Walid Muallem

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Foreign Minister of Syria

Quotes:

“The international community must realize that the continued Israeli occupation of the Arab territories is the source of all the problems in the region. It is the source of the overwhelming anger consuming its peoples.”

“We support the efforts of our Palestinian brothers to unite their ranks, and encourage them to form a government of national unity. The suffering of our people in the occupied Syrian Golan continues as well, and all of us Syrians suffer as a result of the occupation.”

“It is extremely important for the international community to recognize that the deep-rooted anger and resentment consuming our region, particularly after the senseless war against Lebanon, and the continued logjam in the efforts for peace constitute a dangerous and critical situation and can only lead to confrontation instead of peace. This will not serve the interests of anyone inside or outside the region. We too want a new Middle East, one where a just and comprehensive peace prevails based on right, justice and on guaranteeing the same security for all.”


Background:

You were born in 1941, and have been a longtime resident of Damascus. As a member of the foreign service, you have served the Syrian government in a number of ambassadorial positions, most notably as former ambassador to the United States. Prior to your appointment as foreign minister in February 2006, you maintained a very low profile, serving in the shadow of your influential predecessor, Farouk al-Sharaa. When al-Sharaa was appointed vice-president in February 2006, you were designated as his successor.


Foreign Minister:

You assumed control of the foreign ministry just in time to become the public face of an embattled Syria. In February 2006, Syria was still being investigated in the slaying of Rafik Hariri. In the summer of 2006, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to oust Hezbollah fighters almost escalated into a larger Syrian-Israeli conflict. The escalating rhetoric between Iran and Israel over the purported Iranian nuclear weapons program has also come to embroil Syria in the dispute, since Syria is Iran’s most public Middle Eastern ally. Added to all of these disputes is the worsening conflict in Iraq, where the US maintains many insurgents are funded (and funneled) through Syria. To confront all of these issues, you have undertaken a number of high-profile international trips, most notably to Russia and the United Nations, where you spoke before the General Assembly on September 26, 2006. You used this opportunity to reaffirm Syria’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the aftermath of the recent war in Lebanon: Syria stands in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Syria supports peacemaking attempts based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, and Syria views Israel as the root cause of most violence in the region. There was little new information here, but you followed this up with a vow to honor the peace between Israel and Hezbollah promised by resolution 1701, reaffirming Syria’s “Fraternal Bond” with Lebanon. Regarding Lebanon, you have followed the Syrian government’s official line, reiterating Syria’s innocence in the slaying of Rafik Hariri while consistently affirming Syria’s desire to maintain close ties with Lebanon, in a manner which still respects Lebanon’s sovereignty. Please note that one of the curious outcomes of Syria’s 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon was the simultaneous recalling of Syria’s ambassador to Beirut. As of January 2007, full diplomatic ties with “Fraternal Lebanon” have yet to be reestablished; you have stated that such a move will be difficult so long as influential members of the Lebanese government continue to accuse Syria of assassinating Hariri. While the Bush administration continues to isolate Syria diplomatically, 2006 saw you make efforts to reinvigorate Syria’s relationship with Russia, Syria’s closest great power ally. You visited Moscow in March, where foreign minister Sergei Lavrov publicly called on your government to cooperate with the UN commission investigating Hariri’s assassination. Perhaps more to your liking, Lavrov’s September 2006 visit to Damascus resulted in Russia voicing its support for an Arab League proposal to the UN which calls for a renewal of peace talks that would simultaneously address Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian grievances. With this mixed record during 2006, it must be said that you succeeded absolutely in Iraq: in November 2006 you visited Baghdad and formally reestablished diplomatic ties with the new government, reopening the Syrian embassy after a 36 year freeze in ties between Syria and the regime of Saddam Hussein. In a joint press release with your Iraqi counterpart you acknowledged the legitimacy of the new government, called for Iraqis to put aside sectarian differences, and, most strikingly, acknowledged the need for US troops to occupy Iraq for the time being to prevent a wider civil war. After this admission you recommended that a timetable for US withdrawal would probably reduce tensions in the region. In December, you followed this diplomatic opening with a more formal security agreement between your regime and the Iraqi government, aimed at keeping fighters from migrating freely over the long Syrian-Iraqi border.


General Comments and Roleplaying Hints:

As a career diplomat, you are aware of the fact that Syria’s Baathist regime has historical been bad at public diplomacy. This has consistently worked to Israel’s advantage whenever the Arab-Israeli conflict flares up, especially with regards to American politics. A consistently-reinforced negative image of Syria has made it easy for Washington to overlook Syria’s claim to the Golan; likewise, Syria’s purported role in funding Iraq’s insurgency has made it easy for some conservatives to identify Syria as an outright military enemy. Your very public diplomacy during 2006 has helped to improve Syria’s image internationally, especially as it pertains to the war in Iraq. Your goal as foreign minister is to capitalize on regional instabilities to further improve your international reputation and increase Syria’s regional influence, with the ultimate hope that this will put you in a better position to press your claims when a new peace process begins. This means rehabilitating ties with Lebanon, helping to prop up the Iraqi government, and perhaps even aiding the Americans in curbing the Iraq insurgency. It is your job to be the diplomatic front man of this agenda, all the while acknowledging that a large part of Syria’s national pride stems from steadfastly resisting the policies of Israel and its American backers.


References:

http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/61/pdfs/syria-e.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walid_Muallem

http://www.almanar.com.lb/NewsSite/NewsDetails.aspx?id=817&language=en

http://english.aljazeera.net/News/archive/archive?ArchiveId=23883

http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=118733&version=1&template_id=42&parent_id=18

http://metimes.com/storyview.php?StoryID=20061122-034826-1809r

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