Obama's reset button not working for Syria
The Obama administration is justifiably proud of how it has managed to "reset" relations with Russia, and how it has managed to build international pressure against Iran after its efforts at engagement were spurned.
But the reset button for Syria seems to have failed, if the latest remarks by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are any indication.
In an interview published Tuesday in al-Hayat newspaper, Assad said that the United States has created chaos in every place it entered. The remarks appeared to be a sharp rebuke after the administration has dispatched various diplomats to Damascus in an effort to wean him from the Iranian camp and to draw him into peace talks with Israel.
"Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?" Assad asked, referring to U.S. intervention in Lebanon's 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley fired back quickly, suggesting the administration has lost patience with Assad as well. "We believe we're playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not," he said in a lengthy and detailed critique of Syrian behavior.
In the interview, Assad also warned that possible indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could lead to a civil war in Lebanon.
"Any clash at any time between any group will sabotage Lebanon and destroy it," he said.
Crowley said Syria was the root of problems in Lebanon. Syrian actions "directly undermine Lebanon sovereignty and directly undermine Syria's stated commitments, you know, to Lebanon's sovereignty and independence," he said.
The administration has also nominated an ambassador to Syria -- which the Bush administration had withdrawn after the Hariri killing -- but that has stalled in the Senate.
Please continue for the full text of Crowley statement.
P.J. Crowley's full statement in response to the Assad interview:
"President Assad is within his right to provide, you know, his critique. You know, let me do the same.
"Recent Syrian behavior and rhetoric has had a destabilizing effect on Lebanon and the region. It has contributed to, you know, recent, you know, tensions. We understand that, you know, certain actors within and outside Lebanon, including Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, may believe they stand to gain by escalating sectarian tensions in an attempt to assert their own authority over Lebanon. You know, for example, Syria continues to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, and recently issued arrest warrants for 33 Lebanese and foreign nationals, including the Lebanese government state prosecutor and head of the national police.
"These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon sovereignty and directly undermine Syria's stated commitments, you know, to Lebanon's sovereignty and independence. So if the issue is, you know, who is playing a more constructive role in the region, you know, we stand by our pledge to support a sovereign, stable and independent Lebanon, with strong Lebanese institutions as the only way to realize the best interests of the Lebanese people and the region as a whole.
"We believe we're playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not."
| October 27, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
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