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Acting as if Iran is Not Present | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Five important statements were made in a single day, from and concerning Syria. Each of these statements is important and significant in their own right, but they cannot be read solitarily, these statements are all connected or have been issued to cover one another.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said that “Anyone betting on the fall of the Iranian regime will be a loser” and warned the Europeans against interfering in the internal affairs of Iran. Al-Muallem also said that should King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz visit Damascus he would receive a warm welcome from his “second country.”

On the same day as the al-Muallem statement, Syrian President [Bashar al-Assad] said that his country was prepared to cooperate with the Hariri Tribunal [UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon] on the condition that a special agreement is made between Syria and the court. A spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry also announced that “President al-Assad said that he wishes to resume indirect peace talks with Israel as soon as possible.”

The above statements contradict one another; on the one hand Syria is betting on Iran, while on the other hand the Syrians are saying that they want to resume [indirect] negotiations with Israel, cooperate with the Hariri tribunal, and that should the Saudi monarch visit Damascus he will receive a warm welcome.

So what is happening?

It is striking that Syria is calling for non-interference in internal Iranian affairs, whereas previously Iran’s allies would scorn those who condemned Tehran’s involvement in internal Arab affairs, therefore look at how things have changed!

Defending Iran in one instance, and then talking warmly about Saudi Arabia in another, is strange, and an Arab official close to the Syrian – Arab file informed me that “What the Syrian President is saying is the most important thing, rather than the statements issued by his staff. What is most important is al-Assad, and what he says must be taken into account.”

Another Arab source who is familiar with the details of what is happening in many Arab countries that have links to Iran as well as Lebanon, said that “paying tribute to Iran [in this manner] is strange as nobody is saying that the regime has collapsed” even if Tehran is suffering from serious problems that will have consequences [on the regime]. The source added that the Syrian praise of Iran is “by way of not speaking ill of the dead” as he believes that the Syrians have made a choice to move away from Tehran, opening the door to the Americans, which is something that can be verified by the recent diplomatic action taken by Syria.

Damascus sent Khalid Mishal to Cairo [to take part in inter-Palestinian dialogue] which is a positive step towards improving relations with the Egyptians following the improvement in Syrian – Saudi relations. The Syrians also warmly greeted President Mahmoud Abbas [during his recent visit to Damascus] and Mishal also postponed delivering a scheduled speech to the Syrian capital.

As for Lebanon, an urgent question is now being asked; Does Syrian cooperation with the Hariri Tribunal mean that there is potential reconciliation on the horizon between the Syrians and Saad al-Hariri?

My source tells me “There are two stages in Lebanon, a stage prior to Der Spiegal, and a stage following it.”

We are, of course, talking about the article published by the German Der Spiegel magazine that accused Hezbollah of being behind the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri. This [article] has dissipated a lot of the pressure on Damascus. Therefore the question that is yet to be answered is: Are we witnessing the beginning of a state where action can be taken as if Iran is not present?