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U.S. worried by Syria's 'rising self-confidence'

Shmuel Rosner / Haaretz | August 12 2006

WASHINGTON - The U.S. administration is troubled by what a senior Defense Department official termed "a rise in Syria's self-confidence."

The official, who spoke with Haaretz yesterday, expressed frustration over the fact that the United States, Israel and the international community have been unable until now to persuade Syrian President Bashar Assad to change his behavior. He attributed this failure to the fact that "thus far, no real pressure has been applied to Syria by any of the parties."

The official, who termed Syria's rising self-confidence "a problem for everyone," said that there had been chances to influence Syria, "but they were missed."

Regarding Israel's decision to leave Syria out of the current fighting in Lebanon, he said: "I don't want to say what my opinion of this decision is."

The Pentagon believes that Syria's influence over events in Lebanon has increased in recent weeks, and the Bush administration is very worried by this, since it viewed Syria's ouster from Lebanon last year as a significant achievement.

The U.S. views Syria as a destabilizing force in the region on three counts: It has not prevented terrorists from entering Iraq via Syria; it has not closed down the Damascus offices of Palestinian rejectionist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad; and it continues to intervene in Lebanon's internal affairs.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has come under pressure from former senior officials, media pundits and allied diplomats to reopen its dialogue with Syria. Six months ago, the U.S. recalled its ambassador from Damascus and has not yet returned him. But Washington does not want to involve Syria in the current Lebanese crisis without a significant change in its behavior, since, in the words of a senior administration official, "that would be an open invitation to the Syrians to resume interfering in events in Lebanon."

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