December 1, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1774

Syrian Columnist: We Must Take Part in International Conferences in which Israel Participates

December 1, 2007
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 1774

In light of Syria's possible participation in the Annapolis summit, international relations expert and former lecturer at the University of Aleppo Dr. Elias Sam'o posted an article on the website, which is affiliated with Syrian government circles, criticizing the isolation that Syria has imposed on itself by not participating in international conferences. He argued that Syria must confront Israel frequently at international conferences and must use such conferences to publicize its position.

Following are excerpts: [1]

"Informal international conferences on the Middle East issues are a frequent occurrence, and the same embarrassing question is invariably asked: Where is Syria?... I am referring to conferences [dealing with] political and security [issues]…

"In conferences of 'track two diplomacy,'[2] issues are debated in discussions and lectures that are open, general and public. However, there are also closed meetings, open [only] to participants connected to the matter at hand. The discussions are informal, and there is no written record; the intention is for each side to present its position and understand the position of the other side, and [for all sides] to get a sense of the maximal offer and minimal demand [that each is prepared to make or accept]. Thus, these are not negotiations [as such] – they are an 'intellectual exercise' whose object is to search for common ground that may serve as a starting point for formal negotiations in the future. If there is no option but coexistence, it is preferable to 'humanize' [the other side] rather than demonize [it] – and this is one of the aims of such conferences.

"There is a feeling within the international community, or [more accurately] within the Western [community], that Syria is an isolated country… If there is indeed a Western [policy] to keep Syria isolated, there is nothing we can do about it. [But] I do not know why we should impose isolation upon ourselves by not participating in conferences.

"It is possible that the main reason for Syria's absence is its concern that by participating in conferences alongside Israel, and by meeting it face to face, it might create an appearance of normalization. Fear of normalization may have been a legitimate reason [to boycott] the 1991 Madrid summit. However, I believe that [the issue] of normalization became moot after [Syria's participation in] the Madrid conference, and after the subsequent bilateral negations between Syria and Israel, in which the leaders of the two countries met face to face to conduct direct and official talks…

"A second reason [for avoiding international conferences is Syria's concern that] its [representatives] may present a position incompatible with its official line – which is likely to cause Syria or its leadership embarrassment. [However] if this should happen, wouldn't it [in fact] serve the interests of the Syrian leadership? Indeed, Syrian [representation] at any conference would constitute evidence that there is some political activity in Syria, and [that there is] a margin of political freedom which allows Syrians with dissenting political views to take part in international conferences and to freely express their opinions.

"There is yet a third possible reason for Syria's non-participation [in international conferences] – namely, the Syrian leadership's sense that there are no Syrians capable... of presenting their country's position correctly and accurately. If it is true that Syria – the 'cradle of religions and cultures' – has no individuals capable of representing their country abroad, it is indeed a great catastrophe.

"I hope that the Syrians will participate frequently and regularly in international conferences attended by Israel. We [Syrians] are in possession of the truth, and those who are in possession of the truth must appear everywhere in the international arena, alongside any element – especially if Israel is present. Syria must present its just claim before the [international] community and confront the liar face to face, instead of staying away, thereby enabling Israel to monopolize the international arena and to [exploit it] to its own benefit...

"[Even] if there are Syrians who have reservations regarding [their country's] policy or who are critical of it – is there a leadership [anywhere] in the world that is perfect and is never criticized? Shouldn't Syria's interest to present its position at international conferences take precedence over [domestic] disagreements? Wouldn't it be natural and healthy for Syrian [representatives], even ones who disagree with the official line, to be present at international conferences – especially considering that there are no disagreements [in Syria] over any [issue] having to do with Syria-Israel relations and the Golan Heights? The benefit from Syria's participation outweighs any possible cost.

"In conclusion, the Syrian leadership is currently waiting for the Golan Heights to be included in the agenda of the Annapolis summit, and for an invitation to be extended. [This begs] the question of why Syria forgoes participation in international conferences where the Golan Heights are [already] on the agenda and to which it is invited."

[2] "Track two diplomacy" refers to discussions and dialogue in informal forums.

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