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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Improving American Syrian Relations: Toward a Strategic Plan

While United States politicians were busy listing Syrian on their list of terrorist –sponsor states and imposing economic and political sanctions through the Syrian Accountability Act, the European Union (EU) formed a strategic plan to penetrate Syrian society, and help the average Syrian using a very constructive approach.

US policy makers failed to build strategic relationships with Syria, which could be a more effective approach in terms of dealing with the Syrian government.

It seems that US policymakers did not study the European experience enough, where strategic relations were built based on mutual benefit, resulting in a closer relationship between the EU and Syria. US have been especially obsessed with the political aspects of its relationship with Syria, particularly: 1) Syrian-Israel peace process 2) the Syrian regime’s role in supporting the Iraqi resistance movement. 3) The existence of Hamas representation in Syria 4) Syrian relations with Iran 5) Supporting terrorism/

The US set the terms of the relationship with Syria, and the Syrian regime has been trying to satisfy these terms by helping CIA in interrogating terrorist suspects.  Syrian officials also came to Washington DC to demonstrate willingness to satisfy US requests; however, because of the lack of strategic plans, the US wasted too many opportunities to improve relations with Syria, and ended up withdrawing the US ambassador from Syria.

Even though the Bush Administration stated that the US was interested in promoting democracy in Syria and even named names of certain political prisoners, this declaration was never coupled with any strategic plan for Syrian democracy promotion.  As a matter of fact, meeting Syrian opposition movements’ representatives at the White House without having a multidimensional strategic plan did nothing to assist those fighting for democracy inside Syria.  Most Syrian representatives (i.e. Damascus Declaration Council), knowing this, refused to meet with George Bush and his administration.

Syrian opposition movement members can meet with European officials to discuss the deteriorating human rights situation more easily than they can meet with American officials.

Through its co-operation, the EU also has been trying to assist Syria in its efforts to improve its population’s welfare.

For example, over the period 2007-2013, the EU aims to build upon the achievements and lessons of past cooperation and to prepare Syria for full participation in the European Neighborhood Policy. The EU has offered wide range of co-operation tools, including twinning arrangements, and a substantial part of the financial assistance in the period 2007-2013 will be allocated as a variable premium to encourage progress with reform, in particular political reform.

By using financial incentives, the EU encouraged Syrian officials, along with other Southern Mediterranean partners, to take advantage of the ‘Governance Facility’ launched at the Euro-Mediterranean 10th Anniversary Summit, which will deliver increased financial assistance to better-performing partners.

The EU did not force Syrians to implement any policy.  To the contrary, the EU ensured  Syrian ownership of the implementation of the National Indicative Programme.  The EU strategy builds upon Syria’s own policy agenda, in particular the 10th Five-Year Plan for 2006-2010.  Objectives of the strategy directly target priorities set in Syria’s Five-Year Plan, such as decentralization, economic and regulatory reform, education, health and the environment.

The EU assisted the Syrian government with the implementation of its ambitious agenda for transition towards a ‘social market economy’.

The strategy also builds upon the provisions of the Association Agreement that could lead to closer integration with the EU.  The Syrian government used the agreement as a reference for developing its reform agenda and continues using it as a guide for the country’s modernization process, even though it is not signed and ratified.

The EU strategy takes full account of the political context of EU-Syria relations, international obligations under the UN Security Council Resolutions, the relevant EU Council Common Positions and Resolutions, and Syria’s commitments spelled out in the Euro-Mediterranean Programme. This includes extending political pluralism and citizens’ participation in political life, improvement of the situation of stateless people, civil society development, decentralization/local democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.

The author believes that the EU has a more constructive approach to Syria than the US, and that President Obama’s administration needs a fully-developed strategic plan containing political, institutional, economical, and social dimensions to serve the interest of both nations in the long run.


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