By Nabil Al Mulhem
Albawaba.com - Damascus
Some political observers believe that former US secretary of state James Baker and former ambassador Eduard Djerjian are the two most acceptable figures to Syria, more than other American officials from previous administrations.
Syrians hail the fact that Djerjian is an Armenian of Syrian origin. A fact reflected clearly in Syrian media reports and expresses the optimism voiced by the Syrian government following the election victory of George.W. Bush.
Such optimism was felt when the transition team named members of the new US administration including the secretary of state-designate Collin Powel, and the return of Djerjian who will replace Thomas Pickering as adviser to the secretary of state in the State Department.
Observers believe that Syria’s optimism over the new appointments appeared to be in reaction to the Clinton administration, his secretary Madeleine Albright, her predecessor Warren Christopher and the Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross whom informed sources think was not liked by Syria.
The official Syrian Thawra newspaper said the new American president has to prove that he is firm in boosting the image of his country as the leader of the new world order, and in upholding the American peace efforts and international legitimacy resolutions.
But while some observers believe that Damascus is more optimistic about the new US administration, other analysts are less optimistic. They believe that with new developments emerging, citing in one case, Syrian-Iraqi relations, which have steadily improved with more economic and trade delegations commuting between Damascus and Baghdad, an ‘eastern front’ may develop. This ‘eastern front’ which would include
Iraq, Syria and most likely Iran, if it evolves to become true or planned could lead to a clash with the new American administration.
The analysts say that Powell is sticking to a more hardline position than that adopted by the administration of George Bush the father, since he has said outright that his country will maintain the same position against Baghdad. Such a position would leave Damascus with two options, Baghdad or Washington. Syria found itself in a similar position on the eve of the second Gulf war in 1990. A position that led it to send its troops to join the international force gathered at the time in Hafr El-Baten in Saudi Arabia.
The other factor that needs to be considered is the United states concern with the security of Israel, a priority issue. Although it is now coupled with the talk of the need to proceed in earnest in the search for a political settlement in the Middle East, the new US administration has laid out clear plans regarding its Middle East policy.
It is noteworthy that the new American administration came to the White House at a time a new Syrian president (Bashar Assad) has taken office.
Assad has adopted a new policy by leading his country to more openness, while maintaining the legacy of his father the former Syrian president Hafez El-Assad who charted Syria’s Middle East peace policies.
Observers do not expect any changes in those policies citing two speeches by the young president at the Arab and Islamic summits held in Cairo and Damascus earlier this year.
The same observers believe that Bush the son has himself inherited the legacy of the peace process launched in Madrid in 1992, during his father’s presidency, yet with more complications on the Syrian track left by the Oslo agreements. They believe that the least of such complications was caused by the negative impact of the Oslo agreements on the course of the other tracks of the negotiations with Israel which were originally based on the Madrid process.
On the other hand, a boycott of American products declared by the Syrian government, though it has a minimal effect, was bound to affect acceptance of American proposals by Syrian laymen who stick to the slogan that advocates a boycott of American goods and commodities. Those sentiments could leave both sides far apart unless the US makes new dramatic moves to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, an unlikely possibility in light of the US priorities which places Israel’s security on top of its concerns.
The question is, will the new American administration start to make deep changes in its Middle East policies which will replace slogans, such as US boycott that have become a tradition in peoples’ daily life?
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)