Time in Yerevan: 11:07:36,   22 April

USA-Syria relations during Obama’s presidency


US President Barack Obama, assuming his office in January 2009, stated about his intention to make essential changes in a number of spheres, including in the foreign policy of the USA. One of the main goals of the policy of the new US Administration in the Middle East was the regulation of relations with the states with which it had tensed relations – with Iran and Syria.

The relations between the United States and Syria were especially tensed during the presidency of George Bush junior. The Unites States were accusing the Syrian authorities in supporting the terrorist organizations, hampering Arabian-Israeli conflict settlement process, supporting the rebels in Iraq. The tenseness of the Syrian-American relations may also be testified with the fact that in 2005, after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, the USA recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

The goal of Obama's policy to regulate the relations with Syria was to destroy the Iranian-Syrian alliance, create new opportunities in the process of settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as promote implementation of reforms in the domestic life of Syria. The US Administration actively passed to the implementation of its goals. Already in March 2009 top representative of the US Department of State Jeffrey Feltman was sent to Syria. In February 2010 meeting of the US assistant secretary of state took place with President Assad. The appointment of Robert Ford as the US ambassador to Syria in December 2010 also showed the intention of the USA to regulate its relations with Syria. The office of US ambassador to this country was vacant since 2005.

The US Congress also had an active role in contacts with Syria. A number of top delegations from the US Congress visited Damascus in 2009-2010, including the delegation headed by the Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry. Though the American-Syrian relations were far from being normal, and Syria remained in the US State Department's list of countries supporting terrorism, and in May 2010 President Obama prolonged the time of sanctions against Syria set by Bush junior, the positive changes in bilateral relations were noticeable.

The new policy of the USA in relations with Syria faced serious challenges in the pre-context of unrest in the Arab world launched in 2011. From March 2011 protest rallies launched in Syria. Unlike Egypt and Libya, here the US authorities first were responding to the developments in Syria in a quite restricted way. Speaking to CBS March 27 2011, the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that there were essential differences between the events in Libya and Syria, pointing out that Bashar Al Assad cannot be compared with Col Gaddafi. Clinton also noted that according to the American congressmen that visited Syria, Assad wanted to carry out certain reforms, which meets the American interests in the region. At the same time Clinton stressed that the Syrian authorities used inappropriate force against the participants of the rally which raised concern of the USA. In March 2011 Senator Kerry expressed positive opinion about the President of Syria. A number of US analysts forecast that in case of victory of Obama at the 2012 presidential elections, Kerry may be appointed US Secretary of State.

Kerry expressed conviction that Bashar Al-Assad is ready to implement certain reforms in the country and at the same time improve relations with the USA.

The restricted response of the United States to the developments in Syria shows that the USA wants to maintain the positive tends in relations with Syria.

At the same time the statements made on the highest state level about readiness of Assad to carry out reforms and unacceptability of usage of rough force against the people testified that the USA is expecting certain changes in the domestic policy of the Syrian authorities.

The situation in Syria, though, continues becoming tense. In spite of certain steps carried out by Bashar Al Assad the anti-governmental protests do not stop.

In certain cases, for pressing them, the Syrian authorities applied to the help of the armed forces which caused hundreds of victims among the civil population. In the created situation the position of the USA also changed. Already in late April 2011 US top officials came forth with strict criticism of the Syrian authorities. April 29 the USA set new sanctions against a number of Syrian top officials, including the brother of the president Mahir Assad. May 6 Hilary Clinton made a special statement over the developments in Syria. Condemning the murders of protestants and mass arrests, the US Secretary of State stressed that the authorities must immediately respond to the call of the Syrian people to make changes.

The change of the US position was not agreed only with the usage of force of the Syrian authorities against protestants. Obama's administration was disappointed with the results of regulation of relations with Syria. In spite of the efforts of the USA, Syrian authorities continue their former policy over the main issues of the region: it continues having close relations with Iran, supports the anti-western forces in Lebanon. More probably, like in case of Iran, in relations with Syria, the US authorities will gradually return to the policy adopted by Bush junior, considering their main goal the restriction of Syria's influence in the region and isolation of Assad's administration.


Beniamin Poghosyan,

Doctor of Historical Sciences,

Member of Political Science Association of RA

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