- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

ROAD FROM DAMASCUS

The Syrian ambassador denied this week that his government allows foreign terrorists to infiltrate Iraq, disputing claims from top U.S. officials and from the director of a top Washington think tank who debated the envoy at a forum at American University.

Ambassador Imad Moustapha insisted that most militants inside Iraq are “mainly home grown” but some foreign fighters are also there.

“Do they exist, the foreign insurgents? Yes, they do,” he said. “Do we allow them to cross into Iraq? Of course we don’t, regardless of public statements [by U.S. officials].”

Mr. Moustapha added that his government is even cooperating with the Obama administration to fight terrorism, but declined to give details.

“I’m sorry I can’t disclose everything, but I will say this. We are actually working with the Obama administration on these issues. We are actually cooperating with the U.S. military on this issue,” he said.

Mr. Moustapha, ambassador to the United States since 2004, also said his government will do what it can to help President Obama withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

“We want to help the Obama administration have a very successful, smooth withdrawal from Iraq so that lives can be saved and so that Iraq can continue to evolve and prosper,” he said, adding that a “secure, stable, prosperous Iraq” is in Syria’s national interests.

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, responded that Syria is doing everything it can to create turmoil inside Iraq and referred to statements from Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to back up his position.

Syria’s influence in the Middle East “comes from being a spoiler, a troublemaker, a source of mischief,” said Mr. Satloff, who debated Mr. Moustapha at the university forum on Wednesday.

“Syria’s main role in the [Middle East] peace process is to serve as host, patron and supporter of the most radical opponents of peace,” Mr. Satloff added, referring to terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In Iraq, he said, “there is a very serious issue of Syrian official support and facilitation for the flow of jihadis across the border to kill Americans.”

Mr. Satloff quoted Gen. Odierno, who in September said, “Syria continues to allow the facilitation of foreign fighters through Syria that come both to Iraq as well as, I believe, into Afghanistan.”

MORE ADVICE

Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer is receiving even more advice from his predecessors on how to deal with Washington.

Frank McKenna, ambassador here from 2005 to 2006, shares Mr. Doer’s political background. Mr. McKenna, a Liberal Party member, was premier of New Brunswick before arriving in Washington, while Mr. Doer of the leftist New Democratic Party resigned as premier of Manitoba after Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to the post.

“You just don’t walk in and say, ‘Mr. President, let’s fix this and this,’ ” Mr. McKenna said in an interview with CTV’s Canada AM, a morning television talk show. “You’ve got to get every member of Congress, or some of the more important ones, on your side. And you have to get some kind of receptivity from the American public, and that’s hard to do.”

Last week, Allan Gotlieb, ambassador to the United States from 1981 to 1989, told Mr. Doer to treat the 535 members of Congress as individual foreign ministers because each has his or her own special interests when dealing with Canada.

“In Congress, Canada is just another special interest and not a very special one at that,” he wrote in an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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