No President Obama clearly wants to avoid the mistake of almost all US Presidents perhaps with the notable exception of President Jimmy Carter.  President Obama has refused to delay efforts for Arab Israel peace until events always force presidents to give it priority.  In his first 100 days in office the President has spoken out very forcefully on this matter.  Secretary of state Clinton has been to Israel, Palestine, Jordon and Egypt, bolstering the fast pace of consultations undertaken by Presidential envoy George Mitchell.  King Abdullah of Jordan visited Washington, really focusing on the Arab Israel conflict and efforts to resume progress toward a comprehensive peace settlement.  Notably the president declined to meet first with the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the administration officials had made clear to the annual APAC conference their strong determination to push for a two-stage solution including a viable Palestinian state with contiguous borders.  The leaders of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian authority are coming soon for talks with President Obama.  No one should underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead, but it is clear that Obama, Clinton and Mitchell are determined and prepared to use a full range of levers and inducements on the parties in the region, both foreign and domestic levers and inducements to realize their vision of helping to heal the breach between the children of Abraham.  Working for peace between Israel, the Palestinians and Israel’s other Arab neighbors is the highest moral goal for any US president, but it is also a central if the president has any hope of making progress in other areas of great strategic importance to US security and to global prosperity.  Appropriately the administration is moving at a more measured pace to raised the level of US Syrian relations and to expand contacts with Iran.  But the strategic direction is clear.

They are being very careful not to alarm the closest allies of the US in the region and Obama and his senior aides have entered into close consultations with the leaders of moderate Arab states, Israel and Turkey and that has set the stage for efforts to reach out to Damascus and Tehran.  So let me say a few words about Syria.  Relations between Damascus and Washington have had sharp ups and downs over the decades.  If you think about it our ill-fate adventures in Lebanon in the 1980s provided evidence.  They are relying too exclusively on our alliance with Israel and some favorite Lebanese parties would lead to disaster.  Our failure to consult closely with the Syrian government demonstrated that Syria was in a position to be at least a very large part of the problem if we did not make them part of the solution.  Once again, relations have deteriorated sharply since the early 1990s when Syria joined with United States as an ally to repel Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and for a variety of reasons, however, the United States was angry with Syria when we invaded Iraq in 2003.  Eventually we even withdrew the US ambassador and froze our diplomatic dialogue at a very low level. Now it is incontestable that Syria had a dictatorial regime, lot of human rights abuses within Syria that has a long history of interfering in neighboring Lebanon and interfering often in a very heavy handed way.  It has also provided refuge to terrorist organizations that at times have created problems in Israel, in Lebanon and in Turkey and yet in the immediate aftermath of September 2001, Washington and Damascus entered all too briefly into a period of productive cooperation on a common threat, which was a threat posed by radical extremist terrorist groups using Islam as an excuse for their terrorist activities.

A principal basis for that was the existential threat, which had been posed to the secular Bath party regime in Syria by forerunners to Al Qaida and after the events of 9/11, the Syrian authorities provided intelligence that in the words of an American official testifying before the congress enabled us to prevent a terrorist attack against large numbers of Americans in a third country.  Now quite frankly it would be great if we could have gotten that kind of information from let us say Denmark.  But we have to be realistic.  The people who are in a position to provide helpful intelligence and absolutely a central cooperation to the United States were not always our close friends and allies and the people who shared our values and that is why I think there was a reaching out to countries, governments like the Syrian government and I am sorry it couldn’t have been continued and I don’t place the blame for that in Washington.  I would say probably most of the blame likes in Damascus, but a certain amount also with Washington.   Now we can see how relations have deteriorated very, very sharply and getting them back to a more normal relationship is going to take some difficulty.   But Washington after concluding that Syrian cooperation was too limited and we could do without it has had to pay a serious price.  We even rebuffed the requests of US military commanders to establish liaison with Syrian forces to stop the infiltration of terrorists passing through Syria across its border into Iraq.