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94024 US Diplomacy in the Middle East

94024 US Diplomacy in the Middle East

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Published by: Aeiou1980 on Nov 26, 2009
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01/12/2013

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US diplomacy in the Middle East: Iraq, Syria, and why it mattersFrom: http://cafzal.blogspot.com/2007/05/us-diplomacy-in-middle-east.htmlWith the previously dominant neoconservative hawks in Washington seeming to takethe back seat in US foreign policy, America has finally started to embrace a morepragmatic approach to diplomacy in the Middle East — to an extent.Diplomatic relations with such a tumultuous region can be hard to maintain attimes, but keeping the channels of communication open is essential in order tohelp fix the problems in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere. In addition,discussion with states like Syria and Iran can resolve ongoing tensions. Unlikewar, diplomacy is soft and does not always produce immediate effects. Some aredissatisfied with the outcome of diplomacy. However, also unlike war there are fewinstances where diplomacy actually hurts the problem one or both sides wish toresolve.On 3 May, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the Syrian foreignminister, Walid al-Moallem, in a much-needed discussion. At the top of the agendawas Iraq, and Syria's borders — which many extremists cross through to enter Iraq— were also an issue. Even though the meeting lasted a modest 30 minutes, just thefact that Rice spoke to Moallem illustrated a turning point in the Bushadministration's foreign policy. This discussion came during a conference in Sharmel-Sheikh, Egypt on the Iraq issue. Iran and Syria are both in attendance, asAmerica finally showed a more logical and less stubborn diplomatic policy insimilar talks on Iraq in late March. One development of the summit comes as nosurprise: Iran blames the US for Iraq's woes, which is only partially correct.Both Iran and America are to blame. Although the US started the war, and has madeit worse, Iran and other external (and internal) actors have only inflamed itfurther.A while back, the influential, bipartisan Iraq Study Group, or Baker-Hamiltoncommission, recommended in its report that the United States work with Syria inthe fight against Islamic extremism and to help stabilize and secure Iraq. Thisset off shockwaves in Washington, making some politicians, including PresidentGeorge W. Bush, show their cowboy international diplomacy mentality again — thatis, they scoffed at and ignored the sensible recommendations. The ISG emphasizeddiscussion and cooperation with all relevent Middle Eastern states, even the onesthe White House had a particular distaste for. The report said:"Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and theirinterest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage themconstructively. In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the UnitedStates has disincentives and incentives available. Iran should stem the flow ofarms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation.The issue of Iran’s nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the fivepermanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Syriashould control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents, andterrorists in and out of Iraq.The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it dealsdirectly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability."The meeting between Condi Rice and Walid Moallem was the first direct, official,and high-level talks between Syria and the United States in years. Remember: Syriahas been labeled an 'evil' state by Bush, and an honorary member of the infamous"axis of evil". Way to be diplomatic, Mr. President. While some — including aprominent Newsweek article and conservative American commentators like MichelleMalkin — call talks like this "talking with the enemy", Rice said her discussion
 
with the Syrian foreign minister was "professional", and that she "didn't lecturehim and he didn't lecture me." However positive this news might be, signs are yetto reveal themselves of direct talks between the US and Iran. America came closeto talking to its Persian arch-nemesis, but an official diplomatic discussionnever panned out. Neither American nor Iranian diplomats actually took theinitiative of beginning the discussion, another reflection of the state of USdiplomacy in the Middle East. Further, more broad discussions are also neededbetween the United States and Syria.The two-day summit on Iraq resulted in an International Compact for Iraq (ICI), afive-year plan for financial help and 'national reconciliation' for Iraq. UNSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon placed the stated 'financial commitments' to Iraq atover $30 billion. The conference included delegations from the United States,Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and the European Union. Such a summitbrought together all the G8 and UN Security Council powers, several members of theArab League, and then some, but was still seen as a relative failure.Nevertheless, it brought more attention to the Iraq humanitarian issue ofinternational interest. The conference also brought out a less resistive foreignpolicy from the US.As this is the Middle East, surely not in its finest days, pessimism remains. Abd-al-Bari Atwan wrote in the Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, translated by BBCMonitoring:"The Sharm al-Shaykh conference will conclude by issuing a communique. There willbe a photo opportunity and smiles, but, after that, the region will return to itssituation and the conditions in Iraq will be even more dangerous and turbulent."In these times it's hard to talk about Syria without bringing up Iran. They’recurrently like two peas on a pod. But things didn’t used to be so peachy forSyrian-Iranian relations. Isolation by the United States and the fall of SaddamHussein's Iraq are a couple of factors that have led to Syria getting closer toIran — a predominantly Shia nation and wannabe nuclear power slated as the nextregional power. In fact, Saddam's overthrow has led to a massive inbalence ofpower. The ruthless dictator, now dead, kept Iran, and many sectarian factions, incheck.In early April, there was a row over the decision by US House Speaker NancyPelosi’s (D-CA) visit to Syria. Syria is a Middle Eastern nation that had beenisolated by the Bush administration in some misguided notion of hope thatalienating an active power in a region that needs all the help it can get wouldhelp things. Of course Pelosi’s excursion revealed a wider hypocrisy: the factthat a Republican delegation had visited earlier left the White House and themedia unfettered, as did the visit of representative, Darrell Issa (R-CA), on 5April — a day after Pelosi’s much-debated trip. Like Pelosi, Issa met with SyrianPresident Bashir al-Assad, a dictator, but one with the potential for more amiablefeelings for the United States.The White House said that Pelosi's trip 'sent the wrong message', making Syriathink it is a valid member of the international community. This level of logic isnot the kind that should be resonating from the White House press room, nor anyother branch of the government. Of course, as the Bush administration intends toalienate nations like Syria, it is doing a fine job, depending on how you look atit. While America and Syria are not very engaged, Syria is less likely to help theUS on issues like, say, Iraq. Iraq is devastated as it is, and the militants andterrorists within its borders do not need any more additions.I supported Nancy Pelosi's recent (unofficial, non-policy related) diplomatic tripto Syria, whether a political stunt or not. By isolating Syria, this current
 
