Diplo­macy with the rogues

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice’s di­a­logue with Syr­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Walid Moallem on May 4 was at least in part a re­sponse to the pound­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken for its sup­posed re­fusal to talk to rogue states like Syria. Af­ter the meet­ing, Rep. Tom Lan­tos, the chair­man of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said the RiceMoallem dis­cus­sion at a con­fer­ence in Egypt shows how fool­ish the White House was to crit­i­cize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for go­ing to Da­m­as­cus last month to meet Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. Mr. Lan­tos, who ac­com­pa­nied Mrs. Pelosi to Da­m­as­cus, said Miss Rice should know “the great value of face-to-face dis­cus­sion, even [with] those with whom we strongly dis­agree.”

But the im­plicit premise of Mr. Lan­tos’s com­ments — that the back­ward-think­ing Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­fused to talk with Syria — is false. Be­tween 2001 and the Feb. 14, 2005, as­sas­si­na­tion of for­mer Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Rafiq Hariri, Wash­ing­ton sent at least five high-level del­e­ga­tions to Syria in an ef­fort to per­suade Mr. As­sad to change his be­hav­ior. The most pub­li­cized of th­ese vis­its was Sec­re­tary of State Colin Pow­ell’s May 2003 trip, where he de­manded that Syria stop sub­vert­ing Iraq. Mr. As­sad agreed, but af­ter Mr. Pow­ell left, Syria con­tin­ued busi­ness as usual. All of the other vis­its, deal­ing with is­sues like Syr­ian sup­port for ter­ror­ism and in­ter­fer­ence in Le­banon, also ended un­suc­cess­fully. David Schenker, ad­viser to the sec­re­tary of de­fense on Le­banon mat­ters from 2002 through 2006, de­scribes th­ese ef­forts as mis­er­able fail­ures which: 1) did not change Syr­ian be­hav­ior and 2) were spun by the Syr­i­ans as ev­i­dence that Wash­ing­ton rec­og­nizes that it must work with the As­sad regime.

Sim­i­larly, the trip Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Lan­tos took to Da­m­as­cus last month ap­pears to have been a pro­pa­ganda coup for Mr. As­sad’s Ba’athist dic­ta­tor­ship. Betsy Pisik of The Wash­ing­ton Times, who re­cently vis­ited Da­m­as­cus, re­ported May 2 that Syr­i­ans she in­ter­viewed told her that the House speaker’s meet­ings with Mr. As­sad and se­nior min­is­ters have “shat­tered Wash­ing­ton’s at­tempt to iso­late the regime.”

On May 4, Miss Rice of­fered Syria the prospect of a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with the United States if it helps cre­ate “sta­bil­ity” in Iraq in the fu­ture. While she was meet­ing with Mr. Moallem, his deputy, Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Faysal Mek­dad, told Mrs. Pisik that no Syr­ian would par­tic­i­pate in any in­ter­na­tional trial of sus­pects in the Hariri mur­der and warned that Le­banon is on the brink of a civil war — a threat, given Syria’s lengthy in­volve­ment in vi­o­lence there. (And it is a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive mat­ter for Mr. Moallem, given the fact that U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­port­edly have a tape of him speak­ing in a men­ac­ing way to Mr. Hariri just weeks be­fore his slay­ing.) On May 5, just 48 hours af­ter the RiceMoallem meet­ing, Khaled Me­shal, head of the Ha­mas ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, spoke at a rally in Da­m­as­cus, where he de­nounced as a “farce” Miss Rice’s latest pro­posal to calm Is­raeli-Pales­tinian ten­sions. The Ira­nian for­eign min­is­ter, who was sup­posed to at­tend a din­ner and pos­si­bly talk with Miss Rice in Egypt, stormed out of the room, os­ten­si­bly to protest the way a fe­male vi­o­lin­ist was dressed.

We don’t op­pose in prin­ci­pal talk­ing to any na­tion, rogues in­cluded, if it can ad­vance U.S. pol­icy in­ter­ests. But “di­a­logue” done for it’s own sake with no se­ri­ous pos­si­bil­ity of achiev­ing any­thing can be harm­ful. It’s past time for the Bush-bash­ers to ex­plain what the ad­min­is­tra­tion is sup­posed to do once the rogues make it clear they have no in­ter­est in se­ri­ous di­a­logue.

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