Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Me, Too: Syria Presses Its Own Road Map to Peace ; but the US, Suspicious of Damascus's Support for Militant Groups, Lets Syria Dangle a While Longer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Me, Too: Syria Presses Its Own Road Map to Peace ; but the US, Suspicious of Damascus's Support for Militant Groups, Lets Syria Dangle a While Longer

Article excerpt

When the Bush administration announced last spring that it had come up with a "road map" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most nations in the region cautiously hoped for the best.

Not Syria. The problem wasn't over goals: Syria supports the creation of a Palestinian state, which the road map is supposed to achieve by 2005. Damascus's main worry was that it wasn't included in the process - and Syria's demand for the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, wasn't part of the equation.

But as Syria faces its worst fear - marginalization - the Bush administration seems to be in no mood to address Syria's concerns. The administration still has not forgiven Damascus for its tacit support for Saddam Hussein during the Iraq war, when hundreds of Arab volunteers were allowed to cross into Iraq to fight coalition forces and some fleeing members of Mr. Hussein's collapsing regime found sanctuary in Syria. And Syria's support of militant anti- Israel groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad make the US question the sincerity of Syria's commitment to peace.

"The Syrians want to be relevant but the US is essentially saying 'no way,'" says Michael Young, a Lebanese political commentator based in Beirut.

These are tough times for a country that was once seen as a crucial party to any lasting peace in the Middle East. But since the halt in Israeli-Syrian peace talks in 2000, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has found itself watching events from the outside. The next few weeks may determine whether this authoritarian state - rooted in the same Baathist ideology as its neighbor, Iraq - can determine its own future at the negotiating table, or whether it has any stake in the peace process at all.

In a meeting with President Assad in May, Mr. Powell had called on Damascus to cease backing militant groups opposed to the peace process.

But the Damascus offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have yet to be closed down fully. A European diplomat in Damascus confirmed that the Palestinian groups are "keeping a low profile, refusing to answer phones and meet with the press" but have not been expelled from the country, "which is what the Americans want."

"There are still elements in the regime who are not keen on closing the Palestinian offices." the diplomat says. "They are clinging onto the idea that the Americans will become unstuck in Iraq and leave them alone."

Syria says the offices of Palestinian groups in Damascus are used for media purposes only.

Other than the failure to expel the Palestinian militants, Arab volunteer fighters are reportedly still crossing Syria's porous 400- mile desert border with Iraq to fight US troops. The reports come amid indications that the Pentagon may be pushing for the option of military action against Syria.

Even those in Washington who prefer a policy of constructive engagement with Syria say that the Bush administration is running out of patience with Damascus' failure to redress its "serious miscalculations" of the past few months. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.