Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, September 30th, 2008
Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal writes that the meetings are “a sign of a potential thaw between the U.S. and a country that President George W. Bush has alleged is a principal sponsor of international terrorism.” He adds:
A State Department official said the U.S. used the talks as an opportunity to list its grievances with Syria. But the diplomats also discussed Washington’s support for peace talks between Syria and Israel over the future of the disputed Golan Heights region, participants in the talks said. The two sides also talked about Damascus’s role in the security situations in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The Bush administration has not agreed to an official thaw with Syria, however. U.S. officials stressed the talks with Muallem were used to raise concerns about Syrian human-rights abuses and support for terrorism, as well as its strategic ties with Iran and other issues. “The international community still awaits a credible demonstration of Syria’s willingness to renounce their sponsorship of terrorism,” a State Department official said. “The Syrians had approached us and said that they wished to
talk,” Rice said.
Viola Giengerof Bloomberg writes:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. may engage Syria more since the Arab nation slowed the flow of fighters into Iraq, began indirect talks with Israel and helped and a political stalemate in neighboring Lebanon. “Nothing is a breakthrough, and I’m not sure that there will be,” Rice said today in an interview on Bloomberg TV’s “Night Talk with Mike Schneider” to be broadcast tomorrow night. “But it’s time to talk about some of the changes that are taking place in the Middle East.”
U.S. relations with Syria still have “a long way to go,” Rice said. She cited Syria’s human rights record, its involvement in spreading nuclear weapons and its support for groups the U.S. considers terrorist organizations such as Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. “I don’t think it’s going to happen certainly in any short order,” Rice said. “But there are some trends to follow up.”….
She rejected rumors of indirect talks with Iran.
Ehsani, who has finished reading Bob Woodward’s new book on the Bush administration, has copied for us (below) the parts of the book that cover Rice’s policy toward Syria as she responded to the Iraq Study Group report put out by Baker and Hamilton just prior to the 2006 congressional elections. Ehsani writes:
Note how Rice totally flips in today’s WSJ article by Jay Solomon. In 2006, according to Woodward, She defied Baker, Clinton, and Blair who were urging her to begin a dialogue with Syria. Today, it is Rice who has flipped and not Syria.
Bob Woodward, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008. Excerpts about Syria
Rice sat down with the Iraq study group. Overall, Rice said, there was a realignment taking place in the Middle East. “There are extremists within the Arab world, and then there are moderate Arabs. Many of the Arabs see Iran now as a more dangerous problem than Israel.” Syria is widely viewed as destabilizing, she said.
“Can we flip Syria?” asked Perry (of ISG), meaning get it to help with Iraq.
“The Saudis don’t talk to them,” Rice replied. “So why would we go around our allies, the Saudis, who after all are much more important to the peace process?”
That response agitated James Baker. “These Arab governments fight each other all the time” he said. “The real question is who is going to lead?”
The former secretary of state and the current one quarreled for a moment, with Rice acknowledging that diplomatic outreach to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem might be worthwhile. But she had reservations about establishing relations with Syria and Iran.
“I am concerned that Syria is too high a price” she said. For the Arabs, the rise of Iran is the threat. The Iran factor today is different than it was 15 years ago”-a pointed reference to Baker’s tenure as secretary of state-“so I have to challenge the notion that Iran could be an ally in the process.”
Her position did not sit well with Baker and several others. Nearly everyone else had told the study group that active diplomacy with Syria and Iran was vital to stabilizing Iraq and the Middle East.
The next day the study group held a secure videoconference with Tony Blair. The British minister had recently sent his top foreign policy advisor to Syria to see if there was a way to pry opens the diplomatic doors. Through Sir Nigel Sheinwald had not succeeded, Blair remained a strong advocate of talking with the Syrians.
At 2:30 that afternoon the members of the study group gathered for a much anticipated session with former President Bill Clinton.
Clinton suggested initiating talks with Iran without any preconditions. “We have to have some trusted advisor and start to talk to Iran” he said. “If you might fight somebody someday, you sure ought to talk to them”.
The former president made a strong pitch for engaging the Syrians in the peace process:”Go to the Syrians and ask them. Do you really think this relationship with Iraq works for you?” The war in Iraq was weakening America in the eyes of the world. “Iranian and North Korean foreign policy is to stick it up America’s ass because we’re tied down in Iraq,” he said.
“Mr. President”, Baker said, “you came closer than anyone to a deal with Syria.”
In the meantime Rice repeated her frequent warning to the Iraqis that they needed to hang together or they would hang separately from lampposts.
“We need something to deter Iran and Syria,” said Cheney, “and that’s important not just for Iraq but for the region and for Lebanon, too.”
Several hours before the president was to present his new strategy on national television, Hadley held a conference call with members of the Iraq study group.
The President decisions were pretty much “Baker-Hamilton plus a surge,” Hadley said. adding that they should all be pleased because the President had embraced many of the 79 recommendations.
“Steve,” Leon Panetta said, “There are three principal recommendations we made.” The first had been an international push for more diplomacy, including Iran and Syria.
Hadley said they were doing a lot of international diplomacy but they just couldn’t do Iran and Syria.
