WASHINGTON - Former US secretary of state Colin Powell, in an interview with the CBS news agency Sunday, called on the United States to speak to Syria directly, stating a successful period during his tenure in which the US was in contact with Syrian president Bashar Assad.
Powell, who served as secretary during the first Bush administration, recalled that in the four years of his tenure the US did speak with Syria and that he had visited Damascus twice, and emphasized that the US still had an embassy there.
Powell said that former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was aware of his trips to Damascus and, although he wasn't pleased, asked Powell to broach the subject of Hizbullah rocket fire in northern Israel.
According to Powell, he spoke to Assad and explained the situation and a day later, the rocket fire stopped. Sharon thanked me, he said.
Thus, Powell's conclusion is that dialogue with Syria is important. It's odd that we're not speaking to them, when the Iraqis have reopened their embassy there and are rekindling ties, he said.
Nonetheless, Powell conceded that the situation vis-à-vis Iran was different, stating that there was very little dialogue with Iran in the years 2001 to 2003. There was hostility, starting 27 years ago. It's hard to talk to them and they are acting badly, he declared.
Despite Powell's pessimism regarding the US relationship with Iran, he believes that the US should open channels of communication with them, nevertheless.
Although Syria and Iran are problematic, his military and diplomatic experience has taught him that it is still necessary to engage nations such as this in dialogue.
A very senior source at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert''s Office told Ynet Sunday evening that "the conditions for opening a dialogue with Damascus are clear to the Syrians . They have already been conveyed to them by Colin Powell during the term of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Unfortunately, the Syrians are not even implementing the minimal steps they could implement. In such a situation, there is no reason in the world for Israel to hold a dialogue or negotiations with the Syrians, and certainly not against the position of (US President) George Bush, Israel's greatest friend."