10/08/2009, 00.00
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High expectations and few illusions for King Abdullah’s visit to Damascus

The meeting between the Saudi king and the Syrian president could reduce many of the tensions in the Middle East, from the formation of a government in Lebanon to reconciliation among the Palestinians. But it is highly unlikely to lead to a real distancing between Damascus and Tehran.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - In theory, it could unlock the Lebanese situation - unable to form a Government since June - encourage a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah – of which there are some timid signs -, calm tensions throughout the Middle East and, therefore, give a hand to Barack Obama and his attempt to finally bring peace to the region. There are many potential positive aspects of the meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah, currently in Damascus.

The official Syrian and Saudi press speak with great, positive emphasis of the meeting, the first in several years of a Saudi king to Damascus. The Syrian SANA writes of "family ties and historical relations" that unite the two countries to be "consolidated" in all fields, the Saudi Arab News of a visit that "opens a new chapter" in relations between Damascus and Riyadh.   Official state communiqués report that Assad and Abdullah both affirm their desire to "remove obstacles that impede the development" of relations between their countries, adding that this "will impact positively on the issues" in the region.

Which are many. Everything depends on the position of Syria in the framework of alliances. Since the '80s – and the war between Iran and Iraq - Syria has been a staunch ally of Tehran. The only state to openly take their side. Together, the two countries support Hezbollah and Hamas, which means Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian movement. This on the one hand allows Syria to continue to have weight in the internal politics of Lebanon and to influence the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, on the other it has cost its international isolation. President Bush put it among the "states of evil," Assad allows the passage of weapons and guerrillas against the Americans in Iraq and he gave – and still gives – refuge to members of Saddam's regime, with all the ensuing tensions this entails with the current government Baghdad.

Break, or at least weaken, the alliance with Iran which persists in its worrying nuclear program is what prompted first France and then the United States of Obama to attempt a rapprochement with Syria. Now it's up to Abdullah.   What is certain, is a confirmed agreement against double taxation and fiscal evasion.

The rest, what really counts, is subject to different opinions. From the Syrian side, an adviser to Assad, Buthaina Shaaban, sees the encounter as "strengthening of the Arab and Islamic position " in front of Israeli intransigence and speaks of "excellent progress". From the same capital, a Western diplomat, interviewed by Reuters, believes that "Saudi Arabia has nothing to offer to the Syrians to encourage them to move away from Iran." Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst, adds that "the king is here, but the Syrian president a month ago was in Iran."  The analysis of the Jerusalem Post is along the same lines, according to which the "Damascus could have much to gain by restoring relations with the Saudis. But the price of abandoning the alliance with its key ally in the region - Tehran - is not a possibility".

On the contrary, it must be noted that Abdullah’s visit comes a few weeks after Assad’s to Saudi Arabia, on September 23, ostensibly for the inauguration of a university. From the United States, Andrew Tabler at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes that "the Abdullah visit is significant symbolically in that it opens the door for Damascus to move away from an increasingly isolated Iran toward Washington's Arab allies".   "All of this will just be a photo shoot, however, if it doesn't lead to progress on key issues, most notably the formation of a government in Lebanon and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah".

Beirut, in fact, looks with hope at the meeting, the pro-Syrian As Safir quoted sources close to President Michel Suleiman, to affirm that the Lebanese head of state welcomed the rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia that "could be in the interest Lebanon and facilitate the formation of a constructive government”. An Nahar, similarly notes that an agreement between Damascus and Riyadh could "put an end to the stalemate in Lebanon." (PD)



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See also
Ahmadinejad on pilgrimage to Makkah, invited by King Abdullah
Bishops and Patriarchs send their best wishes to King Abdullah and mourn King Fahd
Some positive moves from Riyadh summit for Israel, not for Lebanon
King Abdullah, a cautious reformer on the Saudi throne (Overview)
King Fahd, between openness to the US and support for Islamic fundamentalism (Overview)


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