Obama’s Mixed Message to Syria: Kerry ‘Engages’ Assad
U.S. President Barack Obama sent ranking Democratic Senator John Kerry “to engage” Syria, three weeks after the United States extended sanctions against the country. The American government officially terms Syria a state that sponsors terror, and Damascus openly allies itself with Iran and Hizbullah.
Republicans have blocked efforts by President Obama to return an American ambassador to Damascus five years after the Bush administration recalled its envoy following the assassination of anti-Syrian leader Rafik Hariri. Syria has been blamed for the bloody car bomb attack on Hariri’s convoy.
President Obama continues to try to bring Syrian President Bashar Assad into talks for a regional peace, which would include the American-backed United Nations resolution calling on Israel to surrender the strategic Golan Heights to Syria. Assad has said he is willing to “negotiate” with Israel on the condition that Syria takes control of the Golan, which overlooks the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), contains vital water resources and from whose heights Syria bombarded Israeli communities constantly until Israel overran the area in the Six Day War.
"Senator Kerry traveled to Syria this weekend on his third trip since becoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in January 2009, and his fifth trip to Damascus as a senator," his spokesman Frederick Jones said.
Sen. Kerry “planned to speak with President Assad about a range of issues critical to the stability of the region,” he added. “Senator Kerry has consistently said that while the United States has serious, long-standing disagreements with Syria, in particular its support for Hizbullah and other terrorist groups, Syria can play a critical role in bringing peace and stability if it makes the strategic decision to do so.”
Three weeks ago, Obama renewed American sanctions on Syria for one year and stated that its "continuing support for terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs…pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently charged that Syria is arming Hizbullah with lethal missiles, probably including Scuds, and that the terrorist group has one of the largest missiles stockpiles in the world.
President Obama’s policies towards Syria are part of an American ”retreat,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote Friday. He noted Iran and its allies “watched our appeasement of Syria” and that "the price for this ostentatious flouting of the United States and its interests [is] ever more eager U.S. ‘engagement.’