The Bush Administration has offered Syria’s beleaguered President a “Gaddafi deal” to end his regime’s isolation if Damascus agrees to a long list of painful concessions, a senior American official told The Times.
According to the report, the U.S. will present four demands from Syria: Syria would have to fully cooperate with the U.N. team investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Secondly, if members of the Syrian regime are named as suspects they would have to be questioned and could stand trial under foreign jurisdiction.
The Syrians would also have to stop any interference in Lebanon, where they have been blamed for a series of bomb attacks against their critics, most recently May Chidiac, a television presenter who was badly injured last month when a device exploded under her car.
Washington also wants Syria to halt the recruiting, funding and training of volunteers for the Iraqi insurgency, which they claim are openly operating in Syria with the connivance of the regime.
They include former members of the Iraqi regime and foreign volunteers responsible for suicide car-bomb attacks.
The Bush Administration also has a long-standing demand that Syria cease its support for terrorist Islamic organizations such as Lebanon’s Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
In return America would establish full and friendly relations with Damascus, opening the way for foreign aid and investment and ensuring the regime’s survival.
Kenaan suicide to be investigated
The Americans are convinced that if Syria agrees to the aforementioned terms it may transform the whole climate in the Middle East - freeing Lebanon, dealing a serious blow to the insurgency in Iraq, and opening the way for progress between Israel and Palestine.
The precedent for the offer is the deal clinched two years ago with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. His regime was isolated internationally after it was blamed for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie.
After more than a decade, sanctions were lifted when Tripoli handed over two intelligence officers to stand trial in a Scottish court and paid compensation to the relatives of the victims.
Full relations were restored after Washington and London concluded a secret deal with Gadaffi to dismantle and turn over all his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
The Americans have now reopened their embassy in Tripoli, US oil companies are operating in Libya and recent visitors have included Tony Blair and top British businessmen.
Reports indicate the U.S. is working to prevent Syria from becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a bid to maintain the country’s isolated position.
Meanwhile, Detlev Mehlis, head of the U.N. Commission investigating the Hariri murder, has requested that Syria perform an autopsy on the body of former Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan.
'Assad's statements important'
Kenaan, a general by rank, was the top Syrian official in Lebanon for two decades, starting in the 1980s and up until 2003. In that capacity he controlled Syrian intelligence forces active in Lebanon.
While Damascus said Kenaan committed suicide due to “pressures applied on him by the Lebanese media," Mehlis wishes to personally investigate the affair.
According to Lebanese sources, Mehlis updated the local investigative team on the U.N. Commission’s recent findings, stating that the Commission plans to take legal action that will include the arrest of a number security and government officials and citizens suspected of involvement in the Hariri assassination.
U.S. officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with French President Jacques Chirac focused on Kenaan’s mysterious death.
One official said “The statements made by Assad during his recent interview with CNN whereby he would turn in those involved in the Hariri assassination to a Syrian or international court and will regard them as traitors are important, because they are indicative of a change regarding Syria’s cooperation with the investigation and perhaps show that Assad believes no Syrians were involved in the affair or that he wishes to distance himself from them.”
However, the officials said that Syria has not lived up to its promises and obligations in the past, and therefore the issues will be closely examined.