Azerbaijan, Baku, February 27 / Trend , U.Sadikhova /
Syria's distancing from strategic partnership with Iran would be much more profitable for Damascus, but it is unlikely that Syria will try to sever it unless it has the full backing and normalization of relations with the West, said Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations at Center for Global Affairs at the New York University.
"Although the Syrian-Iranian relationship is a tactical one, it is unlikely that Syria will try to sever it unless it has the full backing and normalization of relations with the West, as well as progress in the issue of the
Golan Heights," Ben-Meir told Trend via e-mail. If the US and Israel can move forward on this front, the Iranian relationship will undoubtedly suffer, especially if there is a mutual agreement over the Golan Heights".
At a meeting with Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the head of the Syrian leadership Bashar al-Assad, who for the past two years has pursued the policy of normalizing relations with Europe and the U.S., derided the calls by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Damascus to move away from relations with Iran, if it chooses to continue to converge with the West.
Al-Assad urged the U.S. not to "dictate the relations between the countries in the Middle East", adding that "it is strange to talk about stability in the Middle East, and at the same time, splitting the two countries."
According to the Syrian President, the long lasting alliance with
Tehran will continue, despite Washington's attempts to break it. Since last year, Barack Obama's administration has been attempting to alienate Iran and Syria of supporting militant Palestinian Hamas movement and pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah party, which Washington and some European countries consider as terrorist groups.
Ben-Meir considers that Washington has sent a clear signal that it is interested in resuming normal relations with Syria, through Special Envoy George Mitchells repeated travels to Damascus, the appointment of Robert Ford as the new US ambassador, and now by removing all US travel restrictions.
But while the US continues with overtures towards Damascus, the Obama administration has no illusions about Syria's ongoing relationship with Iran, said Ben-Meir, commentator of the Journal of Turkish Weekly. "Basically it needs to change Syria's strategic interests to distance Damascus from Iran and its surrogates Hamas and Hezbollah," said the American professor.
Making a speech before congressmen, Clinton said that the appointment of a new ambassador, recalled in 2005 because of suspicions of Syria in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, does not mean that Washington has decided all issues in the Syrian track, but is still concerned about Syrian support for militant groups in Iraq and Palestine, interference in the internal politics of Lebanon and close cooperation with Iran.
According to Professor Ben-Meir, Syria understands that restoring full relations with the West and other Arab countries may be more profitable than its relations with Iran, but at the same time, Syria is not in a hurry to break the alliance with Iran until it is secure with backing from Washington and progress in returning the Golan Heights from Israeli occupation.
"Syria knows that its best interests lay with the West and the Arab world, where full ties come with the promise of a more reliable and expanded trade, myriad investments, and security implications. These are things that Iran simply cannot provide on the scale that the West and a united Arab world can," Ben-Meir said.
Syria does want to end its relative isolation which it can achieve only through normalization of relations with the United States, the American expert said.
"In the interim, Syria wants sanctions lifted, it wants progress on the Golan Heights, and it wants increased financial support, but it will not leave the fold of Iran until it is secure with US backing and its standing in the region with Israel and its Arab neighbors, Ben-Meir said. This is a process that will take time".
Obama administration hopes that the diplomatic progress in relations with Damascus - a central strategic partner of Iran in the Arab world - will play a positive role in resolving Middle East conflict and the situation in Iraq, with which Syria has a common border.
Damascus remains a central player in establishing peace with Israel occupying the strategically important Golan Heights during the 1967 war, and demands that the Obama administration increases pressure on Israel to resume the peace process in the Middle East. Al-Assad has repeatedly said that his country would like to see the U.S. as a mediator in the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, ended in December 2008 after an unsuccessful mediation of Turkey.
"But eventually, once enough progress is made on the US-Syria track, Damascus' strategic interest will of necessity shift and will not be able to continue to play both cards," Ben-Meir.