Posted by: sean | August 5, 2006

Talking to Syria

The US says that it is involved in diplomacy, but it’s hard to call only meeting with the people who agree with you diplomatic. It is obvious that peace in Lebanon and Israel will have to involve Syria, but the US refuses to talk to Damascus.

This piece in the LA Times by Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States (often called the lonliest diplomat in Washington) is interesting:

The underlying idea behind demanding Syrian withdrawal [from Lebanon] was simple: It would precipitate the fall of the Syrian regime, and the U.S. would end up with a new government in Damascus that is both Israel-friendly and an ally of the U.S. Does that have any resemblance to the neoconservative justification for the war on Iraq?

To the dismay of U.S. policymakers, this belligerent attitude only rallied Syrians behind their own government.

Ultimately, the Bush administration has to realize that by trying to isolate Syria politically and diplomatically, the U.S. continues to lose ability to influence a major player in the Middle East. In the wake of the ongoing instability in Iraq and violence in Palestine and Lebanon, it begs the larger question: Has isolating Syria made the region more secure?

Currently, the White House doesn’t talk to the democratically elected government of Palestine. It does not talk to Hezbollah, which has democratically elected members in the Lebanese parliament and is a member of the Lebanese coalition government. It does not talk to Iran, and it certainly does not talk to Syria.

Gone are the days when U.S. special envoys to the Middle East would spend hours, if not days, with Syrian officials brainstorming, discussing, negotiating and looking for creative solutions leading to a compromise or settlement. Instead, this administration follows the Bolton Doctrine: There is no need to talk to Syria, because Syria knows what it needs to do. End of the matter.

When the United States realizes that it is high time to reconsider its policies toward Syria, Syria will be more than willing to engage. However, the rules of the game should be clear. As President Bashar Assad has said, Syria is not a charity. If the U.S. wants something from Syria, then Syria requires something in return from the U.S.: Let us address the root cause of instability in the Middle East.

The current crisis in Lebanon needs an urgent solution because of the disastrous human toll. Moreover, the whole Middle East deserves a comprehensive deal that would put an end to occupation and allow all countries to equally prosper and live in dignity and peace.

Of course, as an ambassador, his points toe the Syrian line (a line that I generally don’t believe as regards Lebanon), but he does have some interesting and valid points. It might seem obvious that diplomacy is not the same as dictating orders, but many don’t see it that way in Washington.

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