"...From a technical point of view, the framework and pace of US-Syrian talks is yet to be determined by US officials at the State Department and the National Security Council. More importantly, it is not clear whether Washington has made up its mind yet on the nature of its opening to Damascus. Is it purely tactical, seeking to extract concessions from Damascus on a number of issues, or strategic, looking to completely re-evaluate the US-Syrian relationship?
Finding common ground with Syria is harder than it might sound. Today, there are some serious potential standoffs between Syria and the UN over the Hariri tribunal and over nuclear inspections that could throw spanners into any imminent rapprochement with the United States. On 4 March 2009, the US stated that UN inspectors had found growing evidence of covert nuclear activity in Syria, and European allies said a lack of Syrian transparency demanded utmost scrutiny. On Lebanon, is it almost impossible to find a compromise between Washington’s stated plan of helping the Lebanese people restore their sovereignty and independence and Damascus’s fixation on controlling its smaller neighbour’s political fate. On Arab-Israeli peace, is Syria ready to cut its aid for Hizbullah and Hamas in exchange for a peace deal with Israel which would see the return of the Golan Heights to Syria?
The visit of Feltman and Shapiro to Syria represents not a thaw, but merely a de-icing of relations. Whether relations freeze over again will largely depend on what US officials start hearing from Assad. Washington appears to have made peace with the notion that it cannot force the decoupling of Syria from Tehran. Therefore, for now, it is most likely that it will focus its efforts on advancing Syrian-Israeli talks, in the hope that such an exercise will create tensions between Damascus and Tehran and lead to the gradual deterioration of Syrian-Iranian relations"