- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

The Democrat trying to unseat Sen. George Allen says the Bush administration is repeating its failures in Iraq by disregarding the role diplomacy could play in defusing the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

James H. Webb Jr., former Navy secretary under President Reagan, said talking with Syria could be key to brokering a deal that ends the conflict that began last month.

“Sooner or later this has to be dealt with in a different way, and I think this administration has really failed in terms of reaching out diplomatically, particularly with Syria,” Mr. Webb told The Washington Times. “There is a way to cut Syria away from Iran. It is not a natural alliance. The Sunnis are a secular society. Particularly with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, in my view, they have been trying to open up relations. Syria is a connector to Hezbollah.”

Mr. Allen, a Republican seeking re-election this fall, supports President Bush’s handling of the conflict, said Bill Bozin, a spokesman for the Virginia senator.

When asked by The Times whether the Bush administration should open talks with Syria, Mr. Bozin said: “Syria is one of the main sponsors of Hezbollah and they know exactly what they need to do if they want to be constructive — end their support for this terrorist group.”

The U.N. Security Council has not taken action to stop the conflict.

The U.S. wants any cease-fire to be part of a package that includes deployment of an international peacekeeping force and steps to tackle Hezbollah’s disarmament.

Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., seemed to share Mr. Webb’s sentiment yesterday.

Mr. Moustapha said in an editorial published in yesterday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times that “no communication whatsoever has taken place. U.S. policy remains to ignore Syrian government. And it remains fundamentally wrong.”

“The current U.S. administration has publicly dissuaded Israel from responding to the repeated Syrian invitations to revive the peace process,” Mr. Moustapha said in the editorial. “Syria still hopes that this position might change, as there exists a growing alienation against the U.S. and its policies in the Arab and Islamic world, which is undoubtedly creating fertile breeding conditions for terrorism.”

Last month, Mr. Allen made comments at odds with Mr. Moustapha’s assessment. “Syria is seeming to use propaganda and ignoring the reality that they’re the ones who are helping Hezbollah,” Mr. Allen said in a July 14 interview on CNN’s Larry King Live.

Mr. Webb’s comments reflect a similar criticism he has leveled against the Bush administration for not working with Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan on a plan that would allow for American troop withdrawal from Iraq without further jeopardizing the region’s stability.

Mr. Webb, who like Syrian officials opposed the U.S. war in Iraq, has said the Bush administration’s disregard for diplomacy in the Middle East has taken the heat off Iran, who many consider the No. 1 state sponsor of international terrorism.

“There will never be full stability in that region until American combat forces leave,” Mr. Webb said in the campaign’s July 22 debate in Virginia. “That’s the history of that region. That’s a 3,000-year history.”

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