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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Asian
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Asian tour is an easy guide for understanding the new U.S. administration's foreign policy priorities.

First come China and South East Asia, then the Middle East - Egypt, Israel and Palestine. And lastly Europe, where Clinton will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

On March 2, at a Gaza rehabilitation meeting in Egypt's Sharm al-Sheikh, the state secretary dotted her i's. Clinton made it clear that the Americans would never negotiate with the Hamas Islamic resistance movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and that the $900 million the U.S. allocated for the Gaza rehabilitation effort would not be made available to the Islamists. The money will go to the "right" Palestinians, those who recognize Israel: Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestine National Authority, and his government, which might share it with rebel brothers in Gaza. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said that his organization did not pin any hopes on Hillary Clinton.

Damascus, on the other hand, looks to an improvement of Syrian-American relations. During the recent conference on Gaza rehabilitation in Sharm al-Sheikh, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallim had a meeting with Hillary Clinton and said it was "short but sweet."

Syrian-U.S. relations were practically frozen following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, in which the Americans immediately spotted a Syrian connection. But Washington, too, wants good relations with Syria. This is the aim of its new policy, its "Middle East reset." The U.S. objective is to decouple Syria from Iran, the main sponsor of the Palestinian Hamas movement and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. It is to perform this mission that two U.S. envoys - Barack Obama's Middle East advisers Jeff Feltman and Daniel Shapiro - arrived in Damascus on Thursday.

Syria and the U.S. are ready to compromise. For Syria the main thing is to get the Golan Heights back, which Israel occupied during the 1967 war. As far back as 1994, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was prepared to do so, demanding only a $17 billion compensation to resettle the Israelis deeper into the hinterland, and the then U.S. president, Bill Clinton, was ready to pay.

The price of the issue is high, both in terms of money and political concessions. What will the U.S. demand from Syria? First of all, non-interference in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs, or rather no overt or covert support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Then winding up of its nuclear program and rigid controls on the border with Iraq to prevent militants from filtering through. Washington is also certain to want a liberalization of Syria's political system.

Will Bashar Assad agree? Perhaps he will, if the U.S. offers him security guarantees against Iran, renders economic aid and promises to return the Golans at some future date. If Clinton's Syrian scenario succeeds, Washington will also be able to strengthen its positions in Lebanon, pushing the Shiite Hezbollah group to the sidelines, which runs Lebanon quietly but effectively.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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