America and Syria can Still Come to Terms Moderate Republicans Believe
The US and Syria should work together to help stabilize Iraq. That is the objective of moderates in the Republican Party and some retired Military officers who recently came to Damascus. As-Sharq al-Awsat has the story (below). I think this will work because there is no other good option - either for Syria, the US or Iraq.
It will be very difficult for all sides to climb down from their rehtoric and demonization of the other side. Syrians overwhelmingly believe the US is in Iraq to plunder and divide it. They also believe the US wants to wipe out its "Arabness." Americans have also gone overboard in their vilification of Syria. The principal personality on Fox News suggested that America should "assassinate" President Asad, if he doesn't shut the border immediately. This kind of extremist rhetoric, meant to amuse the American public, is just another form of Bin Ladenism. I don't know why Americans tolerate it. It makes the outrageous, normal and the criminal, mundane.
Another healthy sign is that Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is also saying that Syria can turn things around and become a partner with Washington in stabilizing Iraq. These are healthy signs. Perhaps Washington is still keeping its options on the table. It is clear that Bashar wants a deal.
Paper quotes US source on possibility of rapprochement with Syria
Asharq Al Awsat reported on October 5 that: "A US source has disclosed ... that a wing led by moderates in the ruling Republican Party and retired military are leading a move to seek Syria's help in saving the US plan in Iraq.Dennis Ross to An Nahar: Assad should change the situation
"The source said an unofficial US delegation had just returned from Damascus where it held talks with a selection of Syrian decision-makers during which it was able to obtain a Syrian offer of effective cooperation to achieve stability in Iraq in exchange for ensuring Arabism of Iraq and not threatening stability inside Syria itself. The source, which is close to the decision-making circles in Washington, added that the Syrian offer includes a reference to the willingness of Damascus to name a Syrian ambassador in Baghdad immediately and open the embassy as a show of good intentions.
"According to the US source, the Syrian offer was made in response to a proposal from the moderate wing in the Republican Party to make Syria a strategic ally in the region if it implements the stated US demands and helps the ongoing political process in Iraq.
"The source went on to say that the Syrian response 'was generous and detailed' and is difficult for the US Administration to reject because it is 'the easiest option for saving its face in Iraq.' It also includes a reference to Syria's ability to cooperate in the field to achieve stability in Iraq side by side with the American troops if it receives a request for this from Washington. It pointed out that the officials close to the Syrian presidency who took part in the talks last week underlined the need for dealing with Syria with respect and for protecting Iraq's Arab identity.
"According to the source, the US side in the talks returned from Damascus full of optimism and is at present preparing a report to the decision makers in Washington that includes a recommendation to try to win Syria as a strategic ally in the region if it fulfils its promises, and to help develop Syria economically and democratically so that the US plan in the region can become a dual one that includes Syria and Iraq at the same time without the need for shedding more blood or sacrificing the lives of American soldiers. ...
"The delegation met on its return from Damascus with an executive official in President George Bush's administration who is a specialist in Syrian affairs. A dispute flared up between her and the civilian and military representatives of the moderate wing. The latter conveyed the Syrian view about the importance of dialogue and unambiguous agreements while the administration representative reiterated the stated US demands and laid down the condition that the Syrian side should start by taking practical steps on the ground before starting any direct dialogue and not just voice obligations.
"One of the participants in the dialogue pointed out that the administration expressed its satisfaction with the Syrian offer to send an ambassador to Baghdad and raised at the same time the importance of sending a Syrian ambassador to Beirut, opening a Syrian embassy in Lebanon in addition to the demarcation of the border between Lebanon and Syria, recognition of Lebanon's full independence, help in persuading Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to step down, and non-interference in the Lebanese people's election of a new president. It also called on the Syrian government to regulate the arrival in Damascus of Arab youths of certain age and from certain countries, impose entry visas on them or record their addresses in Syria, and tighten the watch on them to ensure they do not go to Iraq. ...
"Citing an American participant in the talks, the source said the Syrians did not appear to be worried by the results of the anticipated report of German Judge Mehlis on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and were ready to punish any Syrian involved in the crime before the Syrian judiciary. It added that one of the Syrian negotiators challenged any party to prove there is any Syrian intelligence element inside Lebanon and another official said Syria took a strategic choice after the recent Baath Party conference to get closer to the West, not antagonize the superpowers and start the internal building process.
"Asharq Al Awsat's source said that a US-Syrian rapprochement, if it happens, would be in the interest of the two countries and peoples, spare the US Administration the internal pressures because of the crisis in Iraq, and spare the Syrian government the increasing external pressure on it.
"A US State Department official denied that the department knew of any talks with the Syrian government but pointed out that the US embassy in Damascus is open and the American diplomats are doing their job and the Syrian authorities can inform them of any real change in their policies. He stressed that no US official had talked at all about regime change in Syria and all that Washington was hoping for was a 'change in the Syrian behaviour towards specific issues that the Syrians know well.'" - Asharq Al Awsat, Pan Arab
A front-page article published on October 7 in An Nahar, a privately owned Lebanese newspaper, said: “On the sidelines of a press conference organized by the Arab Press Club in Paris, [a meeting which] addressed the developments in the Middle East and the rough journey towards peace, An Nahar talked to former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who believes that Lebanon is developing its future today.”
