Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Syrian presence in Lebanon

The Lebanese media has noted that the US is not ignoring Syrian involvement in Lebanon:

As promised by the US Administration, Washington’s decision to implement economic sanctions against Damascus in accordance with the Syrian Accountability Act is final, and will be put into effect “within a week or two at the most,” diplomatic sources close to US circles told The Daily Star.

But the US will keep the political dialogue with Syria open, in particular through diplomatic channels. Depending on how this dialogue evolves, Washington will decide whether or not other sanctions ­ possibly of a more political nature ­ will follow, including measures involving the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

For the time being, these sanctions are of a purely economic nature, and include in particular a boycott of the Syrian markets by US investors, as well as an expected US embargo of Syrian airspace. The sources described the US move to start implementing the sanctions as a political decision, adding that it was a warning addressed to Syria that it needs to show a more positive attitude.

In the meantime, efforts will be deployed to maintain and improve political and diplomatic talks with Damascus ­ talks that have always been frank, as described by the sources, but which currently seem to have reached a rather critical stage.

The sources also remarked that cooperation between the US and Syria “has gone through ups and downs.” While this cooperation appears to be at its “lowest” level presently, the case was recently much different, in particular following the dreadful events of Sept. 11, 2001. At that time, the sources said, Syria proved to be extremely cooperative with the US on specific security matters. It would be fair to say that this efficient cooperation “saved American lives,” the sources noted.

But although this cooperation still exists, it US believes it can still be improved, which is why it will continue to pressure Syria. This pressure may extend to the question of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, since this topic is among the items listed in the Syria accountability law. The Lebanese and Syrian authorities tend to consider this question as one of minor importance in the eyes of the US, which is why there is little concern in these circles about it. Syria and Lebanon usually believe that the US administration pays more attention to issues related to terrorism and questions affecting the security of US troops in Iraq.

But the diplomatic sources said it would be wrong to believe that the Syrian presence here was not among the US priorities. There is no prioritized order to the various items included in the Syrian accountability law, the sources asserted. Just because one item is mentioned lower on the list of items hardly means it is less important in the eyes of the US administration.


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