The stated goal of Mr. Bush's first serious stab at Middle East peacemaking is to revive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to end the region's most enduring conflict. But administration officials hope progress in talks scheduled to begin Tuesday in Annapolis, Md., also curries favor with skeptical Sunni Arab leaders, whom the U.S. needs to check Iran's growing regional clout.Naturally, the Turks are playing both sides of the game, hosting the Istanbul Al-Quds International Forum (at which four Iranian delegates were guests) and mediating Israel and Syria: "Mr. Olmert has used Turkish intermediaries to explore options with the Syrians, according to Israeli officials" (Simpson and Solomon, 24 November 2007).
Underscoring that effort, the Bush administration is even courting a long-time pariah, Syria. Syria's bitter enemy, Israel, is going even further, indicating that its arms are open wide to Damascus. Talks with Syria could go some way in weakening Tehran's strongest alliance in the region.
"This is one of those moments in history where the Syrians have been given an opportunity to jump," a senior Israeli official said this past week. "If they do jump, they will be embraced."
On Sunday, Syrian officials reported that the country will be represented at the conference by Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad because the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has been added to the agenda, according to The Associated Press. (At Mideast Talks, U.S. and Israel Seek to Isolate Iran by Wooing Syria, 24 November 2007, p. A1)
Washington surely wants at least a diplomatic coup equivalent to what Tehran delivered through the Caspian Summit: Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, "Caspian Summit a Triumph for Iran," Asia Times, 18 October 2007. Pulling Syria away from Iran, even if the talks produce no result regarding Israel/Palestine, would constitute such a coup. The question is whether Washington and Tel Aviv are prepared to make any concessions toward Syria regarding Lebanon.