Rice rejected the notion that the Middle East had been stable and that the Bush administration had come along and disturbed it by invading Iraq. “What stability? Saddam shooting at our aircrafts and attacking his neighbors and seeking WMD and starting a war every few years? Syrian forces, 30 years in Lebanon?
Rice considered the war nothing less than “the realignment of the Middle East. On the one side you’ve got Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states” supporting non extremists. “At the other side, you’ve got the Iranians, Hezbollah, and Hamas.” with Syria shifting sides, she said.
Just as the State Department begins to thaw relations with Syria, A federal district court in Washington, D.C., issued an opinion awarding $412,909,587 in a judgement against Syria. It found Bashar al-Asad and Asef Shawqat liable. None of the Defendants filed an answer or otherwise appeared.
The suit was brought by relatives of Jack Armstrong and Jack Hensley, who were two U.S. civilian engineers who were kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq in 2004 by al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (“al-Qaeda in Iraq”). This incident gained worldwide notoriety after the terrorists released a gruesome video of the beheadings on the Internet.
The judgement reads:
“Plaintiffs presented evidence in the form of live testimony, videotaped testimony, affidavit, and original documentary and videographic evidence. Plaintiffs presented credible expert testimony from four experts and from an Iraqi countryman concerning Syria’s assistance to Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq. From this evidence, certain conclusions are clear. Syria was the critical geographic entry point for Zarqawi’s fighters into Iraq, Levitt T-1-127, and served as a “logistical hub” for Zarqawi. Id. at 119, 127. Syria supported Zarqawi and his organization by: (1) facilitating the recruitment and training of Zarqawi’s followers and their transportation into Iraq; (2) harboring and providing sanctuary to terrorists and their operational and logistical supply network; and (3) financing Zarqawi and his terrorist network in Iraq. Once Zarqawi beheaded civilian Nicholas Berg, the depth of his inhumanity was obvious but Syria did not withdraw its support.
Four experts testified regarding Syria’s support of Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq:
(1) Evan Kohlmann is a private consultant who gave expert testimony on the history, infrastructure, and the use of the Internet as a medium for the distribution and dissemination of propaganda by Zarqawi and his terrorist network. Kohlmann T-114. His testimony was based on evidence that he collected and archived from 2004 through 2006 from Internet sites that are direct sources of information from Zarqawi and his network. Id. at 25.
(2) Dr. Matthew Levitt is a director of Counter Terrorism Intelligence Studies and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy. Levitt at 105. He was previously employed in counter-terrorism positions in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Treasury. Id. at 107, 111. He is the author of a book that includes chapters on Syria’s sponsorship of terrorism. Id. at 115.
(3) Dr. Marius Deeb is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and for more than thirty years has studied, written, and taught about Islamic politics, Syria, and Syria’s support for terrorism. Deeb T-1-61-64.
(4) David Schenker is the director of Arab politics at the Washington Institute and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Schenker T-1-81-84. Mr. Schenker previously was the senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense on matters relating to Syria from 2002-2006. Id. at T-1-79.
1. Facilitating the Recruitment and Training of Zarqawi’s Followers and Facilitating Their Transportation into Iraq
18. Syria and the Syrian Military Intelligence provided active assistance to Zarqawi and his
followers in Iraq by allowing and helping their operatives to move through Syria and across
the border into al-Qaeda’s first military training camp in Iraq, near the village of Rawha.
19. A militant Islamic cleric on the payroll of the Syrian government, Abu Qaqa, actively
recruited terrorists for the Zarqawi network in 2003. Schenker T-1-103.
20. In late 2003, a Syrian intelligence officer named Abu Moaz transported al-Qaeda operatives,
including senior leaders, across the Syrian border to the Rawha training camp. Kohlmann
T-1-52-54. The Rawha camp was where almost all of Zarqawi’s senior officers who led his
organization in 2003-2004 were trained. Id. at 54.
21. Members of al-Qaeda in Iraq who were captured by the company operated by Sheikh Abu
Massoquoi confessed to receiving training at camps within Syria. Massoquoi Dep. at 24; see
also Deeb T-1-67, 74-75.
22. The Syrian government provided assistance to facilitate the movement of terrorists through
Syria for Zarqawi’s terrorist network. Massoquoi Dep. at 20-23.
23. The airport in Damascus, Syria is “one of the most tightly controlled locations in Syria” as
people must pass through border guards and under the observation of intelligence officials
there. Schenker T-1-94. Syria allowed insurgents to arrive without restriction into the
Damascus airport in significant numbers, before continuing their journey across the border
and into Iraq. Id. at 94, 98-99. “This wasn’t an underground railroad; this was being done
with a full recognition and support of the government of Syria.” Id. at 95.
24. Syria did not require a visa for non-Syrian Arabs entering Syria until 2006-07. Schenker
T-1-94. The U.S. Government repeatedly asked Syria to require visas but it refused until
recently. Id. at 95.
In the comment section:
President Assad was interviewed by a Lebanese journalist. He said that the North of Lebanon is by now a serious threat to Syria’s national security.
He said that if any country wants to play any role in the Middle East, that country will need to pass through Damascus. Hariri reacted quickly warning of Syrian intentions