Clinton wooed by Syrian president: US 'encouraged' by Assad's commitment to normal relations with Israel - Peace lobby declares Geneva summit a success

THE SUMMIT meeting between President Bill Clinton and President Hafez al-Assad appears to have achieved what the Syrians always wanted: an improvement in relations between the two countries and United States recognition of Syria's key role in the region.

Israel had hoped the meeting would lead to some Syrian flexibility in its insistence on full peace in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, occupied since 1967. Israelis also wanted to know what kind of peace Syria was promising in return.

In the event, Syria restated its position on international legitimacy and justice - code words for a full Israeli withdrawal as a prerequisite of any agreement in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.

But what President Assad impressed on the Americans was his commitment to the strategic goal of peace. The terms and the timing were secondary. In exchange he obtained US understanding of his position, and a restatement of the Mr Clinton's assurance that the US should play a full role as partner in the process.

This was Mr Assad's aim. He may travel little outside the region, but no one has greater political skills or experience. He demonstrated this by setting the terms of the discussions. Mr Assad exceeded the time allotted for the meeting with the most powerful leader in the world by almost two hours.

And Mr Assad clearly wooed the US leader. Before the meeting, the Syrians had said it had three purposes: to push forward the peace process, to improve bilateral US-Syrian relations and to discuss Syria's regional role. The key to the first, Syria feels, was improved relations with the US. And this was the priority.

So Mr Assad set out to impress his interlocutor with his sincerity. He has already eased restrictions on the granting of exit visas to Syria's dwindling Jewish population, restrictions which were an impediment to better relations. Now he is hoping for the kind of international recognition that he feels is his due. For the Syrian leader reckons that only by better relations with the US can he hope for pressure to be put on Israel to make a full withdrawal from Syrian territory.

A guide to reading the coffee grounds of the meeting was provided in advance by the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. He lowered expectations of the outcome by declaring on Saturday night that 'if there is an important result we won't see it for several months. There may be something that will give some signal of the change of the attitude of the Syrians towards peace with Israel'.

Afterwards, US officials said they had been greatly encouraged by the public commitment Mr Assad made to the strategic goal of peace and his specific reference to the eventual establishment of normal relations with Israel.

Mr Clinton said that securing a Middle East settlement had always been 'one of my highest foreign policy objectives'. He said he viewed Syria as critical. The Israel-PLO accord was 'an important first step' but Syria was the key to the wider settlement.

Mr Clinton did not dodge questions about remaining problems preventing an improvement of relations between Syria and the US, notably Syria's sponsorship of groups such as the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), Ahmed Jibril's Palestinian radicals or the Lebanese Hizbollah - the reason why Syria remains on the State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism. He said they discussed this issue for over an hour. But he carefully avoided embarrassing Mr Assad by using the word 'terrorism'. Later, State Department officials were to say that questions were raised about Pan Am flight 103, which crashed over Lockerbie. They did not relay the Syrian response.

Mr Clinton announced a new initiative to improve relations between Syria and the US. Syria is keen to secure the capital transfers and technology currently denied it. 'We've instructed the Secretary of State and the Syrian Foreign Minister to establish a mechanism to address (bilateral) issues in detail and openly,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future