Syria hardly to become tool for U.S. to pressure on Iran

Politics Materials 1 October 2009 09:00 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, Sept. 30 / Trend U.Sadykhova /

For the first time over the past five years, Washington hosted the meeting between the Syrian officials and the White House, which is not connected with the pressure on Iran, as the U.S. first and foremost consider Syria as a key to stabilize the situation in the Middle East, experts believe.

"The U.S. needs Syria to form a government in Lebanon, which is important for them [Washington] and achieve reconciliation between HAMAS and FATAH and, of course, to stabilize the situation in Iraq," Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Joshua Landis, told Trend over the telephone.

On Sept. 28, Washington hosted a meeting of Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and representatives of the White House as part of the process of improving the U.S.-Syrian relations, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Mekdad will be the first Syrian senior figure to visit the U.S. for the past five years after Washington recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

The Syrian diplomat's visit took place on the backdrop of Obama administrations' demands to impose new sanctions on the nuclear program of Iran, which is Syria's strategically close ally.

The U.S - Syria relations warmed in spring, 2009, following the Damascus visits of senior official of the White House, Jeffrey Feltman, and member of the National Security Council, Daniel Shapiro. Following them, the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, analysts do not believe that Mekdad's meeting with Washington officials is connected with the U.S intention to impose new economic, energy and financial sanctions on Iran.

The U.S. proposed to freeze the Iranian assets and prohibit entry of the Iranian and foreign entrepreneurs doing business in Iran to the U.S, as possible sanctions.

The process of improving the U.S-Syria relations has never been associated with increased pressure on Iran, head of the Damascus Center for Strategic Studies of the Middle East, Samir al-Taqi, said.

The improvement of the U.S-Syria relations is associated primarily with the problems of the peace process in the region between the Arab countries and Israel, and Syrian support in stabilizing the Iraqi situation after the withdrawal of American troops, al-Taqi told Trend over the telephone.

After Israel's refusal to freeze Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the U.S faced difficulties in the settlement of the peace process.

Therefore, al-Taqi believes the U.S. is still engaged in the peace process in the region and the rapprochement with Syria is not connected with the sanctions on Iran.

Washington has imposed a series of political and economic sanctions on Syria and the former Bush administration has included Syria in the list of countries supporting international terrorism because of the Syrian leadership's close ties with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah party and the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas.

Till recently, the U.S. accused Syria of allowing the terrorists to enter Iraq through its border, but Syria has denied these accusations.

Landis, author of the online Syria Comment newspaper, also sees no connection between the Washington meeting of the Syrian and American officials and the U.S. intention to impose sanctions on Iran. Landis mentioned three reasons why the establishment of relations with Damascus is profitable for U.S: Syrian influence in Lebanon, where there is still no government, which is necessary for Washington, reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as Syria's help in intelligence in Iraq, given Syria's relations with the Baathists - members of the former ruling party.

"Obama's Middle East policy is going badly: Israel has disregarded the demands to freeze building settlements, Afghanistan is going badly, Iran is going badly," Landis added.

Syria also seeks to further rapprochement with the United States, which will lead to removal of political and economic sanctions, the U.S. analyst said.

Syrians want to draw the U.S. into talks with Israel on returning the Golan Heights, occupied during the Six Day War in 1967.

Landis believes softening of sanctions on Damascus may be the next topic for the Syria and U.S discussion. However, the final removal of the sanctions is still in the competence of U.S. Congress, where pro-Israeli lobby has significant authority.

In 2005, the U.S recalled its ambassador to Damascus following the Hariri assassination. Then, some senior officials of the Syrian leadership have been under suspicion of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik al-Hariri. Despite the suspicions of the UN and the EU in the murder of al-Hariri, who protested both Damascus's influence in the country and Hezbollah, the accusations on Syria were not proven.

The U.S criticized the Syrian-Iranian alliance against Israel and support of Palestinian movements, including HAMAS, pro-military struggle against Israel.

Washington suspected Syria of developing its own nuclear program with the support of Tehran following Israel's statements saying it has found traces of uranium at the place of a factory, which was destroyed as a result of the air strike near Deir-Zuvar city of Syria.