US calls on Syria to deter Iran, Hizbullah in Lebanon

Top ME diplomat: Damascus must improve relations with US if it wishes to have territorial expectations met through a peace agreement with Israel.

Assad and Ahmadinejad meeting 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/ Sana-HO)
Assad and Ahmadinejad meeting 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/ Sana-HO)
Syria must use its influence to prevent Iran and Hizbullah from interfering in Lebanon's affairs if Damascus hopes to enjoy good relations with the United States, Washington's top diplomat for the Middle East said in an interview with The Washington Post published on Tuesday.
"Syria and the United States have taken some modest steps to see if we can improve the bilateral relationship. But this cannot go very far as long as Syria's friends are undermining stability in Lebanon. We have made that absolutely clear to the Syrians. There is a cost to the potential in our bilateral relationship to what Syria's friends are doing in Lebanon," said Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
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Feltman hinted at Syria's aspirations to retain the Golan Heights from Israel and how an improved relationship with the US could possibly aid that desire.
"Syria has said that it wishes to have its territorial expectations met through a peace agreement with Israel and that Syria recognizes the essential role that we can play in achieving that," Feltman said. "So this suggests to me that Syria is in fact interested in a better relationship with us. But our interest in a comprehensive peace doesn't mean that we are going to start trading our other interests in Iraq or Lebanon in order to get Damascus to like us better."
Feltman said that the US is "deeply concerned" with the situation in Lebanon as a decision by the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri approaches. There has been speculation that the tribunal could indict members of Hizbullah for involvement in the Hariri murder, an action that could lead to civil unrest in Lebanon. He said that the US and others must support the Lebanese government "to show there is not a vacuum on the other side."
The US diplomat addressed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad's recent visit to Lebanon, dismissing the idea that the Islamic Republic's leader's visit was meaningful. He said Ahmadinejad's tour of Lebanon was an example of "the age-old custom of leaders, of when they have troubles at home, [they] tend to try to dabble in foreign policy and stage some sort of triumphant foreign tour."