أمر بيلوسي, ماذا عن سوريا؟
أنجلوس تايمز - 11/4/2007
إن سياسة العزل التي تتبعها
الولايات المتحدة مع سوريا تعود
إلى سوء فهم مكانة سوريا في
Pelosi. What about Syria?
isolation of Damascus rests in a misunderstanding of
Syria's position in the Mideast.
Robert Malley, ROBERT MALLEY, former special assistant
to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, is the
International Crisis Group's Middle East program
HER first major diplomatic foray, House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi got an earful. As she met with Syrian President
Bashar Assad, she came under immediate, stinging attack.
The White House condemned her encounter as
counterproductive, asserting that it undermined U.S.
policy aimed at marginalizing a so-called pariah regime.
charge is, on its face, absurd. The European Union's top
diplomatic envoy just visited Syria. Assad attended the
recent Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Republican and Democratic officials have been traveling
to Damascus for months. The Syrian regime is no more
isolated in the world than the Bush administration is
embraced by it. But the fuss about Pelosi's perfectly
legitimate visit obscured a far more intriguing
question: What should be done about Syria?
the last several years, the consistent response from
Israel and the United States has been: Ignore it. It is
difficult to recall the last time Israel rejected an
Arab invitation to negotiate — let alone the last time
the U.S. actively encouraged it to do so — but in this
case that is exactly what it has done.
spurns Assad's calls to renew unconditional peace talks,
claiming that the Syrian regime has no intention of
concluding a peace deal and is merely seeking to lessen
international pressure and shift attention away from the
investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria may wish to regain
sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the argument goes,
but it desperately wants to restore its hegemony over
Lebanon. To engage Syria now would reward its support
for groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, its attempts to
destabilize Lebanon and its funneling of jihadists into
Iraq. Seen in this light, a resumption of Israeli-Syrian
negotiations is considered futile or, worse, damaging,
an escape hatch for a regime that will respond only —
if at all — to sustained pressure.
arguments have merit, but the conclusion does not stand
up to scrutiny. As any one visiting Damascus these days
doubtless will notice, the regime is displaying a
peculiar mix of supreme confidence and outright anxiety.
Convinced that the regional tide is turning against the
U.S. in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, Syrian officials
sense that any American attempt to destabilize their
regime is a thing of the past.
America's defeat is not necessarily Syria's victory.
Sandwiched between civil strife in Iraq and Lebanon,
facing increasing sectarian polarization throughout the
region, losing political legitimacy at home and
confronted with acute economic problems, the Syrian
regime is eager for renewed domestic popularity and
international investment. What better than a peace deal
with Israel and recovery of the Golan Heights — with
all the attendant diplomatic and economic benefits —
most notably normalization with the West — to achieve
for Syria's regional posture, this much can be said:
Damascus will not cut ties with Hezbollah, break with
Hamas or alienate Iran as the entry fare for peace
negotiations. Syrian officials make clear that they will
not forgo their few strategic cards ahead of a deal. But
they are equally clear that a deal would change the
entire regional picture — the country's alliances as
well as its policies.
as Israeli and U.S. officials assert, the regime's
priority is self-preservation, it is unlikely to sponsor
militant groups, jeopardize its newfound status,
destabilize the region or threaten nascent economic ties
for the sake of ideological purity once an agreement has
been reached. Israeli and U.S. demands will not be
satisfied as preconditions to negotiations, but there is
at the very least solid reason to believe that they
would be satisfied as part of a final deal.
assuming that Washington and Jerusalem are right and
that Syria is more interested in the process than in the
outcome, what is the downside of testing the sincerity
of its intentions? To the contrary, the mere sight of
Israeli and Syrian officials sitting side by side would
carry dividends, producing ripple effects in a region
where popular opinion is moving away from acceptance of
the Jewish state's right to exist, and putting Syrian
allies that oppose a negotiated settlement in an awkward
position. It has gone largely unnoticed, but Assad has
been at pains to differentiate his position from that of
his Iranian ally, emphasizing that Syria's goal is to
live in peace with Israel, not to wipe it off the face
of the Earth. That is a distinction worth exploiting,
rebuffing Syria is a mistake fast on its way to becoming
a missed opportunity. The U.S. says it wants to see real
change from Damascus, and it takes pleasure in faulting
visitors — Pelosi only the latest among them — for
returning empty-handed. Syria's response is that it will
continue to assist militant groups, maintain close ties
to Iran and let the U.S. flounder in Iraq for as long as
Washington maintains its hostile policy and blocks peace
talks. It also could change all of the above should the
U.S. change its stance. That's a message Pelosi can hear
and one she can deliver, but not one she can do much
about. Rather than engage in political theatrics, the
president should listen.
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