Sunday, November 19, 2006

Syria wants Golan in return for helping US

Nothing new or unexpected, other than that it's in the paper...

The Sunday Times November 19, 2006

SYRIA is to demand American help in securing the return of the Golan Heights from Israel as the price of co-operation over Iraq. With the White House under pressure to talk to its adversary, President Bashar al-Assad has resolved that his assistance will not be cheap.

Assad has been considering how to respond to an American overture following reports that the Iraq Study Group will recommend that the United States engage Syria and Iran in talks on Iraq, a position backed by Tony Blair last week.

The Syrian president wants America and Britain to use their influence with Israel to raise the return of the Golan Heights, seized by the Israelis in the 1967 war. “It will be the top demand,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a leading reformer in the ruling Ba’ath party.

Assad has ruled out co-operating with the Americans in return for the promise of unspecified benefits. “The Syrian leadership is fed up with the Americans and does not trust their word when it comes to future aid for Syria,” Abdel Nour said.

“Syria will not do anything unless it has secured guarantees from Washington and London that every action Damascus takes to help them will be reciprocated. It will be a step by step scenario: these actions for those actions,” he added. Assad also insists that any help must be dependent on a timetable for US troop withdrawals, a move resisted by President George W Bush.

Shaul Bakhash, an expert on the Middle East at George Mason University, Washington, said: “Neither Iran nor Syria will do a favour for the US without wanting something back — and what both countries want are things that the US is not willing to give them.”

The Syrians believe they are in a position of strength. “Already there is talk that Syria is the winner and will set the new rules of the game in the region,” Abdel Nour said.

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