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Syria Overcomes First Obstacle - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Did Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deliberately violate the American suggestion that says &#34Speak softly and carry a big stick&#34 when he strongly attacked several parties and accused them of conspiring against Syria?

His speech puzzled everyone. Everyone tried to comprehend it, although the truth in politics is a relative matter. The Syrian crisis might be a conspiracy or a real crisis that provided a chance to opportunists. Perhaps it was true in its intentions.

When Syria and the UN investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri agreed on Vienna as the venue, this was a sound decision. Damascus abandoned the idea of an internal investigation and Investigator Mehlis abandoned Beirut as the venue, thus resolving a crisis that could have led to war. Had the two sides not reached an agreement, the investigator would have flown to New York and complained to the Security Council about Syria. The Security Council would have given Syria the choice of either accepting or facing sanctions. If Damascus agreed to send the five officials to the Lebanese capital, its opponents would have welcomed the decision and pointed out that the decision reflected the regime”s weakness. Nevertheless, good starts must not fool us. They cannot guarantee successful conclusions, but they lay the foundation for better understanding, particularly as public opinion is kept out of the debate and the investigation is confined to the experts. Damascus regarded Mehlis” conferences as defamation designed to embarrass it. The fraternal countries advised Syria not to fall in the trap of arguments and hardline positions.

For This reason, we say that it was a good start in a complicated situation. Damascus did not yield and did not refuse to cooperate. What will happen afterwards could be more difficult if the UN Inquiry Commission continued to pursue the suspects or hold them in separate prisons. This is possible in view of the nature of the current investigation and its previous indicators as contained in the preliminary report. Then, Damascus will face a new challenge. It might seem a simplification of the issue when we say that Syria”s interest lies in continued cooperation and in presenting every person whose name appears on the list of suspects. However, there is not always a compromise solution or alternative to confrontation with the Security Council. What happened regarding the list of the five wanted officials was unusual in that the UN commission has made a concession, which spared Damascus major problems. It did not lose face and showed self-confidence.

The attention to formalities more than the substance might seem strange, but the secret of the big problems in the region could be in the appearance, such as in the prestige of the state and not in real dangers that face it. We remember the story of the Turkish Kurdish opposition leader whom Damascus expelled after Turkish tanks rolled toward the Syrian border. Turkey intended to have a confrontation if it did not receive its enemy, Abdullah Ocalan. Damascus asked the Kurdish opposition leader to leave, thus avoiding a crisis then. Turkish-Syrian relations have improved a great deal since that day. Had Damascus paid attention to political appearance, perhaps the front with Ankara would have still been on fire until today.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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