WASHINGTON [MENL] -- Presidential-elect Barack Obama has promised to improve U.S. relations with Egypt and Syria. Aides said Obama had sent senior foreign policy adviser Robert Malley to Egypt and Syria over the last few weeks to outline the Democratic candidate's policy on the Middle East. The aides said Malley, who served in the administration of President Bill Clinton, relayed a pledge from Obama that the United States would seek to enhance relations with Cairo as well as reconcile with Damascus.As President, Barack Obama has followed through on his promise. He has continued his outreach to Syria and has worked hard to demote US relations with Israel.
How has Syria reacted to the President's actions? Syria has been facilitating terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan:
Syria Undermining UNSCR 1701 Slows Rapprochement with Washington
By David Schenker
During its first year in office, the Obama Administration has invested heavily in improving relations with Syria. Not only have several senior American political and military officials travelled to Damascus for talks, the Administration has also engaged locally in discussions with Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha.
To date, little has been achieved. Indeed, Syrian President Bashar Asad lamented to SANA on November 1, 2009: “What has happened so far is a new approach. Dialogue has replaced commands, which is good, but things stopped there…It is hard to say that big steps have been taken in bilateral relations [with Washington].” Assad echoed these sentiments in an interview just a few days ago in Le Figaro
It’s not surprising US-Syrian relations have not improved. On a broad range of fronts, there has been little or no positive change in Syrian behavior. As recently as September 15, 2009, US commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno noted: "Syria continues to allow the facilitation of foreign fighters through Syria that both come into Iraq as well as, I believe, into Afghanistan.”
Likewise, while a new Government was recently announced in Beirut (after months of delay), the Syrian role in the formation of this government was clearly not positive. The Government that has emerged in Beirut does not reflect the pro-west March 14th coalition victory over the Hizballah-led opposition the June 2009 Lebanese elections.
Given Syrian meddling in the Government formation process—in August a senior US official commented to Annahar: "The Syrians are mistaken if they think that their relations with us will not be affected as a result of what they are doing in Lebanon...Syria and its friends in Lebanon continue to cripple the democratic institutions”—it’s not surprising that Imad Moustapha would say: “It is exactly the sort of government we think should rule Lebanon.”
In addition to continuing political interference in Lebanon, Damascus remains actively involved in arming Hizballah, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Of course, the Asad regime made it be known from day one that it would not abide by the resolution, which stipulated an end of arms transfers to Lebanese militias. During a speech on August 15, 2006 Asad explicitly threatened the deployment of international forces to Lebanon tasked with enforcing the resolution if the mandate conflicted with Syrian interests (i.e., attempted to secure the Syrian-Lebanese frontier to prevent weapons smuggling to Hizballah). UNSCR 1701, Asad warned, will “either not be implemented or will lead to instability.”
Damascus has undermined UNSCR 1701 on several fronts, not least of which by continuing to arm Hizballah. This Syrian violation of UNSCR 1701 made headlines in early November, when the Israeli Government announced that it had siezed the German vessel Francop, carrying in excess of 60 tonnes of weaponry, including rockets, assault rifles, mortar shells and grenades destined for Hizballah via Syria.
More recently, the Syrian Government announced it would not be willing to demarcate the border between Syria and Lebanon, another element of UNSCR 1701. On November 11, during a panel discussion at American University in Washington DC, Imad Moustapha explained the Syrian opposition to border delineation. What follows is (an edited) transcript of the exchange between Mousapha and Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Question: How soon will you demarcate [the border with Lebanon]?
Imad Moustapha: …Today Syria’s borders are not completely demarcated with Jordan, or with Iraq, or with Turkey, and the same applies to Lebanon. But we have no issues with Lebanon. Syria does not have—this is official, I am here talking as the official representative of the Syrian Arab government—Syria does not have any claims on Lebanese territories whatsoever, whatsoever! So the whole issue is an issue that is only discussed here and among the circles of the friends of Israel. Why? Because Israel is technically today occupying Lebanese territory….The short answer is: this is not an issue in our region. It’s only an issue for the pro-Israeli circles here in America and for the Israeli policymakers in our region. It’s not an issue for us.”
Robert Satloff: This discussion about borders… No one is claiming the Syrians are after Lebanese territory. The issue, Mr. Ambassador, is the illegality of shipment of weaponry. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Lebanon war, talks about the need to demarcate these borders under international supervision. You just heard the ambassador of Syria say, we don’t know where the border is, we don’t know where the border is and we have no intention of defining it. This is exactly the problem. That’s the problem.”
Moustapha: For you, of course.
Satloff: This is not for me.
Moustapha: Of course…for the Washington Institute.
Satloff: This is not for me. This is the Security Council resolution. Why are you accusing me? Of course it’s not a problem for you, because you’re shipping the weapons across the border. It’s a problem for the poor people who are on the receiving end of these weapons.