Assad and Obama
Assad and ObamaIsrael news photo montage

In a sign of another failure of U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy of ”engagement,” a top US official said Syria can forget Israel’s surrendering the strategic Golan Heights while it damages American interests in Lebanon.

Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told the Washington Post Tuesday, “Syria has said that it wishes to have its territorial expectations met through a peace agreement with Israel and that Syria recognizes the essential role that we can play in achieving that… But our interest in a comprehensive peace doesn't mean that we are going to start trading our other interests in Iraq or Lebanon in order to get Damascus to like us better."

The Netanyahu government last summer passed a law that no part of the Golan Heights can be surrendered without a public referendum. 

President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have sent Feltman several times to Syria, despite its being officially designated by the United States as a country that supports terror.

His statements to the Washington Post made it clear that the Obama administration is holding the Golan Heights, which Syria occupied until the Six-Day War in 1967, as a bargaining card. The area includes vast water resources and the Hermon Mountains, a key observation post and military assets. It overlooks Israeli communities around the Sea of Galilee and before the 1967 war, children in the area slept in shelters as there was constant Syrian shelling of their homes from the Heights.

Feltman said that ‘Syria’s friends are undermining stability in Lebanon….There is a cost to the potential in our bilateral relationship to what Syria's friends are doing in Lebanon."

Syrian President Bashar Assad withdrew thousands of Syrian soldiers from Lebanon due to American pressure following the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former anti-Syrian prime minister of Lebanon. Syria and Hizbullah have been widely accused of being behind the massive car bomb attack that killed Hariri.

Since the military withdrawal, Hizbullah – with the backing of Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad – has increased its military presence, joining the Lebanese army as well as acting as a Syrian-proxy in the government, where it holds veto power over major legislation.

Feltman’s statements came one day after Assad accused the Obama administration of causing world chaos by interfering in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia, among other countries and regions.

Syria also rejected “irresponsible” American accusations of undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty and said the charges are a “pure Israeli will," apparently meaning that the United States is acting on behalf of Israel. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters that Syria displayed a "flagrant disregard" for Lebanon's sovereignty and political independence.