Tony Blair's Syrian Connection

By Davis, Douglas | The Spectator, April 12, 2003 | Go to article overview

Tony Blair's Syrian Connection


Davis, Douglas, The Spectator


Tony Blair has staked much of his personal and political prestige on attempting to tame the young Syrian President, Bashar Assad. His hard work has been rewarded with embarrassment and humiliation. When the Prime Minister visited Damascus in October 2001, preaching a message of sweet reason and an end to violence, he was forced to listen in silence as Assad defended Palestinian suicide bombers and compared them to the French Resistance fighters against the Nazis: `Resistance to liberate land is an international right that no one can deny.'

Then, when Bashar visited London in December, he made Blair squirm again as he described the plethora of Palestinian terror headquarters in Damascus as `press offices'. And between lunch in Downing Street and afternoon tea with the Queen, he managed to paint his host as `an ostrich that buries its head in the sand' for believing that a reformed Palestinian Authority would produce peace in the Middle East.

It is difficult to know just who persuaded Blair that he could charm Bashar and pacify Syria, but it was a massive policy miscalculation, and one that Blair seems determined to pursue.

Syria, the twin brother of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, also seems to hold a curious fascination for a clutch of high-profile political fixers and social grandees from London. The most frequent flyer to Damascus is Lord Levy, Blair's personal Middle East peace envoy. Charles Powell, a former aide to Margaret Thatcher, has also been pressed into service as a Blair back-channel to the Syrian leader. Next to make their pilgrimages were Carla Powell (wife of Charles), Peter Mandelson (who made a holiday visit while at the DTI) and the philanthropist Vivien Duffield. …

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