Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Baker on Syria

James Baker makes the case for dialogue with Syria:
"He offered an impassioned plea for engaging Syria at a high level, something the Bush administration has refused to do, and said the administration does not know what can be achieved if it does not even try. Baker dismissed the whispers from the White House that he is out of touch with the new realities of the Middle East.

"'Talking to Syria gives us an excellent opportunity to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process,' Baker said. 'The Syrians are the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah, and if you can flip the Syrians, you will cure Israel's Hezbollah problem. '

"Baker went on: 'The Syrians will tell you, as they told us, that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. . . . If we accomplished that, that would give [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner on the Palestinian track.'"

I think this overstates the case some, particularly on Hizbullah. At the same time, the arguments against this seem pretty weak. Simply holding negotiations doesn't make you seem weak - countries do it all the time. It's how conflicts come to an end. I also disagree that Bashar al-Assad needs to position himself as a rejectionist. That may have been true earlier, but if the people I talk to most are reading the Hariri assassination correctly, he has now consolidated his internal position, and has the most to gain from being an effective leader who can open diplomatic and economic ties with the west.

(Hat tip: Joshua Landis)


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