days after the Bush administration moved to jump-start the Middle East peace process with talks in Annapolis, Md., there are signs that the new diplomatic campaign includes a shift in U.S. strategy: willingness to compromise with Syria, one of its most bitter regional rivals.

In strife-torn Lebanon — a nation where U.S., Syrian, Iranian and Israeli interests have collided for more than two decades — Washington's political allies agreed this week to end their opposition to the presidential bid of a candidate viewed as a Syrian favorite.

  The News: The U.S. is signaling a new willingness to compromise with Syria, with its allies in Lebanon shifting strategy in a presidential vote after Damascus's decision to attend Mideast peace talks.
  Background: The U.S. and its allies are striving to re-engage Damascus to break its alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
  Positive Response: Syrian officials say the outreach could help stabilize the Middle East.

Even if the compromise doesn't break a yearlong deadlock over political control of Lebanon, it does seem to mark an important shift in U.S.-Syrian relations following the decision by Damascus to attend the Annapolis peace conference. It also appears the U.S. is holding out the possibility of even warmer relations with Syria if progress continues. The Bush administration is weighing support for a Russian initiative to hold Syrian-Israeli peace talks in Moscow early next year, a senior U.S. official confirmed yesterday.

Before Syria agreed to support the Bush administration's regional peace conference this week, the White House generally adhered to a policy of trying to isolate Damascus through financial sanctions and travel bans. The U.S. accuses Syria of supporting militants operating inside Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

A senior U.S. official involved in the new Middle East initiative said the Bush administration didn't advise its allies in Lebanon "one way or the other" on their decision this week to compromise. But the official did say that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went into the Annapolis conference hoping to advance both Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and a compromise on the Lebanese presidency.

"It would be going too far to say there's a sea change here," the official said of Damascus and Washington, "but there's definitely a different dynamic."

Lebanon has emerged as a principal theater through which Washington and its allies are competing for regional influence against Iran, Syria and their militant allies, such as the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah.

The White House has heralded Lebanon as among its success stories in the Middle East, as a pro-Western alliance of political parties swept to power in 2005 and forced Damascus to end nearly 30 years of military occupation. The Lebanese political bloc, known as the March 14 movement, has promoted Washington's calls for democratization of the Middle East, as well as many of its strategic and economic initiatives.

Over the past year, however, Syria's allies, principally Hezbollah, have pushed back and paralyzed Beirut's government in a sometimes violent battle for control over Lebanon's political system. This standoff intensified in recent weeks over the selection of the country's next president, a post that Beirut law requires be held by a Maronite Christian. Hezbollah and its allies have refused to convene a parliamentary vote to endorse March 14's candidates, raising fears of a split government, if not civil war.

In recent days, though, March 14 politicians, with Washington's consent, agreed to a compromise candidate for the presidency. Gen. Michel Suleiman, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, worked closely with Damascus during its military occupation of Lebanon and is already receiving support from some of Syria's Lebanese political allies.

March 14 leaders say the general's selection, while not their first choice, could help stabilize Lebanon, because of his leadership of a Lebanese military increasingly viewed as a unifying force in their country.

"Michel Suleiman is well-known to the Hezbollah and the Syrians," said Walid Jumblatt, a key leader of March 14. "If the Syrians don't want Suleiman, it means they don't want stability in Lebanon."

The concession on the Lebanese president comes amid a broader push by the U.S. and its allies to re-engage Damascus in other ways. American and Israeli strategists view this initiative as aimed at breaking Syria's alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which have all increased their influence across the Middle East in recent years. It is also aimed at gaining greater support from Syria in cutting off militants infiltrating into Iraq.

U.S. and Israeli officials say they are also considering widening the initiative to directly address Damascus's claims to the disputed Golan Heights. This issue could be brought up at the Russian conference, according to U.S. officials.

Syrian officials are already responding positively to this outreach, saying it could potentially herald a stabilizing trend in the Middle East. [end]

All the major papers add their spin on Syria, which is the talk of the town

Deal signals a thaw in US-Syrian relations
MARK MACKINNON From Thursday's Globe and Mail

These are early days, with only the faintest stirring in the tea leaves that can be so impossible to read in the Middle East. But when the duelling parties in Lebanon are suddenly discovering a way to compromise and the Syrian regime says it invests "great hopes" in U.S. President George W. Bush, surely something is afoot.

