Diplomatic mission may indicate improved bilateral relations
CAIRO: It may not be commanding global headlines, but this week s visit to Syria by intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman could be much more than a low-key diplomatic mission. Both countries are anxious to improve their relations, under deep strain since Israel s onslaught on Lebanon in July. And in the wider regional picture, the future now holds important opportunities.
Egypt is eager to restore its image as a major regional player, while Syria also wants a key place on the diplomatic stage. In both countries, analysts believe that the time is ripe to wring concessions from the United States.
Washington, while it casts around for a means to escape the Iraqi quagmire, may be only to anxious to build and retain whatever alliances it can in the region. At the top of their wish-list, Egypt and Syria want to persuade the Americans that now is the time for resolute moves to get the peace movement moving again. Only Washington, they will argue, can put enough pressure on Israel to offer meaningful concessions to the Palestinians.
Damascus, of course, has its own vital interest in the peace process: the restoration of stability in neighboring Lebanon, and, even more importantly, the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israeli troops in 1967.
These are broad strategic goals, but already it is plain that Egypt-Syria relations are improving. President Hosni Mubarak very publicly warned US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice against putting undue pressure on Damascus. Maintaining Syria s security, he said, was a central Egyptian concern.
Syria s President Bashar Al-Assad, for his part, has stressed the importance his country attaches to strong relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, America s two staunchest allies in the region.
Derek Brown is a former Middle East correspondent for The Guardian, and is currently a freelance analyst and editorial consultant.