SYRIA’S CHARM OFFENSIVE
UPI’s Claude Salhani says a remarkable change has taken place in Syria of late:
Caught between Iraq and a hard place, Syria’s young president, Bashar Assad, has been feeling the heat from Washington lately and began his own offensive — albeit one of charm and diplomacy.
Although Syria did not make it on to President George W. Bush’s initial “axis of evil,” it trailed not far behind. In the eyes of some officials in the Bush administration, if Syria did not make the A-list, it certainly belonged in the “Mini-Me” version. Syria still figures prominently, along with other nations the neo-conservatives in Washington would like to see undergo regime change a la Iraq.
Highly unusual for what was once regarded as a reclusive regime — at least when it came to international travel and high-act diplomacy — Assad has been hitting the road, trying to improve his country’s standing and to seek international support. As indeed Bouthaina Shaaban, a minister in Assad’s Cabinet disclosed to United Press International last December, Syria has come to realize it is time to open up to the world.
The Syria Accountability Act, passed almost unanimously by both houses of Congress last month and endorsed by President Bush, is in fact aimed at placing greater pressure on Syria, unless it abides by U.S. demands to cooperate and distance itself from what the United States and Israel regard as terrorist groups.
Analysts in the region regard Assad’s latest charm offensive as “a turning point in regional politics,” something the Middle East could well do more with. As Bush prepares to deliver his State of the Union address Jan. 20, it will be worth watching to see if Syria, given Assad’s new initiatives, has moved up or down on the American president’s list.
Well, we’ve crossed Iraq off the list and Libya would seem to have moved down. But there’s no need to ratchet up things with Syria so long as they’re moving in the right direction.