Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Syria Talks Signal New Direction for U.S.

Posted by gaetanoditommaso su 3 marzo, 2009

JERUSALEM — Signaling a new direction in Middle East diplomacy, the Obama administration will dispatch two senior officials to Syria to begin discussions with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on a visit to Israel on Tuesday.

The overture suggests how the Obama administration may intend to tackle three interlocking challenges in the Middle East: the nuclear threat posed by Iran, the tensions between Israel and Syria, and the grinding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Syria, experts say, could be the key to all three.

Noting Syria’s influence in the region, as well as its troubled history with the United States, Mrs. Clinton said, “It is a worthwhile effort to go and begin preliminary conversations.”

The envoys, from the White House and the State Department, will follow recent visits by lawmakers, including the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John F. Kerry.

Given the suspicion between Syria and the United States, Mrs. Clinton sought to temper expectations. “We have no way to predict of what the future of our relations with Syria might be,” she said.

Still, analysts believe conditions for an opening to Damascus are ripe.

“We’ve got a Syrian government that wants to engage,” said Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel and a peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. “We’re likely to get an Israeli government that will find it easier to engage with Syria than with the Palestinians.”

By seeking a deal with Syria, he said, the United States could raise the pressure on Iran to respond to its offer of direct talks. A deal would also give Arab states and moderate Palestinians the political cover to negotiate with Israel. That, in turn, could increase the pressure on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, to relax its hostile stance toward Israel.

“We don’t engage in discussions for the sake of having conversations,” Mrs. Clinton said, after a lunch meeting with the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. “There has to be a purpose to them; there has to be some benefit accruing to the United States and our allies.”

The Bush administration largely shunned Syria, recalling its ambassador to Damascus in February 2005, in the wake of the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese accuse Syria of involvement in the assassination, a charge it denies.

The Obama emissaries are Daniel Shapiro, a senior aide at the National Security Council, and Jeffrey D. Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. Mr. Feltman was ambassador to Lebanon, while Mr. Shapiro advised the Obama campaign on the Middle East.

Mr. Feltman held a two-hour meeting with Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, in Washington last Thursday. He and Mr. Shapiro are accompanying Mrs. Clinton on her first tour of the Middle East as secretary of state, which began Monday in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, where she said the United States would pursue peace “on many fronts.”

Meeting Tuesday with Israel’s leaders at a time of political transition there, Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed the desire of the United States for an agreement that would create a separate Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.

But she was plainly reluctant to step into a domestic political tussle. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely to form a right-wing coalition government in coming days, has stressed economic development in the West Bank over negotiations with the Palestinians for their own state.

“We happen to believe that moving toward the two-state solution, step by step, is in Israel’s best interests,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But obviously, it is up to the people and the government of Israel to decide.”

Ms. Livni said she embraced a two-state solution — a key difference between her Kadima Party and Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party and one that has impeded Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to form a broad coalition with Kadima. Mrs. Clinton met with Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday afternoon.

In his previous stint as prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu explored a peace accord with Syria. But it came to nothing.

The secretary of state expressed solidarity with Israelis on two other contentious issues: the threat posed by Iran, and Israel’s response to daily rocket attacks by Hamas militants in Gaza.

On Iran, Mrs. Clinton promised to consult Israel and other Middle East countries in developing policy toward Tehran. At a Gaza donors’ conference in Egypt on Monday, Mrs. Clinton told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates that she did not believe Iran would respond positively to the Obama administration’s offer of direct negotiations.

Ms. Livni said she had no qualms with the American offer, but she noted that Israel’s Muslim neighbors were as worried as Israel by Tehran. “They feel that Iran is their own enemy, not Israel anymore,” she said. “They feel that Iran tries to undermine their regimes.”

Mrs. Clinton also declined to publicly press Israel to open border crossings into Gaza, which critics say has impeded the flow of desperately needed humanitarian relief. Israel imposed a crushing blockade on Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007. It has allowed in humanitarian assistance since the recent 22-day assault on Hamas, but has not opened the crossings for many other goods.

On Monday, European officials said they expected Mrs. Clinton to raise the issue with the Israelis on her visit.

But Mrs. Clinton said: “It’s very difficult to solve this dilemma when Israel is under physical attack. We have humanitarian challenge in Gaza, with a lot of innocent Palestinians who need the help, and Hamas decides to continue to rain rockets down on Israel.”

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.




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