Will Syria Come in From the Cold?

ISTANBUL – Will the recent rapprochement between the United States and Syria mark a new era in Syria’s international standing?

Syria can hope for two major changes following the restoration of full diplomatic relations with the US. First, it will be removed from America’s informal blacklist of “Axis of Evil” countries, which will substantially improve its chances to enter the World Trade Organization. Second, Syria will probably receive the go-ahead for a pipeline to bring Iraqi oil across its territory to Turkey. Such a link to Turkey’s economy – and thus possibly to the European Union – would encourage Syria to open its economy even more to foreign investment.

But all of this will undoubtedly come at a price. Syria’s side of the bargain will invariably need to be an end to its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, for which it will likely seek the return of the Golan Heights. Israel would presumably resist this outcome, and Iran – as leader of the so-called “Shia crescent” spreading from Lebanon to Tajikistan – would strongly, and perhaps violently, oppose such a bargain as well.

During Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Syria earlier this year, Syria’s President Bashar Assad and he reiterated their unyielding cooperation in the face of “Western manipulations.” But Assad is under growing pressure from the ranks of his Baath Party to modernize the country and its infrastructure, which is impossible without improved ties to the West.