In early 2009, the U.S. and Syrian governments actively engaged each other at very high levels, creating more fertile ground for cooperative efforts. The Bush Administration had withdrawn the U.S. Ambassador to Syria in 2005. However, in the first half of 2009, Secretary Hillary Clinton has taken steps toward resuming relations by sending three envoys to the country.
The Center is helping to build non-governmental links between the two countries. From March 9-12, 2009, it lead a group of distinguished American and Syrian leaders in diplomacy, science, health care, and higher education and convened a series of meetings in Damascus. CSPC Trustee Pamela Scholl led the American delegation, which included Nobel Laureate David Baltimore and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria (2001-2003) Theodore Kattouf.
The goals of the exchange were: to increase and enhance discussions among scientists and medical and higher education professionals and create a sustainable dialogue among these professionals; to expand knowledge and mutual understanding on both sides; and to identify areas for potential collaboration.
The Center, the British Syrian Society and the Damascus University collaborated to convene these experts under the sponsorship of Mr. Wafic Rida Saïd, a Syrian-born businessman and philanthropist. During three days of frank and substantive discussion, the delegations looked at the challenges facing Syria, ways of improving U.S.-Syrian relations, and areas for greater cooperation. The delegation was well-received by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with whom the delegation met for an hour. President al-Assad welcomed the exchange and indicated his support for the recommendations for future cooperation arising out of the dialogue. He has since assigned specific responsibility for follow-up on the delegations' recommendations to the President of Damascus University.
The Center is currently completing a report that lays out the findings of the expert working groups on health, science and higher education. It will provide a snapshot of the major challenges that the groups identified in these areas and offer concrete recommendations for the way forward. In addition, the Center is currently examining other methods for increasing U.S. links to Syria, to build on the successful March trip.