Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:20 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:20 | SYDNEY

Courting Syria


Rodger Shanahan


29 July 2009 14:38

This blog from a year ago highlighted the efforts of the French to bring Syria in from the cold in an attempt to ameliorate its behaviour and as a way of providing an alternative conduit to the West. Twelve months on, little has changed in Syria's regional outlook but the country is now being courted by the US and regional countries.

The US has reappointed an ambassador to Syria and US Middle East peace negotiator George Mitchell has just concluded his second meeting in two months with Syrian President Bashar Assad this week.

This article shows how second-track negotiations have been under way for some months, while this from Josh Landis provides a good insight into some of the issues stopping a more complete Syrian-US rapprochement.

While Syria pulled out of its Turkish-brokered peace talks with Israel following the IDF's operations against Gaza, other regional states have attempted to engage with Damascus. Saudi Arabia has reappointed its ambassador to Syria, and there is talk of a visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Damascus some time in the future.

Syria's view of its importance in the region sometimes exceeds the reality, but there is no doubt that it is seen in the US as one of the essential lines of operation for the achievement of a comprehensive regional peace agreement. Other Arab states would like to prise Damascus away from its close relationship with Tehran in order to blunt Iranian aspirations for extraterritorial influence.

For its part Syria appears to be playing hard to get in order to gain maximum concessions from its negotiating partners. The trouble for Damascus is that the party will be over at some stage and it will need to have struck the best bargain it can while people are still interested.

Former President Hafez Assad was a past master at gaining advantage through cooperation and confrontation when circumstances dictated, but it is yet to be seen whether his son is as good a negotiator. Still, as all celebrities know you shouldn't be worried when people are talking about you, it's when they don't that things are grim.   

Photo by Flickr user becklectic, used under a Creative Commons license.