I missed this when it was first reported but it’s worth blogging about a few days late:
THE Bush Administration has offered Syria?s beleaguered President a ?Gaddafi deal? to end his regime?s isolation if Damascus agrees to a long list of painful concessions.
According to senior American and Arab officials, an offer has been relayed to President Assad that could enable him to avoid the looming threat of international sanctions against his country. The matter could come to a head as early as next week when Detlev Mehlis, the head of the United Nations team investigating the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, is due to submit his report to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General.
While details of that report are not yet known, it is widely expected that senior figures in the Syrian intelligence services, which until earlier this year were in control of Lebanon?s security, will be named as accomplices. The assassination was widely blamed on Damascus, and consequently relations have been badly damaged with key Syrian allies such as France and Saudi Arabia. Already strained relations with Washington have become even more fraught. Evidence of Syrian complicity could lead to international sanctions and make the country a pariah state.
?Assad is facing a tough time ahead and he has very few friends left,? said a senior Arab diplomat. ?He is desperately looking for a way out of this predicament.? Mr Assad said this week that contacts had resumed between Damascus and Washington via Arab intermediaries, thought to be Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
?There has been an attempt to resume co-operation, basically through mediation, by some Arab and European states,? he told CNN. The Times has learnt that the American proposal is very specific, with at least four key demands being made of Damascus. Syria must first co-operate fully and adhere to any demands by the UN inquiry into Mr Hariri?s assassination.
If members of the Syrian regime are named as suspects they would have to be questioned and could stand trial under foreign jurisdiction.
The Syrians would also have to stop any interference in Lebanon, where they have been blamed for a series of bomb attacks against their critics, most recently May Chidiac, a television presenter who was badly injured last month when a device exploded under her car. Washington also wants Syria to halt the recruiting, funding and training of volunteers for the Iraqi insurgency, which they claim are openly operating in Syria with the connivance of the regime. They include former members of the Iraqi regime and foreign volunteers responsible for suicide car-bomb attacks.
The Bush Administration also has a long-standing demand that Syria cease its support for militant Islamic organisations such as Lebanon?s Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In return America would establish full and friendly relations with Damascus, opening the way for foreign aid and investment and ensuring the regime?s survival.
Last night, a source close to the regime in Damascus confirmed that the offer had been presented by a third party in the past ten days and that the Syrians had signalled a willingness to co-operate. The Americans are convinced that if Syria was prepared to commit such a radical volte face it could transform the whole climate in the Middle East ? freeing Lebanon, dealing a serious blow to the insurgency in Iraq, and opening the way for progress between Israel and Palestine.
The precedent for the offer is the deal clinched two years ago with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. His regime was isolated internationally after it was blamed for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. After more than a decade, sanctions were lifted when Tripoli handed over two intelligence officers to stand trial in a Scottish court and paid compensation to the relatives of the victims. Full relations were restored after Washington and London concluded a secret deal with Mr Gadaffi to dismantle and turn over all his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes.
The Americans have now reopened their embassy in Tripoli, US oil companies are operating in Libya and recent visitors have included Tony Blair and top British businessmen.
The main question troubling the Americans is whether the Syrian leader is strong enough and bold enough to cut a deal. There are even doubts that he is really in control of the country. Some suspect it is run by various security services in the hands of his extended family. Asef Shawkat, his brother-in-law, is head of military intelligence. Maher al-Assad, his brother, commands the presidential guard. British diplomats do not believe that the Syrian leader will take the offer, not least because it would be regarded as a huge climbdown and a betrayal of Syria?s hardline policies established by his late father, Hafez al-Assad.
Washington has made clear that if the Syrians do not co-operate, it intends to increase the pressure on the regime. One consequence of that pressure was the death this week of Ghazi Kanaan, the Syrian Interior Minister and a key witness in the UN inquiry. He was found shot dead in his office. The authorities said that he had taken his own life, but many suspect he was killed by those who feared what he might divulge from his time as head of Syrian Intelligence in Lebanon.
A Syrian source close to the ruling family predicted that Mr Assad would turn down the deal. ?The regime has calculated that it has the resources to survive for quite some time even if it is isolated,? said the source. ?The strategy could be to manage the conflict until external pressures ease.?
Although it’s good politic’s by Bush, I kinda doubt the Syrians will take him up on it. They will go down in flames like Saddam did I imagine.
Syria denied a British newspaper report that it was negotiating with the United States in an effort to end its isolation in return for a “list of painful concessions,” including blocking the flow of foreign fighters into neighboring Iraq.
Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah told reporters on Sunday that Syria did not accept the “logic of deals” because the country’s positions are “known for everyone and it defends them through realistic and flexible policy.”
Also, the official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted an unidentified foreign ministry official as saying that Syria was ready for “constructive dialogue” but without conditions.
[…]An editorial Sunday in the Al-Baath newspaper, the mouthpiece of Assad’s ruling Baath Party, said reports of a deal between Syria and the U.S. implied Syria needs to accept a deal to be “forgiven for wrongs it is guilty of beginning with support for Palestinian resistance and ending with its alleged interfering into Iraq.”
Elias Murad, Al-Baath’s editor-in-chief, said news reports of such a U.S.-Syrian deal were designed to keep pressure on Syria after those responsible for the reports “failed to offer any proof of Syrian involvement” in Hariri’s assassination.
Yup…flames. Sure does sound like Condi’s fingerprints tho huh?