Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Syria Seeks Change: On Its Own Terms"

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...."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When the Syrian Saudi consortium ruled Lebanon with the blessing of Chirac's France and the US (courtesy of the 91 Gulf war and Assad's alliance with the anti Iraqi coalition), the Saudi firmly believed that they bamboozled the Syrians and that they, the Saudis, controlled Lebanon throuhg Hariri and some key Syrian officials such as Khaddam and SHehabi, and Ghanem. What they cannot understand is that the real power center in Syria was really happy to have the Saudis 'pay' the Khaddams and co through Hariri. What caused the relationship to sour was Emile Lahoud's insistence (read by the Saudis as a Syrian instruction to its stooge)on incorporating the 'right of return' in Abdallah's peace plan. That really killed the plan and the Saudis realized that all the money they had spent in Lebanon did not give them the leverage they hoped to have. Saad has proved to be ineffectual and irrelevant. Siniora has no popular base, and hence the Saudis are trying to revive ghosts such as the Salams and other Sunni notables. We are not out of the woods until the Saudis realize that they will never wield influence in Lebanon if the Syrians do not want. Also note that the Egyptians are not too unhappy about the Saudis having egg on their face.