Whilst US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that her country has asked the Syrians to distance themselves from Iran, the Syrian President welcomingly received his Iranian counterpart to Damascus, celebrating the occasion of Mawlid [Birth of Prophet Mohammed]. [The two presidents] signed an agreement to cancel travel visas between the two countries. Was this [a case of] Syria challenging the US, or just public embarrassment in response to Secretary Clinton embarrassing Damascus, especially as Assad’s comments about Clinton were clearly sarcastic. He said, “We met today to sign a separation treaty,” and he added, laughing, “We must have misunderstood because of bad translation or our limited understanding, so we signed the agreement to cancel the visas…I don’t know whether or not this is consistent with that.” Finally he added, “I hope that others will not give us lessons about our region and our history, we determine how things go.”
These are strong and harsh comments. But if Damascus is the one that determines how things go and believes that its interest lies in consolidating its ties with Tehran then why is Syria openly asking the Americans to intervene in negotiations with Israel. The Syrian Foreign Minister [Walid Muallem] said recently that “normalizing Syrian-US relations is extremely important to set up a launchpad which could one day help the resumption of direct negotiations between Syria and Israel.”
If Damascus agrees with Ahmadinejad – who described US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the “mother-in-law” even though we don’t know who the son-in-law is meant to be – that the “Zionist entity is on its way to disappearing,” and “will be confronted by all nations in the region, especially Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq,” then why is Syria cooperating with the Americans on security issues and with acknowledgement from Washington as the number foreign fighters heading for Iraq has decreased? Why is there a strong dispute between Damascus and Baghdad when they are partners? If Syria is partner to Tehran then how should we interpret the statement made by Walid Muallem about the international concern over the Iranian nuclear file, as he expressed his country’s attempt “to create constructive dialogue between Iran and the West leading to a peaceful solution,” based on two principles; “Iran’s right to use nuclear energy for peaceful goals and that the regional countries trust that Iran does not have a nuclear military program.” And this does not mean it is supporting Tehran!
It is a really confusing issue; if the Syrians want to normalize relations with the US and want the US to mediate between Syria and Israel then how can they fight on Ahmadinejad’s side and agree with him on eliminating Israel? How can Ahmadinejad believe that Syria is a partner as long as Damascus is talking about peace with Israel? If the idea of Syria negotiating with Israel is accepted by Iran then why does Tehran denounce others as traitors?
On the Arab level, there is no comment on the Damascus meeting but on the US level, sources in Washington are saying that Ahmadinejad’s comments demonstrate the level of Iranian tension and concern regarding Under Secretary of State William Burn’s visit to Syria as part of a tour that included Lebanon and Turkey. Information stated that [Burn’s visit] was to gather support for the decision to impose sanctions on Iran, and the Americans believe that Assad’s comments aimed to alleviate Iran’s concerns about Burn’s visit and before the US ambassador arrives in Damascus.
Therefore the question that must be asked is: who is deceiving who? There is something not right about the Damascus-Tehran relationship today. The loud voice suggests that one side is nervous whilst the other is portraying something contrary to what is on the inside. Let us wait and see!