Senior U.S. envoy expected in Damascus
A senior American official will visit Damascus soon to issue another warning that Washington is losing its patience with Syria's failure to meet demands it already agreed to, including those about rejectionist Palestinian organizations.
Last week there were reports that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, visiting the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, would go to Damascus for a meeting with President Bashar Assad, but the plan was scotched. Last month he handed demands to the Syrians but officials in the Defense Department believe his tone was too soft.
After the Powell visit last month, Palestinian groups based in Damascus lowered their profiles and some of the leaders even left the country. The current assessments of the Israeli defense establishment are that any easing of American pressure will send Syria "back to its old habits."
The Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Butheina Sha'aban, was in Washington recently, delivering speeches to various think tanks. Sha'aban apparently did not meet any officials and reiterated Syria's position that the U.S. should add a Syria-Lebanon track to the road map.
Washington's sense that its messages are not getting through to the Syrians intensified following a report on the front page of the Lebanese newspaper A Safir, considered close to Syria. The newspaper quoted a senior Syrian official as saying Damascus had sensed a weakening in American pressure because of signs that American forces were becoming "entangled" in Iraq.
The report, datelined Damascus, said that during a phone conversation between Powell and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara, the Syrian sensed a "change" in the American position regarding Syria and an end to American "intimidation." The Syrian source was quoted as saying "there's no more fear, but there is caution" with regard to the U.S.
He said "the situation is much better now, and the more the Americans get entangled in Iraq, the more they will be forced to change their basic tone toward us, and toward others who opposed the war and the occupation of Iraq."
Sources in Syria were quoted in the report as saying American difficulties in Iraq will intensify from day to day and it is clear their forces cannot control the situation there.