US, Syria and Iran Germany Could Play Middle East Matchmaker

The Iraq Study Group says it is time for US President Bush to talk with nemeses Iran and Syria. Germany could be perfectly positioned to make the necessary introductions.

It's time for US President George W. Bush to talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It's time for US President George W. Bush to talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now it's up to the Bush Administration. The Iraq Study Group on Wednesday released its long awaited report on the increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq. And one of its central recommendations was, as expected, to talk directly with two of President George W. Bush's most hated countries: Syria and Iran.

Should he agree, Germany may be just the country to help him proceed. Indeed, Karsten Voigt, Berlin's coordinator for German-American relations, wants Germany to play a central role in bringing Washington to the table with Damascus and Tehran. The Germans have long pushed for the dialogue, which they see as critical to regional stability.

"Germans and Europeans can help here and mediate, but they can never replace direct talks between the US and Syria or Iran," Voigt told the Berliner Zeitung.

James Baker III -- co-chair of the Iraq Study Group and long-time confidante of the Presidents Bush -- recommends the US sit down with the two Middle Eastern nemeses. "A nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests," the study group said.

Germany finds itself right in the middle of the diplomatic triangle. Last week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a visit to Damascus. He delivered a stern message to President Assad that Syria will only get his help in emerging from international isolation if it stops contributing to Lebanon's instability. On Wednesday, Steinmeier's travels will take him to Washington for consultations with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Syria is sure to be on the agenda.

Germany's nice-making with Syria has been as controversial within Europe as in the US. French President Jacques Chirac, for example, said last week that Syria is not ready for talks. "I understand that the American president's position is exactly the same as France's," Chirac said. France took the lead with Washington last year in a UN resolution to force Syrian troops out of Lebanon after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Feb. 2005.

Baker said on Wednesday though that Syria may in fact be ready. "There's some strong indications that they would be in a position, if we were able to enter into a constructive dialogue with them, that they would be in a position to help us and might want to help us."

When it comes to speaking with Iran, Europe is more united. President Bush has said he would join Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in talks with Tehran if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first suspends uranium enrichment. But the Iraq Study Group is urging Bush to hold talks "without preconditions." If the situation in Iraq deteriorates, says the report, Iran might "send in troops to restore stability in southern Iraq and perhaps gain control of oil fields."

Voigt sees this as Germany's moment to shine diplomatically. "Europe and the US can only be successful in the region if they are both strong and attractive and cooperate well," he said.



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