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Negotiations with Syria and Democracy Promotion in the Arab World

While a German Intelligence analyst negotiates with Hezbollah for the release of Israel's kidnapped soldiers, what has the United States been doing lately in regard to the Middle East conflicts? Recently Secretary of State Condoleezza visited Israel for the sixth time in the course of a year and a half, writes Gideon Levy in Haaretz and then asks about those trips:
What has come of it? Has anyone asked her about this? Does she ask herself? It is hard to understand how the secretary of state allows herself to be so humiliated. It is even harder to understand how the superpower she represents allows itself to act in such a hollow and useless way. The mystery of America remains unsolved: How is it that the United States is doing nothing to advance a solution to the most dangerous and lengthiest conflict in our world?
Levy's criticism of the US and Israel in the rest of his article is even harsher. [Via The Washington Note]

While Secretary Rice visits Israel and "US friendly" Arab governments (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) often, she has not yet visited Damascus, as far as I know. The Bush administration does not even have an ambassador in Syria, because he was recalled in February 2005 in the wake of the Hariri assassination, according to the State Department.
Jim Lobe writes for the
Inter Press Service News Agency about the Bush administration's refusal to talk to Damascus and about
former Secretary of State James Baker, who stresses that he believes in talking to enemies:
Washington, even despite quiet requests by Israel during its war with Hezbollah last summer, has refused to talk with Syria since Damascus was implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

It spurned an unprecedented 2003 offer by Iran for sweeping and unconditional negotiations and repeatedly rebuffed various approaches by Tehran since. And it has rejected all contacts with the democratically elected Hamas government in the Palestinian territories.


Contrast that attitude with Baker's who, in a much-quoted ABC News interview last Sunday, declared flatly, "...I believe in talking to your enemies. I don't think you restrict your conversations to your friends... (I)n my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."

Lest anyone misunderstood, he went on to note that he made 15 trips to Damascus to secure its participation in the U.S.-led Gulf War and in subsequent negotiations in 1991, despite the fact that Syria was on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism at the time.
As co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, "Baker met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in New York City on Sep. 20 and with a 'high representative' of the Iranian government within the last two weeks, according to his Houston law office which declined to provide further details." according to the same article.
 
Secretary Rice failed again to meet with the Syrian government, writes veteran Middle East
correspondent John K. Cooley in the Christian Science Monitor:
Nearly unnoticed amid the justified global furor over North Korea's nuclear test is that Syria has been flashing peace signals at Israel and the United States. It is unwise to ignore them.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to be doing just this, however, when she failed on a recent trip in the region to visit Damascus, often a crucial stop on past American emissaries' Middle East peace tours.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a BBC interviewer last week that Syria was prepared to return to the peace table with Israel, insisting that he needed an "impartial" umpire, perhaps from the European Union (EU). But he said the Bush administration couldn't play this role, because the US doesn't have "the will or vision" to pursue peace in the Middle East, nor is there concrete US-Syria dialogue.
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Germany wants to woo Syria away from Iran and Hezbollah


Democracy Promotion:
•  Richard Youngs appears to be a bit soft on US and a bit too harsh on EU policies in his short paper Europe's flawed approach to Arab democracy (pdf) [Via Kosmoblog]. 

•  Arab and Muslim intellectuals and activists wrote an open letter in the Washington Post "to call on America and its president to reaffirm -- in words and actions -- its commitment to sustained democratic reform in the Arab world":
We know that some in the United States, worried by recent Islamist gains among voters in Palestine and Egypt, are having doubts about the wisdom of pushing for freedom and democracy in the Middle East. These worries are exploited by despots in the region to perpetuate the untenable status quo. But there is no way to advance liberty without inclusion of all elements that are willing to abide by democratic rules and reject violence.
•  Carnegie presents an interesting summary of its recent panel discussion "After a Bloody Summer: What’s New in the Middle East?" One of the panelists was Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the leading Middle East advisor to the German government.

