Assad: U.S.'s Misguided Mideast Policy Empowered Iran

Former Security Council officials claim Assad said Syria's ties with Iran, Hezbollah not negotiable.

Syrian President Bashar Assad told former senior White House officials two weeks ago that U.S. policy in the Middle East has been wrong for the past decade and has created a vacuum that has been filled by other countries, meaning Iran and Turkey.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, who served on the National Security Council during the Clinton and Bush administrations, said Tuesday on their Web site that Assad told them Iran's rise has not come at Syria's expense because all three countries have improved their regional strategic standing.

Despite Assad's criticism of U.S. policy choices, the Leveretts said the Syrian president seemed satisfied with his meeting the day before with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns. However, Assad made clear that Syria's ties to Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas were "not on the table".

Flynt Leverett said that an Assad adviser had told him recently that Syria would find it difficult to distance itself from Iran because only Iran had stood by Syria in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Leverett added the following: "If Israel were prepared to conclude a peace treaty with Syria, meeting its longstanding requirements [full return of the occupied Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 lines, etc.], [Assad said he] 'could not say no'."