Across the Bay

Friday, April 20, 2007

President Bush and DoS on Syria

President Bush delivered some powerful remarks on Syria and Lebanon today. Also, Scott Carpenter discussed Syria at a roundtable with members of the foreign press.

First, President Bush. It's worth quoting in full, and I highlighted the part at the end to show that the policy that has indeed failed is that of "engagement" as Assad has no interest in altering his behavior, and so, all the envoys that have gone to Syria have all returned with one invariable result: failure.

Third, it's ironic, isn't it, that any time a democracy begins to take hold in the Middle East, extremist groups prevent that democracy from moving forward. One such democracy is Lebanon, a wonderful little country. And yet there is a Syrian influence -- Syria uses not only their own agents inside the country, but Hezbollah, to destabilize this young democracy. And Hezbollah is funded by Iran. In other words, the Iranian regime's current posture is to destabilize young democracies. And they're doing so in Iraq, as well.
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Now, a lot of what Baker-Hamilton talked about was -- or some of what they talked about was the diplomatic initiatives. There were -- they talked about a regional conference, and we're happy to participate. They also suggested that the United States enter into bilateral negotiations with Syria, for example. And this is where I have a disagreement. As you know -- as you may not know, when I was a younger lad, Jimmy Baker was in Houston and a good friend of my family's, and in spite of my deep affection for him, I invited him into the Oval Office and said, I disagree with you. And he said, fine, I disagree with you. (Laughter.)

And the reason I do is because -- now, there's a difference between a regional conference, in my judgment, and -- I'll tell you what I hope we can gain out of it -- but I do want to address why it's -- I think it would be counterproductive at this point to sit down with the Syrians, because Syria knows exactly what it takes to get better relations with the United States. It's not as if they haven't heard what we're for. And we're for making sure they leave the Lebanese democracy alone. They have undermined Lebanon's democracy. When the United States and France worked together on a U.N. resolution, the U.N. demanded that they leave Lebanon. They did, but they're still meddling.

Secondly, there's a man who was assassinated, named Hariri. It's very important that there be a full investigation of the Hariri murder. And they know we expect them to support that investigation. We believe they're hindering that investigation right now. Thirdly, they're providing safe haven for -- I'll just say they've got -- Hamas and Hezbollah have got centers of influence in Damascus. That's unacceptable to the United States. We have made it clear to them that in order for them to have better relations that they must rid their capital of these organizations, all aimed at wreaking havoc in the Middle East, and preventing, for example, the development of a peaceful Palestinian state that can live with Israel side by side in peace.

And, finally, Syria is a transit way for suicide bombers heading into Iraq. And some, they have been particularly unhelpful in achieving peace we want. What happens when people go sit down with Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, he walks out and holds a press conference, and says, look how important I am; people are coming to see me; people think I'm vital. But he hasn't delivered on one request by the free world.

I asked our security folks, the national security folks to give me a list of all the foreign advisors and foreign secretaries of state, and all the people that have gone to see Bashar Assad. And every time they send one in there, we say, why, why are you sending somebody there, what is your intention, what have you asked them to do? They all say basically what I just said, and nothing has happened. And my attitude is, is that I think talks would be counterproductive. I'm interested not in process, I'm interested in results. I'm interested in this leader turning Syria into a positive influence for peace, not an obstructionist to peace.

Also, Scott Carpenter of the State Department recently offered remarks at the Foreign Press Center Roundtable on Syria and the sham parliamentary elections that are soon to be held there. It's also worth a read.

Finally, here's more from Ammar Abdulhamid.

Update: The White House issued a statement on the elections, as did the State Department. Here's the WH statement:

On April 22 and 23, President al-Asad failed again to deliver on his long-promised reforms, rendering Syria's parliamentary elections a meaningless exercise. Instead, the Syrian regime used a combination of unjust laws, intimidation, and manipulation by security forces to undermine independent, critical voices. In manipulating this "election," the Syrian regime once again proved it cares little for the opinions and wishes of its own people.

Elections are not rituals conducted for their own sake. The goal of any free, transparent, and democratic election is to allow people to have a say in how their country is governed. The United States supports the Syrian people's hopes for true democracy, respect for human rights, and freedom of expression. We share their desire that some day free elections will be possible in Syria.