Despite U.S. Effort, Syrian Mideast Role on the Rise

(AP-Washington Post) Bassem Mroue - Syria has bounced back from years of international isolation and is wielding its influence in crises around the Middle East, shrugging off U.S. attempts to pull it away from its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah. Now with Lebanon's factions heading for a possible new violent collision, Arabs have had to turn to Syria in hopes of ensuring peace, even as Damascus backs Lebanon's heaviest armed player, the Shiite militant group Hizbullah. Since 2005, Washington - along with its Arab allies - hoped to squeeze Syrian influence out of its smaller neighbor Lebanon. But Arab powers that once shunned Damascus, particularly Saudi Arabia, have had to acknowledge its regional weight, holding talks to try to avert an explosion in Lebanon. Syria has "turned the page on isolation" by building its partnership with Saudi Arabia and asserting a role in Iraq, Peter Harling, a Syria-based Mideast analyst with the International Crisis Group, says. President Obama has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year. Still, "Syria did not abandon Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah or its principles regarding the (Mideast) peace process," said Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst. Relations with Washington have now chilled before they even had a chance to fully warm up.

2010-11-17 07:57:09

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