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Landis: Syria Key to Middle East Peace Process

Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewee: Joshua Landis, Co-director, Center of Peace Studies, University of Oklahoma
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor

December 5, 2007

Joshua Landis, a leading Syria expert, who publishes “Syria Comment,” says Syria’s surprise attendance at last week’s Annapolis peace conference came after heavy lobbying on Syria by Arab and other nations. He says a preponderance of officials wanted Syria at the conference because “Syria is key to the peace process. If you keep the door closed on Syria, many people believe the peace process can go nowhere.” And he says that the Syrians are willing to deal despite Iran’s objections.

Let’s start with the Annapolis Middle East peace conference last week. I think many people were surprised that Syria showed up, albeit with a deputy foreign minister instead of a foreign minister. How did this happen?

Syria was wooed. There was intense diplomacy prior to Syria’s accepting. The prime minister of Turkey, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, apparently called the Syrian President Bashar Assad four times. The Saudis called him as well. King Abdullah of Jordan visited him. It was the first time he’d done that in years, and he was very solicitous. Various European foreign ministers visited Lebanon and they talked to the Syrians. Everybody was pushing the Syrians to come.


Because this is a turning point and Syria is key to the peace process. If you keep the door closed on Syria, many people believe the peace process can go nowhere. The Saudis did not want to come and genuflect to the whole peace process if the Syrians were not along, because they needed Arab nationalist cover. And there were two agendas going on here: One agenda was to push the peace process forward and try to get the Bush administration committed to it in a serious way.


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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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