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"Facts are stubborn things"

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Message Ahmed Salkini

As the confirmation of Robert Ford for the post of Ambassador to Syria goes through its due process, it is a propitious moment to examine the premises of the Syrian-US dialogue. While we have certain undeniable differences, we share common visions and common opinions - the simplest of which that neither side is under any unrealistic illusions. The road ahead will inevitably prove challenging. Yet, it is through a continuous and honest dialogue that we can overcome these challenges, because no matter our preference, we have inescapably common interests.

Certain skeptics have raised their voices in dissension regarding the emerging Syrian-US rapprochement. They typically ground their argument on a claim of the futility of cooperation, while evoking recent memory of tumultuous times. Yet historical and current facts stand in opposition to these skeptics' claim. And as John Adams once said, "facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

History has proven that through cooperation, much can be achieved to further both countries' national interests. With our troops fighting and spilling blood side-by-side, we managed to liberate Kuwait in 1990. The following year, and through close coordination, we contrived the Madrid Peace Conference; although it did not bring about the much-anticipated just peace, its accords set the framework and contours for any future comprehensive peace agreement. In both occasions, it took intensive American diplomacy by an illustrious Secretary of State, James Baker, and in both cases cooperation yielded positive results. In the 1980's through close coordination between the American, Syrian, and other Arab sides, we managed to bring an end to the bloody Lebanese civil war after years of ostensible endless fighting. Most importantly, after the heinous events of 9/11, Syria reached out to the US in its warring efforts against Al-Qaeda with "actionable information" that "helped save American lives," according to then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

On the other hand, what did non-engagement of recent years achieve? Its proponents in Washington have, for the most part, left their offices as they watched their goal of isolating Syria dissipate. At the time, two esteemed American statesmen who opposed that policy, Senators John Kerry (Democrat) and Chuck Hagel (Republican), put it best: "our policy of non-engagement has isolated us more than the Syrians." This was recently echoed by a former Bush-official and current Obama-appointee, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman: "consequently, the United States, not Syria, seems to be isolated." On the Syrian side, we have made it abundantly clear that although we emerged unscathed from attempts to isolate us and proved that we can withstand the most prodigious pressure, unfavorable relations with the world's superpower are unconductive to peace.

Admittedly, there are inexorable and philosophical differences; namely, disagreement over what constitutes a terrorist and a freedom fighter in regards to occupied Arab territories. What we see as an Arab (Christian and Muslim) fighting to liberate his occupied land, US administrations labels as a terrorist. What we see as Israeli crimes against humanity, the US sees as not. However, drowning in a vicious cycle of dogmatic arguments over definitions diverts our attention to the root cause of the problem: illegal Israeli occupation and a lack of peace. When peace is achieved, and Israeli occupation of Arab land ends, the cause for resistance vanishes. This goal of just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is a cardinal national interest for Syria and the US -and one that is inconceivable without our cooperation.

We also share prime national interests in Iraq. We agree on the end goal: a unified, stable, and secure Iraq; we agree on the process: foreign troop withdrawal and a firm buttressing of Iraq's unity and sovereignty. The ground, and frame, work are laid for trilateral cooperation on different matters, including borders. Such cooperation can facilitate US troop withdrawal and expedite Iraq's progress.

Prudence and realism dictate the imperative of setting-aside our specific differences and setting our eyes on the larger picture. No one party can address the myriad issues facing our region, from achieving peace to bringing full security and stability to Iraq. It is only through a concerted and inclusive effort that we can further our mutual goals. This process should be grounded in mutual respect and understanding, as has been stressed by Presidents Assad and Obama. Syria's position is unequivocal in rejecting a language of dictation. Those who came to Damascus with a list of demands and no reciprocity, returned empty-handed. Those who come with a vision for peace, stability, and cooperation will find a warm, embracing, welcome.

Our road ahead will not be paved solely by success. Doubters and parasites will persist in their efforts to undermine ours. But we must always remember, pursuing our respective interest dictates that we persevere. We have no choice -facts are simply "stubborn things."

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Ahmed Salkini is the Spokesperson of the Syrian Embassy in Washington and a political advisor to the Ambassador. His work has been published in several places including the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, the Financial Times, the (more...)
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