Foreign relations of SyriaArab neighbors, and achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement, which includes the return of the Golan Heights, are the primary goals of President Bashar al-Assad's foreign policy.
Relations With Other Arab Countries
Syria's relations with the Arab world were strained by its support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, which began in 1980. With the end of the war in August 1988, Syria began a slow process of reintegration with the other Arab states. In 1989, it joined with the rest of the Arab world in readmitting Egypt to the 19th Arab League Summit at Casablanca.
This decision, prompted in part by Syria's need for Arab League support of its own position in Lebanon, marked the end of the Syrian-led opposition to Egypt and the 1977-1979 Sadat initiatives toward Israel, as well as the Camp David Accords. It coincided with the end of the 10-year Arab subsidy to Syria and other front-line Arab countries pledged at Baghdad in 1978. Syria reestablished full diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1989. In the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Syria joined other Arab states in the U.S.-led multinational coalition against Iraq. In 1998, Syria began a slow rapprochement with Iraq, driven primarily by economic needs. Syria continues to play an active pan-Arab role, which has intensified as the peace process collapsed in September 2000 with the start of the second Palestinian uprising (Intifada) against Israel. Though it voted in favor of UNSCR 1441 in 2002, Syria was against coalition military action in Iraq in 2003. However, the Syrian government accepted UNSCR 1483 (after being absent for the actual vote), which lifted sanctions on Iraq and established a framework to assist the Iraqi people in determining their political future and rebuilding their economy.
Involvement in Lebanon
Syria plays an important role in Lebanon by virtue of its history, size, power, and economy. Lebanon was part of post-Ottoman Syria until 1926. The presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon dates to 1976, when President Hafez Al-Assad intervened in the Lebanese civil war on behalf of Maronite Christians. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Syrian and Israeli forces clashed in eastern Lebanon. The late U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib negotiated a cease-fire in Lebanon and the subsequent evacuation of PLO fighters from West Beirut. However, Syrian opposition blocked implementation of the May 17, 1983, Lebanese-Israeli accord on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. Following the February 1984 withdrawal of the UN Multinational Force from Beirut and the departure of most of Israel's forces from southern Lebanon a year later, Syria launched an unsuccessful initiative to reconcile warring Lebanese factions and establish a permanent cease-fire. Syria actively participated in the March-September 1989 fighting between the Christian Lebanese Forces and Muslim forces allied with Syria. In 1989, Syria endorsed the Charter of National Reconciliation, or "Taif Accord," a comprehensive plan for ending the Lebanese conflict negotiated under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco.
At the request of Lebanese President Hrawi, the Syrian military took joint action with the Lebanese Armed Forces on October 13, 1990, to oust rebel Gen. Michel Aoun who had defied efforts at reconciliation with the legitimate Government of Lebanon. The process of disarming and disbanding the many Lebanese militias began in earnest in early 1991. In May 1991, Lebanon and Syria signed the treaty of brotherhood, cooperation, and coordination called for in the Taif Accord, which is intended to provide the basis for many aspects of Syrian-Lebanese relations. The treaty provides the most explicit recognition to date by the Syrian Government of Lebanon's independence and sovereignty.
According to the U.S. interpretation of the Taif Accord, Syria and Lebanon were to have decided on the redeployment of Syrian forces from Beirut and other coastal areas of Lebanon by September 1992. Israeli occupation of Lebanon until May 2000, the breakdown of peace negotiations between Syria and Israel that same year, and intensifying Arab/Israeli tensions since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000 have helped delay full implementation of the Taif Accords. The United Nations declared that Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon fulfilled the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 425. However, Syria and Lebanon claimed that UNSCR 425 had not been fully implemented because Israel did not withdraw from an area of the Golan Heights called Sheba Farms, which had been occupied by Israel in 1967, and which Syria now claimed was part of Lebanon. The United Nations does not recognize this claim. However, Lebanese resistance groups such as Hizballah use it to justify attacks against Israeli forces in that region, creating a potentially dangerous flashpoint along the Lebanon-Israeli border.
Syria was an active belligerent in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which resulted in Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights and the city of Quneitra. Following the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, which left Israel in occupation of additional Syrian territory, Syria accepted UN Security Council Resolution 338, which signaled an implicit acceptance of Resolution 242. Resolution 242, which became the basis for the peace process negotiations begun in Madrid, calls for a just and lasting Middle East peace to include withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in 1967; termination of the state of belligerency; and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all regional states and of their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.
As a result of the mediation efforts of then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Syria and Israel concluded a disengagement agreement in May 1974, enabling Syria to recover territory lost in the October war and part of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since 1967, including Quneitra. The two sides have effectively implemented the agreement, which is monitored by UN forces.
In December 1981, the Israeli Knesset voted to extend Israeli law to the part of the Golan Heights over which Israel retained control. The UN Security Council subsequently passed a resolution calling on Israel to rescind this measure. Syria participated in the Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991. Negotiations were conducted intermittently through the 1990s, and came very close to succeeding. However, the parties were unable to come to an agreement over Syria's nonnegotiable demand that Israel withdraw to the positions it held on June 4, 1967. The peace process collapsed following the outbreak of the second Palestinian (Intifada) uprising in September 2000, though Syria continues to call for a comprehensive settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the land-for-peace formula adopted at the 1991 Madrid conference.
Tensions between Israel and Syria increased as the Intifada dragged on, primarily as a result of Syria's unwillingness to stop giving sanctuary to Palestinian terrorist groups conducting operations against Israel. In October 2003, following a suicide bombing carried out by a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Haifa that killed 20 Israeli citizens, Israeli Defense Forces attacked a suspected Palestinian terrorist training camp 15 kilometers north of Damascus. This was the first such Israeli attack deep inside Syrian territory since the 1973 war. As this report went to press, Syria announced it would respond diplomatically, and asked the UN Security Council to condemn the Israeli action.
Membership in International Organizations
Syria is a member of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Arab League, Arab Monetary Fund, Council of Arab Economic Unity, Customs Cooperation Council, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Food and Agricultural Organization, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Chamber of Commerce, International Development Association, Islamic Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Finance Corporation, International Labor Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Maritime Organization, INTELSAT, INTERPOL, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organization of the Islamic Conference, United Nations, UN Commission on Human Rights, UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Universal Postal Union, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and World Tourism Organization.
Disputes - international: Golan Heights is Israeli occupied; dispute with upstream riparian Turkey over Turkish water development plans for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; Syrian troops in northern, central, and eastern Lebanon since October 1976
- See also : Syria