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The Back Door into Syria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The US State Department has made an extremely important gesture towards Syria, very quietly and away from the clamor and excitement, and this is by deciding to send a high-level delegation made up of senior executives from major US technological companies like Microsoft, Dell, Cisco Systems, and Symantec Corp to Damascus. It goes without saying that Apple founder Steve Jobs also received an invitation, especially as his [biological] father is a member of the [Syrian] al-Jandali family of the city of Hims. His father put him up for adoption to a US family, and after Steve Jobs become famous and made his fortune, his biological father tried to restore relations with him but to no avail.

What is strange about this “type” of delegation being sent is that to a large extent its work is limited due to the restrictions placed upon them by the US administration that prohibits the sale of such technology to Syria.

The US ban on high-tech goods prevents the majority of these companies products being sold to Syria, however the White House has the right to lift the ban on some of these products. This is what happened last year when the US administration sold some civilian aircrafts spare parts to “Syrian Air” airlines.

Hilary Clinton believes that modern high-tech goods are important, and she made this a major part of her foreign policy [with regards Syria]. This is due to her personal belief that modern high-tech goods, as well as modern digital and telecommunication technology will positively and effectively contribute to improving the climate of freedom and bringing in public participation in political decision-making.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is well known for his personal interest in the digital and information field, and he used to be head of the Syrian Computer Society, and he also launched the initial [technological] infrastructure in the country. Al-Assad also expressed his keenness to develop high-tech tools in Syria, sending signals to the US administration in this regard.

This visit is expected to include meetings with senior state figures, as well as the [US] delegation visiting the two largest universities in Syria, and meetings with leading [Syrian] businessmen and non-governmental institutions. This visit comes during a period of tension after Israeli circles launched accusations – that were not denied by the US administration – that the Syrian government is providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles. This visit also coincides with US Congress delaying its endorsement of the appointment of Robert Ford as US Ambassador to Syria, due to the reservations voiced by a group of American right-wingers that any endeavor to make progress in relations with Syria represents a threat to Israeli national security.

However the new reality on the ground in Iraq and Lebanon confirms that the option of US – Syrian rapprochement is a question of time, and the details of how this will happen.

A large majority of the Lebanese opponents have visited Damascus, and now they seem to be moving closer to Syria. The situation in Iraq is also improving with regards to the security violations from the Syrian border. We also cannot over look the grave economic crisis suffered by the US economy, something that means that the US must “hunt” for new markets and promising opportunities. Therefore, due to its international isolation, the Syrian market represents a tremendous and promising opportunity for modern high-tech companies, as well as for companies that specialize in mobile phones, interne services, internet security, e-banking, e-learning, e-commerce, and others fields.

This initiative is a test, and reflects the need for mutual interests between the two countries and there are numerous teams that are operating and interacting on this initiative. The huge Syrian Diaspora that exists in the US is divided on this issue, for there are those who support this in words and actions, and there are those who reject this for diverse political reasons. In the early 1980s, when the world was celebrating each new technological invention, the US “Intel” Corporation invented a new microchip, the 386 [also known as the 80386 or the i386] however the company made it clear that such computer chips – along with other computer components – was banned from being sold to specific countries, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. This was because these microchips could be used in computers to launch missiles. However smart-phones and laptops today include microchips that are much more powerful and more technologically advanced therefore the more time changes, the more things stay the same! And so this visit that is being undertaken by this technological delegation to Damascus is extremely important, as are its results on the Syrian – US economical and political scene.

There is a new US decision that has been made regarding Syria, and a new relationship is being built, however what remains is to discover the nature and details of this relations and its transparency on the surface.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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