Joshua Landis, Director of the Centre for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a Syria expert, said that the sudden acceptance by all sides of Gen. Suleiman – just one day after Annapolis – suggests that the U.S. had agreed to Gen. Suleiman's presidency as part of a deal to get Syria to attend the peace conference and lend its support to the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Times: And the United States? “Look, a handful in the Arab League were saying they could not attend the conference unless Syria was put on the agenda,” a senior Bush administration official said. “So we put Syria on the agenda. What did it cost us? Nothing.”

However, American and Israeli officials said the time was not yet ripe for real peace talks with Syria. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel will have enough to do trying to get skeptics to agree to give up settlements in the West Bank and to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians, compromises Israel will have to make if the peace track with the Palestinians has any chance of working.

Trying to get the 12,000 to 15,000 Israeli settlers out of the Golan Heights, in addition, would make an already hard job close to impossible, Israeli officials said, and make it far less likely for Israel to start separate talks with Syria soon. Mr. Olmert echoed that with reporters before he flew home Wednesday night. “Conditions are not yet at the point” for talks with Syria, he said. “There’s enough that we will have to do that will be heartbreaking.”

Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said the ball was in Syria’s court.

“I think for Syria, there is a fundamental choice,” Mr. Hadley said during remarks on Wednesday night at a forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“Are they going to make a strategic decision, give up their support for terror, let Lebanon alone, support a new Iraqi government, rather than obstruct it and undermine it, and make a decision for peace?” he asked. “If they do, I think there are opportunities for them in the Golan Heights.

“The door is open to them.”

Syria upbeat on chance to reopen Golan issue
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters – USA

The Middle East peace conference has boosted Syria's campaign to regain the occupied Golan Heights, even though no direct talks with Israel were initiated at the meeting, a Syrian official said on Wednesday.

In the first official Syrian reaction to the meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, Ahmed Salkini, official spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in Washington, said Damascus had made a diplomatic step forward by thrusting the Golan issue into the international spotlight.

Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma, said Syria had shown flexibility by attending the Annapolis conference.

"Syria has shown it is not as ideological as some in the U.S. administration (who initially opposed inviting it to Annapolis) had thought. Syria has sent a message to its Hamas allies that it is willing to bargain (with the United States)," Landis said.

Signs of US-Syria Thaw After Summit
By DONNA ABU-NASR and ANNE GEARAN
The Associated Press, November 29, 2007

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Syria left a U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference without a specific promise from Israel to restart stalled talks, but with signs the Bush administration is softening its diplomatic hard line against an Arab state that has played a role in past peace efforts.

Syrian delegates received warm handshakes and words of thanks from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose administration has largely shunned Syria since early 2005.At the close of Tuesday's speeches and meetings focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rice walked over to the Syrian delegates, according Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to Washington.

Comments (20)


1. why-discuss said:

What will happen to the wineries of the Golan Heights, a long term lease?

“…Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to Syria to return the Golan Heights in a directly negotiated land-for-peace deal again raises a big question for fans of Israeli wine. What might become of the Golan Heights Winery?
…Attention focuses on the 5.4m-bottle winery, because it is generally deemed Israel’s best. Its Yarden, Gamla and Golan labels are famous internationally. Yarden wines made their mark in America in the 1980s by inspiring a kosher wine revolution, reshaping preferences from sweet to dry.”

Speculation centers on a hope that Damascus might be open to a peace treaty that allowed the Golan Heights Winery and others to remain in operation on the plateau, perhaps under a long-term lease arrangement.
Also..
Dangerous delusion on the Golan

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 5:20 am

 

2. everd said:

Former MP Fares Souhaid in L’Orient Le Jour suggests that Syria might give up its support to Hizbollah in exchange for the US and France proposals of international reintegration and possible discussion on the Golan. Tensions in Burj al Barajneh between Ahmad Jibril faction and Hizbollah would be an indication of such a change.
http://www.lorient-lejour.com.lb/page.aspx?page=article&id=358875
What do you think of such an hypothesis?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 9:48 am

 

