Across the Bay

Sunday, June 24, 2007

US Policy Towards Syria Vindicated

The following column by An-Nahar's Rosanna Bou Mounsef summarizes and concretely exemplifies what I have been repeatedly writing on this blog regarding the asinine one-liner about "engaging" Syria, as well as what Emanuele Ottolenghi recently wrote.

The article is about Amr Moussa's latest visit to Lebanon which was torpedoed by Syria, as made clear in the direct threat by its thuggish Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa.

I will translate the last couple of graphs, which highlight the factual message I and others have been saying.

Diplomatic sources in Beirut reckon that should the Arab League's delegation visit Damascus, it will only hear what it heard last time, or probably what Sharaa said in his press conference two days ago, specifically right after Speaker Nabih Berri gave his approval to the paper which he co-drafted and which was accept by the majority coalition.

For Damascus agreed at the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting, right before the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of March of last year, on the formation of the special tribunal for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, then proceeded with its pressure on its allies who continued to reject ratifying the tribunal in Parliament, and it then refused to offer its remarks on the tribunal's bylaws.

It did the same thing when the Syrian Foreign Minister agreed to the decision of the Arab Ministers' meeting to send a delegation to Beirut to assist in reviving the dialog.

This was translated into an approval by Damascus of the decisions of this meeting held last Friday, followed by a different position declared by Sharaa the Thursday after -- i.e., in conjunction with the mission of the Arab delegation in Beirut -- that there would be no solution in Lebanon without a national unity government [where Hezbollah and Syria's allies would have veto power and ability to bring it down by resigning], tying instability in Lebanon to this precondition.

Therefore, it's believed that this new ceiling set by the Syrian official will make a visit by the delegation to Syria useless, despite Moussa's declaration that the delegation intends to continue its mission in the direction of Damascus.

The same sources suspect that all this parallels the French initiative, despite its very limited scope, as the French Foreign Minister's delegate, Jean-Claude Cousseran, refrained from visiting Damascus, even as he visited other influential capitals, even going to Tehran. This doesn't mean that Syria would help if it were approached, since many European Foreign Ministers tried to mediate with Damascus, but its position did not change either way. This has bolstered the American view that dialog with Syria is useless unless it fulfills the demands of the US and the international community. (Emphasis mine.)

This has been the general conclusion after haplessly trying to "engage" Syria. First you get embarrassed, since the Syrians say one thing then say and do another that undermines you. They have zero credibility. Then you see that it's useless. Then the final position is that Syria has a number of obligations it must fulfill before there is any kind of resumption of normal ties. This is essentially the message the French have sent. This is the message the Saudis and Egyptians have sent. This is the message UN officials have sent. This is the message EU officials have sent. The messages mainly revolve around Lebanon -- what I've called "Lebanon as litmus test."

In the end they all end up sounding like the Bush administration, vindicating its position: the Syrians know what to do (obligations under international law). When they do it, we'll talk. Talking before those steps are taken is not only counterproductive. It also invariably ends up in embarrassing failure.

As Bou Mounsef's column notes, Amr Moussa probably knows better than to follow D'Alema's footsteps.