US-Syrian talks: Precursor for Obama’s dialogue with Iran?

US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, visits Damascus next week. A senior foreign affairs adviser to president Barack Obama, Kerry will be the first representative of the new US administration to meet president Bashar Assad.
Like his predecessors, the senator will ask Assad if he is prepared to sever his strategic ties with Tehran, withdraw backing for terrorist organizations and halt the passage of terrorists, arms and cash from Syria to Iraq and Lebanon. He will also question the Syrian ruler on his intentions with regard to peace talks with Israel. Senator Kerry will also visit Jerusalem.
On a previous visit in 2006, he put the same questions to Assad – to no avail. His spokesman said Thursday, Feb. 12, that Kerry’s dialogue with the Syrian government was ongoing.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources disclose that Assad’s actions in the past year, including his stalled indirect peace track with Israel, have focused on breaking through to good relations with the future Obama administration. He is treating Kerry’s visit as a step in that direction, without however proposing either to break with Tehran or stop backing terrorists. To the contrary; Assad is planning to convince Kerry that those connections place him ideally for serving as Washington’s go-between with Tehran, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami.
He will argue that Turkish prime minister Tayyep Recip Erdogan has come to terms with this reality and so has Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who held talks in Istanbul Tuesday, Feb. 10, with Erdogan and president Abdullah Gul. Assad will claim they agreed that no Middle East business, including the long-term truce in Gaza which they discussed, can be successfully accomplished without bringing Tehran and Damascus on board.
The new US administration is not giving Assad an easy ride.
Our sources report that Washington laid the ground for Kerry’s Damascus mission by steps to expedite the convening of the special international tribunal appointed by the UN Security Council for bringing the assassins of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 to trial.
Monday, Feb. 9, six steel boxes packed with documents amassed by UN prosecutors investigating the case, were secretly flown to The Hague by a French military plane.
Wednesday, French president Nicolas Sarkozy declared during a Persian Gulf trip: “We are determined to know the truth about this crime and punish the perpetrators.”
With heavy suspicion hanging over Damascus, the Syrian president has made every possible effort to keep the tribunal on ice and Syrian officers inaccessible as witnesses. A guilty verdict against the Damascus regime would put paid to the prospects of Assad’s acceptance in Washington.
Kerry will lead a large delegation of US lawmakers to Damascus, including the Republican Senator Arlen Specter, a close long-time associate of President Assad.

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