3. Zubaida said:

Regarding the wineries, it may or may not be relevant that the Syrian Economy Ministry earlier this month authorised the import of wine, beer, cider, spirits and liqueurs as part of the government’s avowed commitment to trade liberalisation.(Syria-News.com November 22nd)

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 10:15 am

 

4. Disaffection said:

They have a winery in GOlan?? well, then they must keep it!!! natural course of action.
the wine club members would be appalled if their production got nationalised by the syrians. ;-)

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 10:28 am

 

5. Observer said:

The question is
Will Syria give up the Iran card, HA card, Hamas card for a simple “normalization” with France and the US? For the return of the Golan? My family in Lebanon tell me that the Syrian regime has left through the door and entered back through the window and is back in almost full control. The goverment and the March 14 are fully in retreat and disarray and Jumblat is eating his words one by one.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 2:55 pm

 

6. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The wineries on the Golan are excellent.
Not that Asad would accept it now, but I am against a lease deal with a dictator. Unfortunately, most Israelis would support it. There is a chance that if Syria would be on the verge of bankruptcy, Asad might go for this kind of deal as a last option. But this is about 5-10 years down the road.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 4:46 pm

 

7. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

What Azmi Bishara, a strong Asad supporter, had to say about the Syrians attending the conference:
Apparently Syria decided to take part in Annapolis for fear that it would be left totally isolated in the Arab world if it did not. That it chose to participate offers no guarantee that the Golan Heights will be restored to it, even if that issue was listed on the Annapolis agenda. It had to be affixed to the agenda, because otherwise Syria could not accept to go. In the not so distant past, it would have taken only a quick assessment of how detrimental this inaugural ceremony will be to the Palestinian cause for Damascus to decide not to attend, whether Golan was mentioned on the agenda or not.

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/873/op55.htm
(last paragraph, where the meat usually is)

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 5:13 pm

 

8. EDITORIAL: Diplomacy on the ascent said:

[...] Some commentators predicted this outcome months ago. Back on August 15, a blogger calling himself, “Outlaw Josey Wales,” wrote, “The powers-that-be have decided General Michel Suleiman/Sleiman will be the next president of Lebanon.” Today, the Wall Street Journal (via Syria Comment) reports: In recent days [pro-Western] March 14 politicians, with Washington’s consent, agreed to a compromise candidate for the presidency. Gen. Michel Suleiman, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, worked closely with Damascus during its military occupation of Lebanon and is already receiving support from some of Syria’s Lebanese political allies. [...]

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 5:47 pm

 

9. Bashmann said:

HA’ARETZ

Washington: There is no place yet for Syria in peace process
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspond

WASHINGTON – U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Thursday it is difficult to see how Syria can fit into the renewed peace process.

“Syria is a state that supports terror, including Hezbollah and Hamas,” Hadley told students in a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s international studies school in Washington. He spoke just after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert headed home following the Middle East peace conference, held in Annapolis Tuesday.

Hadley said Syria’s policy was not compatible with “what we’ve seen” at Annapolis.

He said Israel would be the one to decide whether to negotiate with Syria, but he left no room for doubt on the United States’ position on this issue. Hadley said Syria must make a fundamental decision.

“There is a new spirit in the Middle East, a real chance for peace. Will Syria be left on the sidelines or give up its support for terror, leave Lebanon alone, support the Iraqi government and make a decision in favor of peace?”

If Syria takes this course it will have a chance for an agreement on the Golan Heights, but if it doesn’t, “I don’t see how it can be part of this process,” he said.

Hadley implied that Syria’s leaders had not shown the necessary fundamental change despite sending a representative to Annapolis. Syria sent its deputy foreign minister to the conference – a lower-ranking official than other countries sent.

President George W. Bush’s opening statement reflected his dissatisfaction with Syria, whose invitation to the summit had raised a controversy in the administration. The only issue Bush addressed apart from relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was the situation in Lebanon.

Hadley said on Wednesday that “all those present, except one” – meaning the Syrian representative – had applauded after Olmert’s speech at the conference.

However, Washington sources said that at the end of the conference Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shook the Syrian official’s hand and thanked him for his participation.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in his daily briefing that the Syrian representative’s speech at the summit was “positive and constructive.” But McCormack added that the Syrian channel was “a lot less ripe” than the Palestinian one, on which the administration was concentrating.

