US Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking to reporters aboard his airplane
on the way to Damascus recently, talked about Syria's relations with Iraq,
the oil pipeline, about people going back and forth across the border, and
Weapons of Mass Destruction. He also said he would speak to Syrian President
Assad about the 'roadmap' and the Middle East Peace Process, which includes
a desire for progress on the Syrian-Israeli track.
He then said, "I always have it in my mind as leading to a more comprehensive
solution that would include Syria and Lebanon." When asked by a reporter,
what assurances he could give the Syrians that the United States will actually
work to ensure an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Powell answered,
"I understand the importance that the Syrians and President Assad attribute
to the Golan Heights as part of a comprehensive settlement. He and I have
discussed it twice before in person, and as I said to him when I first met
him, the United States would be anxious to work with the parties and find
a solution as part of the overall comprehensive settlement." Powell
spoke about getting Israel to give the Golan Heights up, but he didn't specifically
raise the issue of Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
The same day, May 2nd - the day before Powell's meeting with Assad - in Washington,
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced
the Senate version of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration
Act of 2003 S 982. The bill's purposes are to (1) halt Syrian support
for terrorism; (2) end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon; (3) stop Syria's
production of Weapons of Mass Destruction; and (4) hold Syria accountable
for the illegal Syrian-Iraqi trade, which provided Iraq with the weapons
that killed American troops. The House version of the Act was introduced
on April 10 and has already garnered 72 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
Sponsors and supporters of the bill claim it will weaken Syria's ability
to wage wars, to threaten its neighbors, and to destabilize the region.
They say it will also help to ensure post-war stability in Iraq by denying
Syria the opportunity to carry out its stated intention to destabilize Iraq
- making it harder for a pro-American regime to take root - in the post-war
A Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the re-establishment of Lebanese democracy,
they say, will lead to the elimination of Syrian and Iranian sponsored terrorist
groups presently operating on Lebanese soil. This will further President
Bush's purpose in sending America's troops into the region; to uproot terrorism,
establish democracy, and stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
But at his press briefing the next morning, in Damascus, before meeting with
Bashar Assad, Colin Powell reiterated, "I will mention to the President in
no uncertain terms that even though the 'roadmap' relates principally to
the Palestinians and the Israelis, the United States sees this as part of
a comprehensive settlement that must be achieved that would include the interests
of Syria and Lebanon, as well. That is part of the President's vision." Again
he missed an opportunity to state the US's support for UN Resolution 520,
demanding "All non-Lebanese forces" leave Lebanon.
And later at the briefing he repeated, "And so our goal remains the same,
ultimately to bring into being a Palestinian state and at the same time,
work with Syria and Lebanon to make sure that those tracks do not appear
to be neglected. They are not neglected, even though they are only touched
on and not dealt with in detail in the 'roadmap.' They are never far from
my mind, and in every one of my previous meetings with the President of Syria
we have discussed the need for a parallel track that may or may not move
at the same time, at the same rate as the Palestinian-Israeli track, but
it must be there. We are interested in a comprehensive solution that will
involve creation of a Palestinian state and settling the outstanding issues
between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and Syria." What about the 'outstanding'
issues between Syria and Lebanon? Syrian occupation of Lebanon since 1976
doesn't seem to figure into the equation.
Powell also said he would raise the issue of "Different organizations that
are headquartered in Syria that have rejectionist agendas. There are other
issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction development, sealing of
borders with Iraq..."
After speaking with President Assad for almost three hours, Secretary of
State Powell flew to Beirut for talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud
and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Powell said in a Beirut press conference that he and Assad discussed "all
of the outstanding issues" that have hindered US-Syrian relations in the
past and, especially, in the past two months during the military campaign
in Iraq. That included frank talks about Weapons of Mass Destruction; Syria's
support for the Lebanese group Hizbollah; and closing the Iraq-Syria border
"and keeping it sealed" to technology, fighters and wanted Iraqi authority
figures, Powell said. He made it clear to Assad, that the US commitment
to Middle East peace "would include Syria and Lebanon, and would include
the Golan Heights." Again, Powell made no mention of getting Syria out of
Talking about Palestinian terrorist groups based in Damascus, a State Department
official said Powell explained to Assad that the United States couldn't understand
why those groups, their leaders and their presence were seen "as of any benefit
to Syria any longer" in the new strategic climate that followed Saddam's
fall. The official said Powell specifically mentioned three groups - Hamas,
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, General Command - and quoted Powell as saying the United States
will watch closely to determine whether the offices are indeed closed. The
official said Powell added that the United States would take that as a sign
of whether Syria really wants a new relationship with the United States "on
a new foundation, not just some incrementalism from the past."
The main focus of US relations with Syria it seems, is to prevent them from
helping out Saddam's buddies now, to 'give up the goods' i.e. WMD, to stop
their support for terrorist groups, and to soften up their rejection of Middle
East Peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, promising the
Golan Heights as a reward for good behavior, despite Syria's opposition to
the US war in Iraq and despite their facilitation of 'volunteer fighters'
to help Saddam.
Finally, speaking in Beirut (notice not Damascus), Powell assured Prime Minister
Rafik Hariri of US support for "an independent and prosperous Lebanon free
of all - all - foreign forces." Does that include Syria? Or is that referring
to Hizbollah and al-Qaeda operatives? One wonders why Powell assured Hariri,
but never told us that he said anything to Assad about it. Did he?
As he did with Syria, Powell emphasized to Hariri that the Israeli-Palestinian
'road map' is envisioned as the path to a settlement that also includes the
interests of Syria and Lebanon. Powell repeated, "We are interested
in a comprehensive solution that will involve creation of a Palestinian state
and settling the outstanding issues between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel
In spite of the tough tone of the Congressional bills, which put the onus
on Syria to 'shape up' and say nothing of the Golan Heights in exchange for
Syrian 'good behavior'; take careful note of how much emphasis Secretary
of State Powell has put on convincing the Syrians to play along with the
'roadmap' and behave themselves. Rein in terror, end support for Hizbollah,
don't cause trouble in Iraq, help us convince the Israelis to create a Palestinian
state, and your prize will be the Golan Heights.
With so much emphasis by Powell on the 'roadmap' and so little on the need
for Syria to leave Lebanon; I wonder, after Israel makes 'Peace' with the
Palestinians and gives Syria the Golan Heights according to Powell's plans;
if Syria - a Security Council member in violation of Security Council Resolution
520 - Syria, vicious occupier of a sovereign state next-door, will still
be in Lebanon? What do you think?
I think Israel and it's supporters, and Free Lebanon supporters should be careful and watch out for 'The New Syrian Game.'
Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant.
He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis.
His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites,
in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko.
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