Damascus: Syrian-American relations hit a new low after the U.S. Treasury Department’s latest decision to freeze the assets of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan and Rustum Ghazali, who was Syria’s military intelligence chief in Lebanon prior to Syria’s recent withdrawal.

This move makes it clear that the U.S. has decided against a partnership with Syria in the Middle East or even a role for Syria, and that Damascus is now outside the “grey area.” This may indicate the start of developments that could bring dire consequences to Syria, especially with the current differences in vision and interests; developments that would affect Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon and certainly Syria itself.

According to observers, relations between Washington and Damascus will see more deterioration for two main reasons: one is America’s goal to do away with all prominent Syrians who took part in Lebanon’s political life, especially those who supported the Lebanese resistance [against Israel].

Another reason is Syria’s conviction that political contact with the U.S. is futile as long as Washington refuses to hold a dialogue. This Syrian position was confirmed recently when the Syrian ambassador to the United States, Dr. Imad Mustafa, affirmed that the Syrian authorities had severed “all communications” with the American military and intelligence (CIA) after the U.S. accused Damascus of failing to do enough to stem the flow of support for the Iraqi guerillas crossing the Syrian border.

Despite a statement issued by the Syrian Embassy in Washington clarifying that what the Syrian ambassador said was not a Syrian government policy but rather an observation of facts on the ground, Syrian-American relations remain tense, and observers feel that even the remaining tenuous connection could soon be severed.

Dr. Numair Ghanem, responsible for foreign affairs in Syria’s People’s Assembly, told this correspondent that cooperation normally requires two parties, and that Syria is being extremely cooperative, but that America remains “unsatisfied.” He also pointed out that “the topics of security, peace, and the fight against terrorism are principles of the Syrian government and the Syrian people, and so we are not waiting for anyone to ask us to cooperate in these areas. We cooperate with everyone to maintain security and peace in all parts of the world.”

Observers of this Syrian-American tug of war are convinced that, despite the mounting U.S. pressure, Syria has no other recourse but to preserve the tenuous connection to avoid possible American military action against Syrian military installations, or a (U.S.) induced crisis in Northern Syria between Kurds and Arabs. This could then be followed by a partial occupation of some areas under the pretext of “restoring calm,” “protecting human rights” or some other canned U.S. slogan.

These observers also stressed that freezing the assets of Kanaan and Ghazali was a political and media-centered move without any real effect, since neither Kanaan nor Ghazali possess any assets in the United States, and since this action does excludes Lebanon or Europe. This means that the issue has nothing to do with assets, but is aimed at sending a message to the Syrian authorities that American pressure will be exerted on other Syrian government officials if U.S. demands are not met.

Political analysts concur that Syria must implement American demands that do not infringe upon its basic political position or its sovereignty. Syria must also contain and defuse American anger and the constant pressure they exert, since it is not well-positioned for a military, or even a diplomatic confrontation: Syria’s friends are very few, and Washington, either directly or indirectly, controls their decisions.

In this regard, political analysts affirm that Syria has started to follow a new regional policy in the hope of saving itself from American malevolence:

--After a 32-year interruption in diplomatic ties, adopting a new policy of openness toward Iraq by sending a security and diplomatic delegation to establish an embassy in Baghdad.

--Initiating a probe into American and Iraqi accusations regarding the flow of armed groups across the border between Syria and Iraq. This in itself was a message that Syria wanted to send to assure the U.S. that it is flexible and open to dialogue.

--Implementing U.N. resolution 1559 [which, among other things, called for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon], stating its intention of establish embassies between Damascus and Beirut, and confirming the deep ties between the two neighboring peoples [of Syria and Lebanon].

--Following a more open strategy toward Europe, which was displayed during the Syrian foreign minister’s visits to Greece, Spain, and Italy, and the attending of the Brussels Conference on Iraq [on June 22, 2005].

But despite the Syrian government’s adoption of this new regional policy, few observers believe it will be enough or that it has come in time. While Syrian authorities are convinced that this is their best hope of motivating the United States to find a middle ground with Syria.

The U.S. is still suffering from the intensification of attacks by the Iraqi resistance, and the Syrian government believes that a positive move by Washington toward Damascus would ease Washington’s burden, especially when the good relations that Damascus has with the different Iraqi factions is taken into account.

But the question remains: Is the United States putting pressure on Syria in order to persuade them to turn a new page, or is the freezing of assets of Kanaan and Ghazali a prelude to another “Iraqi scenario”?