Thursday, 22 April 2010

Clinton: U.S. to Advance Syria Ties despite Reported Hezbollah Scud Deal

22/04/2010 The Obama administration is still committed to improving relations with Syria, despite "deeply disturbing" reports of its moves to aid Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton, speaking at a news conference before the opening of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in this Baltic capital, said the administration has concluded that the benefits of sending a U.S. ambassador to Damascus - after a five-year absence - outweigh the costs.

She said the presence of an ambassador gives Washington a better insight into what is happening in Damascus.

"We have a long list of areas that we have discussed with the Syrians and we intend to continue pushing our concerns, and we think having an ambassador there adds to the ability to convey that message strongly and hopefully influence behavior in Syria," she said.

"The larger question as to what the United States will do with respect to Syria is one we've spent a lot of time considering and debating inside the administration," she said. "Where we are as of today is that we believe it is important to continue the process to return an ambassador; this is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions they take that are deeply disturbing."

Some U.S. senators are threatening to hold up the confirmation of the administration's choice for U.S. ambassador to Syria - career diplomat Robert Ford - because of unconfirmed reports that Syria was transferring Scud missiles to the Hezbollah.

Clinton did not confirm the reports. Without mentioning Scuds or Iran, which many believe is the source of the missiles, she described the situation in a way that strongly suggested that the U.S. does not believe Scuds have been transferred to Hezbollah yet.

Clinton referred to "these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hezbollah inside Syria".

Pressed to say whether she meant that the Scuds in Syria had originated in Iran, she replied, "I just said that we have expressed our concern about that."

Israel, which regards Hezbollah as a major threat, has accused Syria of providing the group with Scuds. A Scud has a far longer range and can carry a much bigger warhead than the rockets Hezbollah has used in the past, and could reach anywhere in Occupied Palestine. Syria has denied the charge, as has Lebanon's prime minister.


"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is already listening to the leaders of Iran & Hezbollah,... He needs to listen to us, too.”

Bloomberg/ here

“This is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions that they take which are deeply disturbing,” Clinton said.

Feltman also defended the decision, saying the Obama administration believes diplomacy can change Syria’s behavior. “An ambassador is not a reward; it’s a tool,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is already listening to the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah, Feltman said, and he “needs to listen ...

Syria’s government “says it wants to live in peace in the region,” Feltman testified. A senior U.S. envoy in Damascus would in time have a chance to persuade Syria that “it’s in Syria’s interest” to seek peace with Israel, respect the sovereignty of neighboring Lebanon and uphold human rights of its people, he said.
Feltman declined to answer in open session whether the U.S. has evidence to confirm Israeli claims that Syria has been smuggling long-range missiles to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israeli President Shimon Peres on April 13 accused the Arab country of supplying the militant group with Scuds, ground-to- ground missiles with a range of hundreds of miles.

“If these reports turn out to be true, we have to review” the full range of efforts .., while a change isn’t possible overnight, the administration can send a strong message through diplomatic channels......

“It’s important to make the case to Syria why the path they’re on is so dangerous,” Feltman said. “Syria is not Iran,” he said, noting that Syria is a secular state and that the Obama administration doesn’t see the Syria-Iran alliance as immutable.

Citing “growing rapprochement” between Syria and Saudi Arabia, Feltman said, “the Syrians try to hedge their bets.” It’s in the interests of U.S. allies, including Israel, Iraq and Lebanon, that the U.S. improves relations with Syria in an effort to change its behavior.
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