Syria: Background and U.S. Relations [Updated May 1, 2008]   [open pdf - 265KB]

"Despite its weak military and lackluster economy, Syria remains relevant in Middle Eastern geopolitics. The Asad regime has its hands in each of the four major active or potential zones of conflict in the region (Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, and Iran). In the Levant, Syrian leaders aim to dominate the internal politics of Lebanon, and have been accused of involvement in the assassination of four parliamentarians and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Asad regime has resisted U.S. and French attempts to bolster the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, believing that it can weather the storm of U.S. pressure over time. Syria also plays a key role in the Middle East peace process, acting at times as a 'spoiler' by sponsoring Palestinian militants and facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah. At other times, it has participated in substantive negotiations with Israel, most recently in 1999-2000. A September 6 Israeli air strike against an alleged nascent Syrian nuclear facility heightened an already tense atmosphere between the two countries, though most experts believe that neither side desires a new war. Regarding Iraq, the Iraqi refugee crisis has affected Syria far more than Syria has influenced internal Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein. There now may be close to 1.4 million Iraqis inside Syria, many of whom face the dim prospect of remaining in permanent exile. Finally, Syria's longstanding relationship with the Iranian clerical regime is of great concern to U.S. strategists. […] This report analyzes an array of bilateral issues that continue to affect relations between the United States and Syria. It will be updated periodically to reflect recent developments."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL33487
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