INCREASED ACTIVITY ON THE SYRIA FLANK

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Syria should be fully included in the Middle East peace process

America’s Mideast policy is self-evidently bankrupt; the Arab world is turning to Russia again, seeking to make use of Russia’s increased influence in the international arena. Syria’s foreign policy potential clearly isn’t being used to the full when it comes to solving Middle East problems.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Russia has come at a time of overall escalation in the Mideast situation: there’s the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the futile war in Iraq, the dramatic discord in Lebanon – and now there’s a domestic political conflict in the Palestinian Authority, threatening to erupt into a war. The tangled knot of problems is tightening, proving that the decision to rely on military solutions and “imposed democracy” is a mistake. America’s Mideast policy is self-evidently bankrupt; the Arab world is turning to Russia again, seeking to make use of Russia’s increased influence in the international arena.

At a meeting in the Kremlin on Tuesday, December 19, presidents Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad discussed bilateral relations and prospects for stimulating the peace process in the Middle East. It’s hard to say which has greater priority; both topics are equally important.

On the one hand, recent years have seen noticeable growth in Russian-Syrian economic contacts, providing grounds to hope that they can be expanded and deepened significantly. Some important agreements have been reached concerning participation by Russian companies in major projects in Syria. This primarily applies to the oil and gas sector, along with building and upgrading electricity sector facilities. Also among the more significant fields is military technology cooperation. Damascus stresses that this area in Syria’s traditional contacts with Moscow “is consistent with the interests of Syria’s purely defensive policy.”

On the other hand, both Moscow and Damascus are well aware that Syria’s foreign policy potential clearly isn’t being used to the full when it comes to solving Middle East problems. One reason is that attempts are being made to push Syria aside, even isolate it from other active participants in the Mideast peace process. It seems the time has come to correct this grave error.

In fact, such a turn of events would be favorable for Israel; under the present circumstances, Israel has an objective interest in unblocking negotations with Syria. After all, Syria is a proponent of achieving comprehensive regulation in the Middle East. By relieving tension in the Syrian direction, Tel Aviv would gain some important reserves for making progress in the difficult process of improving relations with the Arab world.

Increased political dialogue between Russia and Syria is also extremely useful from the standpoint of regulating the Iraq situation. This includes the prospects for healing relations between Syria and Iraq. As experience shows, national reconciliation in Iraq can be accelerated by involving the efforts of all neighboring political and ethnic forces.

The ITAR-TASS news agency reports that on December 18, Damascus and Baghdad signed a cooperation memorandum on fighting crime and terrorism. The agreement, signed by the foreign affairs ministers of both countries, entails developing monitoring and control systems on their common border, and exchanging information on organized crime, economic crimes, drug trafficking, and car theft.

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani praised the efforts of Damascus aimed at stabilizing the situation in Iraq. At the same time, he pointed out that Iraq will never become a launching pad for aggressive action against Syria.

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