The newspaper quoted Ross as saying: “The Lebanese people forced Syria to leave Lebanon, it is a magnificent thing. It is true that everyone is waiting for Detlev Mehlis’s report, including Lebanon, but I hope that Lebanese decide their future and not wait for it.”
Ross also said "regarding the Islamic Brotherhood in Syria as the only opposition organization does not mean that it is the only option out there … [also] Maybe Mehlis will discover that there is a Syrian responsibility but that does not mean the presidency is implicated, and in this case (Syrian President) Bashar Assad should change the situation. And I don’t think it is too late for him to do so, but let us wait and see the situation.”
Concerning the influx of weapons from Syria to Lebanese camps, the newspaper said that Ross answered: “This is very negative behavior. It seems that the Syrian regime does not learn. It should learn from its past experience. Last year was not a good year for Syria and if it wished for better days, it should change its behavior.” Ross said he believes that Lebanon needs the international community to help it get through the current difficult phase, An Nahar said. - An Nahar, Lebanon
From and About Syria
Jihad El Khazen Al-Hayat - 07/10/05//
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says that his country had absolutely no connection to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but doesn't rule out seeing international parties try to politicize the international investigation in order to pressure Damascus.Ibrahim Hamidi of al-Hayat has an excellent overview of Syria's recent diplomacy as Asad tries to limit the damage of the up-coming Mehlis report in the Oct. 5th issue.
President al-Assad links the extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate to the battle in which France and the US joined forces against Syria, each for its own reasons. The White House is pressuring to rein in the Syrian position regarding the US military presence in Iraq and the confrontation with Israel. France found itself in a big political dispute with the US and decided to offer Syria as a price for reducing the harshness of Washington's position against Paris.
I write today from Syria, and about Syria, after sitting with President al-Assad for more than two hours in his Rawda office, to hear his opinion about the latest developments and review with him the situation that was prevailing on the eve of Lahoud's extension, the period preceding Hariri's assassination and afterward, the situation in Iraq, US pressure, and other matters.
Not everything that is known is said, and not everything that is heard is written. However, I will publish what I can and what I think I can of al-Assad's remarks and arguments, as this discussion sheds light on some aspects of the current controversy.
*The agreement over Syria between President George Bush and President Jacques Chirac began in Normandy in June 2004, when the extension hadn't yet been raised. When the Syrians heard in roughly August that the two countries were preparing a Security Council Resolution against Damascus and its interests, extension became possible.
*It wasn't the extension followed by the battle, but rather the other way around.
*Emile Lahoud is a man of principle and honest; he maintained his position and was the best choice to fight such a battle with us, as later events proved. He remained a steadfast supporter of the Resistance (in answer to my question: If you could go back in time, would you make the same decision regarding extension?).
*I told Rafik Hariri that the extension was not directed against him, but that there were political necessities, and that he could leave my office and "throw away" what I had told him. He said that he wouldn't act in such a way with a Syrian desire, and later informed us that he had decided to vote for the extension.
*Prime Minister Fouad Siniora came to me and I told him that we wouldn't seek to make his visit a failure; we wanted it to be a success. He said that he wanted good relations with Syria, and we said that we wanted good relations with Lebanon. I told him that we are a State and can implement what we want, but asked if he could implement what he wants in the Lebanese Cabinet?
*I told Prime Minister Siniora that we don't want Lebanon to be a crossing-point or center to bypass national issues; other than this, we will help you to our utmost. We are comfortable with him because he's a patriot.
*Go to the people who warned Rafik Hariri and warned him saying that his life was in danger. Where did this information come from? If Syria was involved, give us the details.
*We have absolute confidence in our innocence and have completely cooperated with the international probe. The investigators questioned people and took all of the requested information.
*The Syrian regime has a strong hierarchy and no one is in "business for himself" (in answer to a question). No officer acts alone. If he does, this is considered treason and the punishment is death. All of the bombings in Lebanon targeted opponents of Syria, as if the person behind them wanted to strengthen the accusations against Syria.
*Sources close to the investigation spoke of a suicide mission and the discovery of DNA. A Salafi can carry out such an operation by himself, or backed by a mighty (intelligence) agency of a big or powerful state. We don't have people to whom we can say "go and die."
*Any intervention to impose international tutelage on the region, or any type of intervention or pressure will further complicate the situation. The region is liable to spin out of control, the groundwork is there.
*There are suspects; this is expected, and doesn't constitute an accusation. Charges are made through evidence, and the investigation will handle both the criminal and political aspects. We are confident of our innocence, meaning that the criminal aspect will put us in a stronger position when it comes to the political side.
Finally, President Bashar al-Assad repeatedly insisted on Syria's innocence in Hariri's assassination, and its ability, along with that of the national Resistance in Lebanon to remain steadfast. "They" are trying to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon, but have fond that it enjoys a strong position, so they went back to trying with Syria. However, the final target is Iran. In our opinion, it is an attempt to weaken or distance its allies.