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Iraq and Syria Restore Relations After 24-year Rift

Iraq restored full diplomatic relations with Syria Tuesday in an effort to stem militant violence and garner favor with other Arab states. David Schenker and Robert Malley discuss the new alliance and its possible impact.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    With the stroke of a pen, Syria and Iraq formally ended more than 20 years of diplomatic estrangement. Syria's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, visited Iraq this week, the first such meeting since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

  • WALID MOALLEM, Foreign Minister, Syria (through translator):

    What we want to establish together in this visit is a mechanism for future cooperation in all fields, as long as the political decision and the political will in this regard are clear.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Syria and Iraq were both governed by Baathist ruling parties but broke ties during the 1980s' Iran-Iraq war. Later, Syria joined the anti- Saddam coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the 1991 Gulf War.

    Up until this week's renewal of diplomatic ties, Iraqi leaders often accused Syria of trying to destabilize their country by allowing Sunni Arab foreign fighters to cross the border Iraq shares with Syria, but even the U.S. military concedes that frontier is difficult to police.

    The Baghdad visit by the Syrian foreign minister revealed some differences still exist. The Syrian called for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. The idea was rejected by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki.

    Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited the leaders of Iraq and Syria to a weekend of talks in Tehran. The idea was well-received on the streets of the capital.

  • IRANIAN CITIZEN (through translator):

    Without Iran and Syria present in negotiations, bringing about peace and security in Iraq will be impossible. The United States' comments come from their hostility towards the Iranian government and the Iranian people. They do not want Iran to be involved in solving the Iraqis' problems.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Top Bush administration officials have frequently accused Iran of supporting Shia militias in Iraq and contributing to sectarian violence there.

    But it was Syria's alleged connection with instability that dominated the Mideast news today. Syria was widely blamed, but denied any role, in the assassination of a Lebanese Christian leader, Pierre Gemayel.

    It's been less than two years since Syria was forced to end its military occupation of Lebanon. Syria is still under investigation by the United Nations for its alleged role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

    The diplomatic developments in the region coincide with a review of U.S. policy in Iraq by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Former Secretary of State James Baker has advocated the U.S. engaging Iran and Syria in diplomacy to help stabilize the region.