Council Special Report

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Dealing with Damascus

Seeking a Greater Return on U.S.-Syria Relations

Authors: Mona Yacoubian, Senior Adviser, Middle East Program, Stimson Center, and Scott Lasensky, Senior Research Associate, United States Institute of Peace

Dealing with Damascus - dealing-with-damascus
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Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date June 2008

48 pages
ISBN 978-0-87609-408-2
Council Special Report No. 33


Syria has more often than not represented a problem for U.S. foreign policy.

Its unwillingness to make peace with Israel, close ties to Iran, political and military interference in Lebanon, and support for Hezbollah and Hamas—both of which appear on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations—have caused significant strain. Syria itself is one of five countries on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. In recent years, bilateral tensions have further increased over Syria’s role in allowing militants and weapons into Iraq. Damascus is also widely suspected of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and of attempts to build a nuclear reactor with help from North Korea.

At the same time, the United States and Syria have a history of limited cooperation and there are occasions when U.S. and Syrian interests overlap. The United States facilitated the negotiation of the disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. In 1990 and 1991, Syria took part in the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Then, after the war, Syria attended the Madrid Conference sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union. It also sent a representative to the Annapolis conference held by the Bush administration in November 2007. And most recently, it was announced in May 2008 that Israel and Syria were engaging in peace talks through Turkish mediators.

In this Council Special Report, Mona Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky make a strong case that the Bush administration’s policy of diplomatic isolation of Syria is not serving U.S. interests. They provide guidance for U.S. policy toward Syria on questions concerning Lebanon, Israel-Syria peace talks, and Iraq. But wherever one comes out on these and other difficult questions, the report offers informed history and thoughtful analysis of the country and its behavior.

More About This Publication

Mona Yacoubian is a special adviser to the Muslim World Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace, where she provides analysis and policy advice on the Middle East and North Africa. From 1990 to 1998, Ms. Yacoubian served as a Middle East analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. She was previously an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and also held a year-long Fulbright scholarship in Syria. Ms. Yacoubian received an MA in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Scott Lasensky is coauthor of Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East (with Daniel Kurtzer, 2008). Formerlya fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, he has taught at Mount HolyokeCollege and Georgetown University. A senior research associate at the United States Institute of Peace, Dr. Lasensky received a PhD in politics from Brandeis University. He recently received a Fulbright research grant forIsrael and Syria.

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