August 9, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3153

Syrian Press: Damascus Shaping the Region's Future

August 9, 2010
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 3153

In the past year, Bashar Al-Assad's Syria has succeeded in positioning itself as a regional power and as a key player in handling local and regional issues.[1] This is reflected in the extensive diplomatic activity that has been taking place in Damascus, including visits to Syria's capital by senior officials from Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. This diplomatic activity has centered around three of the primary arenas currently concerning the Arab world: Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine. Reports indicate that the discussions in Syria focused mainly on the internal disputes within these arenas, with Syria serving as mediator, rather than on Syria's bilateral relations with each of these countries. It should be noted that Turkey has also played a role in this mediation.

The Lebanese Arena: Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri visited Damascus on July 18-19, 2010, accompanied by a large delegation of ministers, for a meeting of the Syrian-Lebanese Follow-up and Coordination Commission, which culminated in the two countries signing 18 agreements and memoranda of understanding on various issues. The meeting's importance lay in its being the first since Syrian-Lebanese relations fell into crisis following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. After this meeting, Assad and Al-Hariri met privately to discuss the internal tension in Lebanon in anticipation of the indictment due to be published by the international tribunal investigating Al-Hariri's murder, which is expected to indicate Hizbullah as responsible for the crime. It should be noted that the same issues were also the focus of meetings between Saudi King 'Abdallah, who is Sa'd Al-Hariri's patron, and President Assad, a Hizbullah ally, held in Damascus on July 29-30, 2010, before a trip by both leaders to Beirut, which was intended to restore calm in Lebanon.

The Iraqi Arena: Muqtada Al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement, and Ayyad 'Allawi, head of the Al-'Iraqiyya party and candidate for Iraqi prime minister, visited Damascus on July 17-20, 2010, to meet with President Assad and also with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as part of efforts toward forming a government in Iraq. The two Iraqi leaders also met privately.

The Palestinian Arena: Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu met in Damascus with Khaled Mash'al, head of Hamas' political bureau, apparently to discuss the inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

Following are excerpts from recent articles in the Syrian press on Damascus' diplomatic activity and pivotal role in the region:

The Countries of the Region Are Coming Back to Damascus

The Syrian and Arab press regarded the diplomatic activity in Damascus as signaling the success of President Assad's strategic approach, according to which the resolution of regional problems is to be achieved not by external forces but by local powers alone, with Syria at their head. In an article titled "The Solutions Lie with Us," As'ad 'Aboud, editor of the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra, wrote: "...The greatest step [made] today regarding the nations and countries of our region is the return to Damascus. If Damascus's word had been taken into account from the start, things would not have reached a crisis throughout the region. What is important now is that hope has been restored, and the inclination is [to believe] that 'solutions to the [region's] problems will come from the region's countries, not from abroad.' This approach, which Syria and Turkey in particular have advocated for years now, provides the broadest access to all possible solutions. These issues are our own, and we can discuss [them] without limitations or restrictions, and reach an understanding without any confusion..."[2]

Columnist Ziad Haydar wrote in a similar vein in an article in the Syrian daily Al-Watan titled "The Region's Future Is Being Determined in Damascus": "The activity in Damascus [constitutes] a summit of the region's leaders or their representatives, intended to shape the [region's] future and advance its stability, especially in light of the special relationship that exists between Damascus and Ankara and the [relationship that has developed] recently between Damascus and Beirut. Lebanese Prime Minister Al-Hariri's successful two-day visit and his three meetings with President Assad made him a new partner in crystallizing the future of the region, far from the pressures exerted on him and on all the Lebanese.

"Davutoglu's visit [to Damascus] was concurrent with that of Al-Sadr and 'Allawi, and preceded by that of 'Ammar Al-Hakim, chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council [of Iraq], who arrival last month. The main purpose of these visits was to discuss the formation of an Iraqi government in Baghdad...

"[These] recent developments must be linked to the [fact that] elements both inside and outside Iraq [attempted] to establish a government there which is [politically] uniform, but failed, and [now] it is expected that the next Iraqi government will be established in Baghdad, but its [makeup] will be determined in Damascus..."[3]

Elie Shalhoub, writing for the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, also pointed to the central role Damascus is playing in the establishment of a new Iraqi government: "In light of failures [to reach an agreement] in Baghdad, and after fissures appeared in the understandings reached in Tehran, it would seem that Assad is holding all the strings [for forming an Iraqi government]..."[4]

The West Will Be Forced to Take Syria's Diplomatic Activity into Account

Reporting on the intensive diplomatic scene in Damascus, the Syrian press linked Syria's recent activity to failed attempts by the U.S. and the West to resolve problems in the region. 'Aboud wrote: "...American incompetence leaves the Iraqis one choice – to reach an internal understanding vis-à-vis their national unity and the [establishment of] a government which represents Iraq's interests, and [at the same time] to] to turn to the countries of the region, so that improvement of the domestic situation in Iraq be accompanied by the development of [Iraq's] foreign relations. Due to its incompetence, the U.S. has sent the Palestinians an old senator [i.e. George Mitchell] who has nothing to offer [but] cries of 'Oh Palestinians, reconcile among yourselves!'

"Lebanon emerged from crisis only after it sought a solution within itself, and at the same time turned to the countries of the region [for assistance]. We are not the ones currently preventing the outside elements from intervening in our domestic affairs. They [themselves] explicitly declare their inability to propose any solution... We hold our own cards and [have] the solutions to our own problems. We – Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey – all of us..."[5]

Wasim Al-Ahmar, a columnist for the Syrian daily Al-Watan, wrote: "While Paris and Washington are thinking over their initiatives and [considering] with whom to talk and whom to ostracize, this region is witnessing diplomatic activity whose main axis is Damascus and Ankara. The players on the outside will be forced to take this activity into account and maybe even depend on it, [instead of working] outside of it."[6]


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.583, "Syria Regains Pivotal Regional, Int'l Role – The Triumph of the 'Course of Resistance,'" January 29, 2010, Syria Regains Pivotal Regional, Int'l Role – The Triumph of the 'Course of Resistance'.

[2] Al-Thawra (Syria), July 20, 2010.

[3] Al-Watan (Syria), July 20, 2010.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 20, 2010.

[5] Al-Thawra (Syria), July 20, 2010.

[6] Al-Watan (Syria), July 21, 2010.

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