administration has forced it nearer to Iran — by no means a positive influence.Lucky for the US, Syria is open to working with America and has an interest in theoutcome of the current civil conflict in Iraq as well as the spread radicalIslamic terrorism. The Syrians have even more to worry about political stabilityagainst terrorists than the US does: they are situated in the Middle East hotbedof terror, America is not. Along with many experts and foreign governments, theIraq Study Group and many members of Congress have urged the White House to talkto Syria before relations deteriorate further and Iraq gets even worse.Syria’s foreign policy remained fairly moderate — that is, until they were shunnedby the United States. Syria also fights against terrorist groups and ideologieslike jihad and al-Qaeda, and has an interest in the wider Middle East conflicts.Pelosi has met with the Syrian foreign minister and is expected to talk withPresident Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian press has been very friendly to Pelosi,slapping labels such as 'brave lady' to the first ever female speaker and highestranking Congressional Democrat; Syrian — mostly state-run — media pointed to hervisit as 'positive'.Not only does the transnational flow of terrorists and their radical movementsneed to be halted, but a helpful combination of good PR, economic agreements, andopen-channel diplomacy should be kept with states suspected of harboring — or evendirectly or indirectly supporting — terrorism. Countries like Syria, which is amajor hub for insurgents entering Iraq, could help in the fight against terrorismif they were not shunned by the US. In Syria's case, good relations with Americacould even bring the state further from more devious states like Iran. Lest weforget, terrorism is a problem for other governments too, even 'evil' ones. Mostevery state in the Middle East and North Africa fears terrorism of the radicalIslamic persuasion.Channels of diplomacy need to be kept open. US-Syria relations are needed andwelcomed by Syria. Syria isn’t as seemingly sinister or incessantly meddling asIran, and its close relations to Iran deal largely with the United States. UnlikeIran, Syria is not interested in a so-called Shia crescent across the Mid-East.Syria may be authoritarian, but so is Egypt, an American ally, which shares theSyrian policy against Islamic extremism. Iran has been a (mostly) bad influence onSyria, but there is still hope.The common misconception is that the US talking to Syria is like talking to theenemy, whomever the enemy actually is. In reality, neither Syria nor Iran are realenemies. Al-Qaeda — or what’s left of it — is an enemy; Nazi Germany was the enemyin World War II, of course that was easier to define because it was a nation-state, not a movement or ideology. It is hard to make the case that diplomaticrelations with Syria would hurt. There is also the tolerance issue. While weshouldn’t tolerate Syria’s mass human rights abuses, for instance, how was NancyPelosi a terrorist when she put on a frankly western-looking headdress? Justbecause others are different doesn’t make them wrong, yet another issue both theextremist fringe in Washington and in Tehran and Damascus need to recognize.There’s one thing the US has in common with Iran, Syria, and certainly others.The US and other powers should work with Syria while working with Israel in orderto stifle Syria's terrorist group support. Just because Syria has a deplorablehuman rights record shouldn’t keep the US from talking to it. Saudi Arabia, Egypt,and Pakistan also commit unjustified acts, and America remains close diplomaticrelations with those three countries. On the human rights front, the US should tryto nudge Syria in the right direction and work on its own human rights situation.This will cover the fronts of Syria-terrorist, Syria-Iran, and Syria-Israelrelations, and, by working with Syria and other Middle Eastern states, America andthe international community can better Iraq as well as the states they are working

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