British Support to Damascus’ Policy May Weaken Movements in Middle East

Politics Materials 20 November 2008 17:03 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, 20 November / Trend , corr. U.Sadikhova /Britain intends to reduce the activity of radical groups of HAMAS and Hezbollah through improving relations with Syria on which this country has a huge influence, experts consider.

"Syria can do much in the Middle East. It can launch a war or settle a peace. Therefore, Britain uses Syria's influence on the movements in the Middle East to promote a peace in the region, and to enhance its authority," Raymond Hinnesbusch, the head of the Middle East based Saint Andrews University, said to Trend via a telephone from London.

During the visit to Damascus on 18 November, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said at the meeting with Syrian President Bashar Asad that Britain supports Syria's policy in the Middle East, as well as Damascus's relations with Arab countries. The Great Britain calls on Syria on behalf of the EU to take part in political developments in the region, and do not put aside the country-leader's positions. However, Miliband did not detail what Britain exactly supports in the policy of Syria.

Miliband became the first high ranking British official who visited Syria since 2001.

Since the restoration of relations between France and Syria, Britain assumed the initiative to improve the relations with Damascus.

Syria's relations with EU countries started developing particularly after the establishment of the Union for the Mediterranean through France's mediation in summer of 2008. Earlier, EU did not support relations with Damascus, blaming Syria of destabilization of political situation in the Middle East.

Since Syria showed the strong side of its foreign policy, for example, it's close strategic relations with Iran for peace purposes, this is not an advantageous for EU to keep Syria in isolation, even despites the United States's desire, Salem Zuheir, the head of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said.

However, besides of the importance to restore diplomatic relations of Europe with Syria, the main reason of Britain's interest in Syria, according to Zuheir, remains Syria's influence on largest resistance movements in the Middle East. They are the Lebanon Hezbollah movement, Palestinian HAMAS and Islamic Jihad.

"These movements first of all damage the security of Europe's main strategic partner Israel. The political isolation of Damascus by the U.S. did not prevent Syria's support to these movements," Zuheir said to Trend via a telephone from London.

Syrian President Asad stated repeatedly about country's intentions to assist the movements in their struggle against the Israeli occupation, although Israel demands to stop supporting of the movements in exchange to peace from Damascus.

Britain holds negotiations during two years with Asad's administration to restore the international cooperation. Now the very favorable time to restore the cooperation has come, while the administration is replacing in the White House, Neil Guilliam, an analyst of the British Cotton Security Centre, said.

"Likely, Britain wants to restore relations with Syria before Barack Obama to come to the office in January 2009. Nobody knows whether Obama will reject Bush's policy against Damascus," Gulliam, British analyst on the security issues in the Middle east, told Trend via a telephone.

"If EU will success to persuade Syria to stop supporting of Hezbollah and HAMAS, then the resistance will weak, which will result in stability in Lebanon and Palestinian borders with Israel," Gulliam said.

The advantage of the relations with Syria does not restricted for Europe only with the influence on the resistance movements. It is not excluded that EU would like to launch negotiations with Iran around the nuclear program through mediation of its main ally -Damascus, Gulliam believes.

President Asad stated during his official visit to Tehran in July 2008, that he wanted to stand as a mediator in tackling of the Iranian nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his turn rejected the proposal.

Therefore, EU may change the constant cooperation with Damascus with new negotiations with Tehran, although no positive results of the problem should expect, the British expert added.

This does not mean that Syria will be under Europe's influence after restoration of relations. Damascus's policy is seen not an anti west, like it was several years ago. Now, Syria is to take the position of a strong power in the Middle East on the international level, Zuheir considers.

"The relations with Europe for Damascus mean EU admits Syria's influence on domestic policy in Lebanon and control over Iraqi borders. If Syria would not have the opportunity, it will unlikely to carry out active negotiations with Europe," Zuheir said.

The correspondent can be contacted at: [email protected]