US-Syria talks : IN OTHER WORDS

Recently, when asked why the US isn’t talking with Syria about the Lebanon crisis, President Bush replied, “Syria knows what we think.” That may be. But Syria is also unlikely to even consider doing what Bush wants — rein in Hezbollah and help halt the killing in Lebanon and Israel— unless its leaders know what potential rewards as well as punishments await them. And for that, the US needs to offer a serious high-level discussion with Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is undeniably a bad actor. But he may also be more vulnerable to outside pressure, and inducements, than Hezbollah’s other patron, Iran. Driving even the thinnest wedge between Syria and Iran would be a diplomatic breakthrough. Of course, talking isn’t enough. Bush’s impulse, even when he agrees to talk, is to lecture and not listen. The White House will have to hear what Syria wants and consider what inducements might be worth offering in exchange for Syria’s help. At a minimum Bush will have to start with a clear signal that US wants a change in Syria’s conduct, not the overthrow of its regime.

Assad is not known for personal courage or good sense. But the price for not trying to talk will be more fury toward the US and our few remaining allies in the region. That’s no reward. — The New York Times