08/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Syria's U.S. Ambassador Signals Strong Commitment to 'Land for Peace,' Urges U.S. Engagement in Talks

Syrias U.S. ambassador, Imad Moustapha

Ori Nir, communications director of Americans for Peace Now, interviewed Imad Moustapha (audio), Syria's U.S. ambassador, about the current Syria-Israel peace negotiations being brokered by Turkey. Moustapha made an impressive pitch that confirmed the seriousness of the talks and of Syria's commitment to their success. Here he makes the case that Syria not only holds the key to peace on Israel's northern border, but with other Arab nations as well:

Syria plays the role of the gatekeeper between Israel and the rest of the Arab world. If Israel wants to make peace with the Arab world, Israel needs to understand this legitimate demand based on the premise of land for peace.

One might quarrel with this assessment and say that he's overstating Syria's importance. But when you realize that Syria holds the key to the involvement of so many players including Hezbollah, and by extension Lebanon, and even Iran, his claim becomes somewhat more credible.

Nir asked Moustapha why U.S. involvement in the talks is so important to his country. The ambassador replied that he doesn't expect the U.S. to become involved in the nitty gritty of the negotiations. But its role would be to help "provide guarantees" and "help create momentum" that would lead to negotiating and signing an agreement. Because Syria understands that such peace negotiations would lead to a "new paradigm" in relations among the front line states, U.S. engagement is critical to ensure the success of such a transition. He means that if Syria is to turn away from current alliances with Hezbollah and Iran, that Syria will expect the U.S. to "pick up the slack" by opening trade, restoring relations, and even guaranteeing Syria's security if attacked by any of its enemies or former friends.

In answer to a question about whether Syria sought a "re-alignment" in relations with the west, Moustapha confirmed that it did:

Syria has always wanted to open up to the west and in partnership with the European Union and to have the best possible relations with America. We are not enemies to the United States.

...We...are telling the state of Israel that we desire to end the state of war between us, to conclude peace between two states, to recognize each other and to live as peaceful neighbors with each other, within a normalized context. We think this is a very serious proposal (...) here is the grand thing on offer: let us sit together, let us make peace, let us end once and for all the state of war...

Of course, there are Syria-skeptics both in the Bush Administration and among Israeli rightists. Which is why the following comment from an Israeli academic expert on Syria reinforces the gravity of what Mustapha has to say in this interview:

``These are the most progressive and helpful comments I have heard ever from Moustapha, and I know him quite well and follow what he says all the time,'' said Moshe Maoz, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University.

For anyone hoping for peace between Israel and Syria, your November vote is critical. You have one candidate who will energetically push forward such negotiations and another candidate wedded to the discredited policies of the current Administration. How can anyone be sure what John McCain's position will be regarding Syria-Israel peace talks given his closeness to Bush's core Mideast policies? And given the critical importance of peace to Israel's well-being, can we entrust such a U.S. role to a president whose views are unclear on the subject?

Thanks to Dan Fleshler for first blogging this story which has also been reported by Haaretz and Bloomberg.