Brookings' Bilal saab, here in JANE's
"...Damascus’s foreign policy reorientation has not yet translated into tangible improvements in its relations with the US and Saudi Arabia, two key countries in Syria’s strategic orbit. Also, this pragmatic shift should not be seen as a radical new approach or a strategic realignment.On Lebanon, Syria has made it very clear to the US and other Western powers that its smaller neighbour’s nominal freedom is tolerated as long as that it does not undermine or jeopardise Syrian strategic and national security interests. With regard to Iran, Syria has repeatedly stated that its strategic relations with the Islamic Republic are firm and as a result will not be drastically affected by any potential peace deal with Israel. This fixed position also applies to relations with Hizbullah and Hamas, as it is difficult to see how Syria would voluntarily break with these actors in the absence of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal.Meanwhile, relations with Saudi Arabia have never fully recovered after the assassination of Hariri. Hariri was a staunch ally of Riyadh and his murder was a big blow to Saudi interests in Lebanon. Syria’s endorsement of the Doha agreement may have slightly eased the tensions between the two countries, but fell well short of putting relations on track. Mistrust between the two countries remains high as Saudi Arabia is still wary of Syria’s intentions in Lebanon and Syria is constantly worried about the Kingdom’s alleged attempts to destabilise the Assad regime through Syrian Sunni tribes loyal to Riyadh.Damascus also remains a relevant player in Iraq. Syria re-established diplomatic relations with Baghdad in 2006 and has maintained ties with senior Iraqi figures (including Jalal Talabani and Moqtada al-Sadr). More importantly, it enjoys solid relations with Iran, the major regional power broker in Iraq.While the Bush administration remained suspicious of engaging Syria, President-elect Obama has given clear signs that he is more willing to resort to conventional diplomacy, rather than aggressive unilateralism. However this is not to suggest that future US-Syria relations will be straightforward or unconditional.The US wants a clear commitment from Syria to cooperate on Washington’s exit strategy from Iraq, a reassurance not to destabilise Lebanon, and a promise to break with Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas. Syria, on the other hand, wants the US to end the international tribunal into the killing of Hariri, recognise its influence in Lebanon, and mediate a peace deal with Israel...."