Why Bush Shuns Talks with Syria, Iran, Etc

Manila Bulletin, July 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Why Bush Shuns Talks with Syria, Iran, Etc


WASHINGTON (AP) -- There is an old saying in diplomatic circles: You don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies.

The United States, which doesn't lack for enemies these days, is not talking to North Korea, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, all of which are contributing to the Bush administration's chief overseas problems these days.

While each situation is different, the administration's underlying position is that Iran, North Korea and Syria must change their policies and that Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist groups, legally off-limits to diplomatic discourse.

Critics say this absence of communication restricts US diplomacy and makes US allies anxious because they believe there is no way of resolving crises without American participation.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who helped shape a far different US foreign policy as national security assistant for President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, responded tartly when asked to appraise the Bush administration stance.

"(President George W.) Bush and (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice are pursuing a remarkably successful policy of self-ostracism," he said. "Unfortunately it is a disaster for the United States."

Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state for President Bill Clinton in his second term in the 1990s, said "the stakes are too high" to avoid contact with Iran and Syria, whom the State Department for years has designated as sponsors of terrorism.

"Engagement is not appeasement," Albright said. "Diplomacy is a mechanism for the US to send a tough message."

A former career US diplomat in the Middle East, Edward S. Walker, said, "Neither side wants to have a conversation" over the current fighting.

Yet, Walker said in an interview: "The tragedy of this administration is it doesn't know how to use diplomacy. It seems to be actually clueless."

The Bush administration's policies have been criticized by some Republicans, too. In a speech Friday at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel suggested US support for Israel was coming at the expense of US relations with Muslims and Arabs.

Whether or not Syria and Iran were directly involved in Hezbollah and Hamas aggression in Israel, Hagel said, "both countries exert influence in the region."

"As we work with our friends and allies to deny Syria and Iran any opportunity to further corrode the situation in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, both Damascus and Tehran must hear from America directly," he said. …

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