Hadley said that it was Bush’s insistence on a policy of zero tolerance for terror that had created the opportunity for a renewed peace process in the Middle East. His speech defended Bush against critics who said he took too long before trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said the new opportunity was created for several reasons, including Bush’s policies of the last six years. Hadley reminded his audience that the world had been “in shock” when Bush decided to sever ties with Yasser Arafat and that Bush had supported former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts “to protect the Israelis from terror.”

Hadley said Bush was not interested in just any Palestinian state but in one that would adhere to standards of democracy, freedom and a lack of terror. He reiterated that Bush did not believe in “forcing an American solution” on the two sides, stating that only the Israelis and Palestinians could reach agreements that both nations would accept.

Hadley also spoke about the connection that the Bush administration saw between solving the Palestinian problem and the general agenda of “advancing freedom in the Middle East.”

He said that if the Palestinians make the right choice, their historians will look back on the 2006 parliamentary elections, in which Hamas gained power, as a pyrrhic victory, more of a mishap than a failure of Palestinian democracy.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 9:36 pm

 

10. Alex said:

Yes Bachamnn, you and AIG love to bring any thing that sounds like “bad news” to Syria

Good for you .. Syrians will love your party.

By the way … the negativity in this article comes form “Stephen Hadley” .. I read it and I did not bother to paste here because hadley is like Syrian opposition parties .. he opposes everything.

How seriously should we take his opinion on Syria?

Read this brilliant story and have a good weekend:

NSC Chief Hadley asked Italy for a Bashar Replacement

I have it on good authority that Steven Hadley, the director of the US National Security Council, called the President of the Italian senate to asked if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Asad as President of Syria. The Italians were horrified. Italy is one of Syria’s biggest trading partners so it seemed a reasonable place to ask! This is what Washington has been up to.

remember the good old days? … 2005? when Mehlis wanted us to believe that he got reliable evidence that regime’s Maher and Asef carried the bomb by hand and gave it to Harriri’s killers?

Mr. Hadley who is consistently opposing solutions today was one of the amazing American administration figures who at the time believed in, and promoted the Mehlis circus … then he started to shop around in Italy for a new Syrian president.

And these people want us to believe they were promoting democracy in Syria.

At least Bashmann’s opposition party and Farid Ghadry’s oposition party believed it.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 9:58 pm

 

11. G said:

Alex, if you believe that Hadley would be discussing this with the head of the Italian senate (not even PM), then you’re dumber than I thought… which is actually quite dumb as it is.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 10:28 pm

 

12. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Don’t try to fool people. Washington does not like the Syrian REGIME, not Syria. Bashmann is posting negative information about the REGIME, not about Syria. If your theory was right, and Syrians were so opposed to opposition parties, Asad would not have the ultra censorship in place and so many opposition members would not be in jail. In fact, Asad is afraid of any opposition, as his actions prove.

If people don’t like any opposition, what is Asad afraid of?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 10:30 pm

 

13. Alex said:

AIG,

Do me a favor .. don’t repeat the same question a hundred times.

I told you that Assad might have a 60 to 65% popularity but that leaves 35% (7 million) unsatisfied Syrians.

And I will continue to use Syria and Syrian regime interchangeably .. until we start using different terms for Egypt and Egyptian regime, Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabian regime, Jews and Israeli regime …

ok?

G,

Happy to see you back. remind me what happened to your SMART predictions that the Syrian regime will disappear soon and that Lebanon will get rid of Lahhoud and a M14 president will take over, and that Mehlis will put Bashar in jail …

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 10:40 pm

 

14. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
And all the oppression because Asad is afraid of 35% of the Syrians? Are you serious? No leader with 65% support would need in place the ultra censorship Asad has. It makes no sense.

Why is Kilo in jail if there is such a huge support for Asad?
The Syrians fear Asad, they do not support him.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 11:15 pm

 

15. Alex said:

AIG,

Again a question from the past … honestly. You asked me at least twice the same question.

Kilo was put in jail for a couple of reasons … I do not find them convincing at all.

But that has nothing to do with the regime not having a 60% popularity.

