JERUSALEM – If the U.S. helps facilitate billions of dollars in business for Syria and builds up Damascus as the primary American ally in the Arab world in place of Saudi Arabia, the Syrians would be willing to discuss scaling back alliances with Iran and making peace with Israel, according to a senior Syrian official speaking to WND.
The official said Syria recently conveyed this message to numerous visiting foreign dignitaries, including U.S. congressmen and Turkish mediators.
He said Syria also demanded as a key condition for considering altering its alliances that the U.S. cease opposing Syrian influence in Lebanon.
"Syria is the key to the Arab world. We have influence with Hezbollah and Lebanon and hold many cards in the Palestinian and Iraqi arenas. The U.S. needs to rethink the value of the investment it places in Saudi Arabia," said the official, who spoke by phone from Damascus on condition his name be withheld.
The official said Syria is asking the U.S. firstly to end its opposition to a trade and association agreement between Damascus and the European Union drafted in 2004 that is said to be worth about $7 billion per year for the Syrian economy. The agreement was not signed or implemented largely due to American pressure, said the Syrian official.
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Syria is also asking the U.S. not to object to Syrian "influence" in Lebanon, which was occupied for nearly 30 years by Syrian forces until protests prompted by the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister for which Syria was widely blamed. Pro-democracy Lebanese leaders accuse Syria of meddling it Lebanon's affairs by directing the Hezbollah terrorist group, which holds key parliamentary seats, to interfere in the election of a new Lebanese president.
The main Syrian request is that America uphold Damascus as its main "partner" in the Arab world instead of Saudi Arabia, said the Syrian official.
He said in exchange Damascus would discuss severing "many ties" with Iran, but he would not specify which ties and whether Syria is willing to cut off all coordination with the Iranians.
"We are ready to significantly and deeply reduce relations with our Iranian brothers if conditions are met," the official said.
He said Syria is willing to sign a treaty with Israel and come to some sort of accommodation regarding the strategic Golan Heights, mountainous territory looking down on Israeli population centers which Syria used twice to launch ground invasions into the Jewish state.
The official claimed the Golan was not "the biggest obstacle" in preventing a Syrian-American-Israeli agreement.
He claimed Syria would "not categorically reject the idea of leasing some sections of the Golan to Israel for up to 99 years."
Israeli leaders in recent days expressed public willingness to start negotiations with Syria regarding the Golan Heights.
Just yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during a weekly government meeting Israel has "an interest in holding peace talks with Syria, who know full well what our expectations are, just as we know theirs."
WND reported exclusively in February Olmert's government held high-level talks with Syria via Turkish mediators regarding renewing negotiations over an Israeli retreat from the Golan Heights. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government last week confirmed those talks.
According to Israeli media reports multiple foreign envoys who met with Syrian President Bashar Assad said that they were surprised to see in his office, alongside photos of his dead father, photographs of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah Sec. Gen. Hassan Nasrallah, which led the envoys to believe that Syria is strongly committed to an alliance with Iran and Hezbollah.
Security officials in Jerusalem confirmed to WND their knowledge of the Syrian offers to the U.S., which they said prompted a major crisis between Syria and Saudi Arabia.
According to the security officials, Saudi Arabia earlier this year began shipping weapons to the anti-Syrian leadership in Lebanon to bolster them against Damascus' influence and the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.
The Syrian-Saudi crisis was highlighted at last week's Arab Summit, a major annual meeting of Arab leaders which was held this year in Damascus. Saudi Arabia sent only a low-level representative – which was seen as a major snub to Syria – and used the platform to blast Syria.
According to knowledgeable Arab diplomatic sources, Saudi Arabia wanted to boycott the event altogether, but sent the low-level delegation to uphold its record of attending every Arab Summit.
Israel, Syria on war alert
The reports of Syria's stated willingness to negotiate with Israel and the U.S. comes as Syria, Lebanon and Israel increased their alertness along a joint border zone amid a possible breakout of hostilities.
The countries are preparing for the possibility of Hezbollah attacking Israel in retaliation for the assassination of arch-Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bomb in Syria in February.
According to Israeli security officials, Israel has warned Syria, which sends weapons to Hezbollah, Damascus would be held accountable for any Hezbollah attack on Israeli soil.
Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Dan Harel, warned last week Israel will "respond with a heavy hand" against anyone trying to target Israel.
Touring Israel's northern border with Lebanon and Syria, Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated last week Israel is the most powerful country in the Middle East and warned against challenging it.
Barak was to travel last week to Berlin for strategic talks about the Middle East but postponed the trip due to tensions with Syria, his aides said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said yesterday Damascus is prepared for an Israeli attack on its soil, but has chosen peace as its strategic option.
Amid the tensions, Israel this week will hold its largest-ever war drill to prepare the public and government and army institutions for the possibility of a future war. The drills will reportedly include testing of missile alert sirens, Israel Defense Force war simulations, Homefront Command, police and emergency services responses and drills in hospitals and emergency centers.
As part of the drill, Israel will simulate a massive missile bombardment, including a chemical missile attack.
Hezbollah's Deputy Commander Naim Kassem said yesterday Israel's decision to hold the nationwide military exercises was intended to prepare for a "new war" on Lebanon.
But Olmert told reporters, "Israel is not expecting any violent clashes in the north ... the Syrians know they have no reason to assess the drill any differently."
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.
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