Syria's role at U.S. talks may help Lebanon
Syria's controversial presence at Tuesday's Middle East peace talks in Annapolis may boost stability in Lebanon, which is deadlocked over electing a new president.
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The outlines of such a deal were articulated by Émile Khoury, a columnist with Lebanon's An Nahar newspaper, who wrote on Saturday that Syria would offer to help stabilize Lebanon, and in exchange, the international tribunal "would not be used for political vengeance that puts the Syrian regime in danger."Skip to next paragraph
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US warming to Syria?
Until now, the Bush administration has shown little willingness to mount a serious reengagement with Damascus, but that could be changing, analysts say.
Indeed, calls for engaging with Syria are coming from unlikely quarters.
Speaking at a conference in Washington last month, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, the then-deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army, said it was "time to use the carrot" not just the stick in dealings with Syria.
Damascus, he said, should be engaged with the goal of "removing Syria from the axis of resistance" – the regional alliance grouping Syria, Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas that opposes Israel and US policy in the Middle East.
"This will stabilize Lebanon and reduce Iranian influence in Lebanon and Syria," he said.
Although Syria is sending a second-rank delegation to Annapolis, its presence alone as the leading Arab enemy to Israel has provided diplomatic cover for other Arab states to attend, boosting US hopes for a successful conference.
"The fact that the Syrians got what they wanted from Washington [on the Annapolis agenda] made the Syrians happy, and I think this will be part of a process of resuming dialogue between the two administrations," says Mr. Hamidi of Al-Hayat.
But Syria's decision to attend Annapolis is creating some unease and irritation among its Iranian, Hizbullah, and Hamas allies.
On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad directed caustic criticism at Arab leaders attending Annapolis, saying, "Participation in this summit is an indication of a lack of intelligence of some so-called politicians.... I am sorry that some people around us plan to participate in the conference which only helps to support the Zionist occupiers."
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut, says that Mr. Ahmadinejad's comment was "very strong language" and a "clear warning to Syria that if it makes concessions [at Annapolis] it will fall out of favor with Iran."
Meanwhile, March 14 politicians are closely watching the diplomatic dance between Damascus and Washington. They are wary of being sold out in a broader deal between the US, Syria, and Iran, knowing that Lebanese sovereignty has often been sacrificed for regional harmony.
"The days of direct Syrian presence in Lebanon are over," says Andrew Tabler, editor in chief of Syria Today. "However, Syria being invited [to Annapolis] gives it an opportunity to show it has influence with parties in Lebanon and can help to improve the situation there."