Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Britain (again) seeks "peace in our time"

From The Times, November 19, 2008:

Britain re-established high-level intelligence links with the Syrian authorities as David Miliband made his landmark visit to Damascus yesterday, according to senior Syrian officials.

The move, first raised earlier this year at a meeting in New York between the Foreign Secretary and his Syrian counterpart, Walid Moualem, was a key objective of the Syrian visit. The newly revived intelligence relationship could be hugely beneficial to Britain. Syria is known to have one of the best intelligence-gathering systems in the Middle East, in particular in tracking the movements of Islamic extremists into Iraq and around the region. [ha ha ha...of course they can track terrorist movements...they SEND the terrorists - SL]

“Miliband asked Moualem in New York whether he could re-establish intelligence links at a senior level” after lower level contacts, a Syrian official said. Mr Moualem invited Mr Miliband to take intelligence officials with him on the trip to Damascus.

Mr Miliband's visit, the first by a British foreign secretary for seven years, was touted as an opportunity to test Syria's willingness to engage with the West...

...Washington has long insisted on isolating Syria but with a change of administration - and attitude - looming, Britain and France are leading efforts to lure Damascus out of the solitude it has found itself in since it was implicated in the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, three years ago.

Mr Miliband urged Syria yesterday to take a more active role in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians by first reaching its own peace deal with the Jewish state....

...Mr Miliband met President Assad for the first time during his visit, which, it was hoped, would draw the attention of Barack Obama, the President-elect...towards the Middle East.

In their first phone call since the US election, Gordon Brown emphasised that Mr Obama's foreign policy priority should be the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he sees as the key to other concerns in the region, including the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, said the visit was “a message from the British to Obama. Like the French, they want the US to push Syrian-Israeli peace. Negotiations between Syria and Israel began last May, but the Bush Administration was unhappy about the dialogue and refused to support them.”

Syria has long supported Hamas, which does not recognise Israel's right to exist and opposes the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's peace talks with it. Along with hosting exiled Hamas leaders, Syria also aids the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah. One of Israel's conditions for peace is that Damascus severs these links.
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