Not convinced? … let me use an example you can identify with: If 60% (at least) of Palestinian people are good people … why do you build a wall? why do you have a thousand political prisoners? why do you torture some of them sometimes?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 11:30 pm

 

16. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
How are your questions relevant?
Olmert’s support is much lower than Asad’s (according to you). Does he need to oppress Israelis? Of course not. Bush’s support is lower than Asad’s. Does he need to oppress Americans? Of course not. Does your PM have 65% support? If not, does he need to oppress his people?

Israel is at war with the Palestinians. Why is Asad at war with his OWN people if he has 65% support? It does not make sense.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

November 30th, 2007, 11:50 pm

 

17. Alex said:

Because this goes back to what I was trying to tell you about borders and how sometime they are not necessarily meaningful … for examples, some extremist Kurds in north eastern Syria want to separate … they call themselves Syrians and Syrian opposition. Some Syrian fundamentalists take money from Wahabis in Saudi Arabia and they vowed to overthrow the Alawite (non Muslim in their opinion) regime. They are also “opposition”.

Turkey has the same issue with its Kurdish population but at a larger scale.

America detained large numbers of Arab and Muslim Americans (their own people) when they worried that very few might be influenced by non American values (extremist violent religious in nature) and that they might be a threat to national security.

You know that Joshua wrote here that he was questioned for four hours when he came back from a conference in France few months ago … someone decided that he is a threat to national security.

Please do not come back trying to explain that there are still some difference between these cases .. of course there are .. life does not produce replicas … and the Syrian regime is authoritarian while the United States and Turkey are democracies.

But in all cases whoever is in power decided to take some harsh measures against members of its own population which were not fair because they feared some extremists in their own population.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

December 1st, 2007, 12:17 am

 

18. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Ok, if you want to believe that a regime that is supported by 65% of its people, needs to deny rights to ALL of them, go ahead.

Your examples are irrelevant. They would be accurate if for example, the US being afraid of Arabs would deny rights to ALL the population. But this is what Asad is doing. He is using the Kurds or whatever as an excuse to deny rights to EVERYBODY. This means Asad is quite sure most Syrians don’t support him.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

December 1st, 2007, 1:36 am

 

19. CWW said:

Alex:

Alex:

You wrote:
And I will continue to use Syria and Syrian regime interchangeably .. until we start using different terms for Egypt and Egyptian regime, Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabian regime, Jews and Israeli regime …

There are a few reasons why it is important to distinguish between Syria and the Syrian regime. First off, the regime is not representative of the nation as a whole. This is because it is ruled by a small clique of individuals from a minority sect who have enriched themselves and their families. The regime’s continued existence in the face of such a disconnect from the nation as a whole can only be explained by the Baathists repressive policies. In order to drive this point home it is crucial to note that it is among the most repressive police-states in the world (here’s what Amnesty International says: http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Middle-East-and-North-Africa/Syria
or Freedom House : http://www.freedomhouse.org/inc/content/pubs/fiw/inc_country_detail.cfm?year=2007&country=7282&pf

There is also another reason to distinguish between Syria, as a nation and the regime: the approach of other countries to Syria is often related to the behavior and nature of the regime. Politicians abroad understand that countries which are ruled by authoritarian dictators behave differently than democracies, like say France. Countries which are authoritarian dictatorships have an incentive to maintain a state of hostility with other countries. On the other side of the coin it is very unusual for democracies to engage in military conflict with one another.

Also, the relationship between Jews and the Israeli government are quite different than the relationship between Egypt and the Egyptian regime. A jew living in oh say, Los Angeles, often has little to do with Israel. She may be a 20 something who knows very little about the Middle East and is not interested in Israel. Not all Jews are Israelis. In fact, only 17% of American Jews call themselves Zionists, according to survey of American Jews in 2005 (source: http://economist.com/world/international/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=8516489)

You used the term “regime” for the Israeli government. It was democratically elected, which bestows upon it a degree of legitimacy. For that reason, it is a bit jarring to read “Israeli regime.” I understand that some view Israel’s mere existence to be illegitimate, nevertheless it is unusual to refer to a democratically elected government as a regime.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

December 4th, 2007, 1:55 pm

 
 

Post a comment


9 − = one