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Olaf Petersen on :

I'm afraid there's little to negotiate in Damascus. The USA and France are the major forces who kicked Syria out of Lebanon. Syria itself and the Lebanon rather belong to France' backyard but even more to Russia's. Russia is the big wheel turning behind Syria and Iran. Russia wants access to the energy markets of the greater middle east - as a seller of natural gas (and nuclear reactors, lol)! No surprise Moscow has friendly contacts to Hamas. Condoleezza Rice should talk with the Russians.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Why is there little to negotiate with Damascus? You say that the US helped to make Syria leave Lebanon... That worked. Why not do more? Only some French politicians think that Syria and Lebanon are their backyard. I don't think Russia is such a big wheel behind Syria either. Anyway, what do you base your opinion on? What are your sources?

Olaf Petersen on :

Syria is a long time ally of Russia and has its army ~completely equipped with Russian technology. Russia had a an own mediterranean naval base in the port of Tartus. The Syrian ground forces look like a west-pocket issue of the previous West Group of Forces (SU) in the GDR. Militarily, Syria depends 100% on Russia. Remember, Syria was a safe haven of the Iraqi nomenklatura 2002/2003 and the boarder to Iraq is still one of the hot spots on the map. Syria and Iran are military allies, too.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

The Soviet Union and Syria used to be close. Russia? Does Syria get any new military stuff from Russia? Syria's economy is in a pretty bad shape. Russia is not helping much at all. So, why is there little to negotiate in Damascus? "the border to Iraq is still one of the hot spots on the map." That's another reason why Jim Baker has been negotiating with Syria. You make peace with your enemies not your friends. "Syria and Iran are military allies, too." Their alliance is not rock solid. Besides, their increasing cooperation is another reason for negotiations. And you try to weaken your enemies by driving them apart from each other. Isolating Syria just increases the Iranian-Syrian cooperation. The Atlantic Review wrote earlier: Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier considers it crucial to involve Syria in any negotiations. (...) Germany is prepared to offer Syria economic incentives to woo the country away from Iran and seek a broader diplomatic solution to the Middle East crisis. Steinmeier said: [b]"Syria must decide for itself if the country wants to follow Iran down its path to self-destruction."[/b] [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/372-Germany-wants-to-woo-Syria-away-from-Iran-and-Hezbollah.html[/url] So far, no break-through, but there are some positive indications, among others those mentioned by Volker Perthes at that Carnegie discussion (See the link in the last paragraph in this post). Okay, here is a quote: [quote="After a Bloody Summer: What’s New in the Middle East? - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace"]The third and most encouraging feature according to Perthes is that regional security is now being discussed much more sub-regionally. There is a move away from a comprehensive approach to regional security. This leads Syria, a close ally of Iran, to argue that if there is a prospect for peace, it does not want Iran at the negotiating table. Perthes argued that the three features he highlighted build a logical case for starting a new internationally-sponsored conference process bringing together Israel with the countries with which it does not have peace agreements, namely Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Focusing on Syria, Perthes asserted that it will undoubtedly accept a new state-to-state process because its regime and its national interests are at stake. Syrians are not in a winner position; they did not ask Hizbollah to trigger the Lebanon war. They must be uneasy about the rise of those non-state actors. It does not bode well for Syria’s authoritarian regime to have domestic support for the leader of a non-state actor such as Hassan Nasrallah. The Syrian regime also has a problem with jihadis within its borders. Finally, the regime’s poor performance over the past few years, in terms of delivering to its own population needs redress. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Syrian regime’s ability to deliver on talks with Israel and regaining the Golan Heights would boost its popularity. Perthes concluded by arguing that Syria could be turned into a constructive player if it is presented with a real chance to regain its territorial integrity.[/quote] [url]http://www.carnegieendowment.org/events/index.cfm?fa=eventDetail&id=922&&prog=zgp&proj=zdrl,zme[/url] What do you make of that?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

The latest Foreign Affairs issue has an article "The Syrian Solution" by Volker Perthes: "Summary: Damascus did not commission Hezbollah's raid into Israel, but it did see the ensuing crisis as a chance to prove its importance. Western powers should realize that Syria is ready to be part of a regional solution -- as long as its own interests are recognized." A 500 words preview is available for free: [url]http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20061101faessay85604/volker-perthes/the-syrian-solution.html[/url]

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