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November 09, 2002

Syria's Surprise Vote Could Be an Eye-Opener for Iraqi Leader

That Syria too supported the Security Council resolution against Iraq comes as a surpirse. What is behind this vote?
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Everyone was expecting a tough U.N. resolution on Iraqi weapons inspections to pass Friday, but the shock for Baghdad must have come when Syria, the only Arab country on the Security Council, signed on at the last minute to make the vote unanimous.

The surprise "yes" from Fayssal Mekdad, the Syrian envoy at the United Nations, sent a clear signal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that few--if any--Arab states will rally to his side if Iraq evades or defies the U.N. arms inspectors who plan to travel soon to Baghdad, observers said.

A long and intense decision-making process by Damascus, coupled with the high-level lobbying of Syrian President Bashar Assad by world leaders such as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and French President Jacques Chirac, persuaded Syria to back the resolution rather than abstain, as had been widely expected.

In the end, analysts and government officials here in the Syrian capital said, Syria decided that the resolution was balanced and that voting for it would help preserve the credibility of the Security Council. And, they said, Assad and his advisors realized that a symbolic abstention by their country wouldn't help Iraq much but would leave Syria seeming dangerously out of step with the world community.