The former U.S. Ambassador to Israel attempted to broker a meeting between former U.S. president Bill Clinton and the ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, in 2009 -- but to no avail.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing emails leaked by Anonymous from the account of Assad’s media adviser, Martin Indyk sought to improve relations between Washington and Damascus by arranging a meeting between Assad and Clinton.
Indyk, who currently serves as director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, also wanted to include Israeli-American business executive Haim Saban and other prominent U.S. officials in the trip in the summer of 2009.
Indyk served two separate stints as the ambassador to Israel (from April 1995 to September 1997 and from January 2000 to July 2001). By 2009, he was corresponding regularly with Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s principal media consultant, and wanted to arrange a Clinton-Assad parley. At this same time, U.S. President Barack Obama was also seeking to mend the relations between the US and Syria -- which had been frayed since George W. Bush launched an invasion into Syria’s neighbor Iraq in 2003.
“It was a real pleasure to meet with you in Damascus,” Indyk wrote to Shaaban. “I'm very glad to see that as a result of your wise counsel relations between our two countries finally seem to be on the mend. As you may know, I am now working as an outside adviser to [Senator] George Mitchell.”
Indyk further wrote: “I wanted to explore with you the possibility of bringing this high-level American delegation to Damascus for a meeting with President Assad before we go to Jerusalem. I'm sure you will agree that first hand exposure to the views of President [Assad] -- especially before they hear the views of the Israeli leadership -- would do much to enhance their understanding of Syria's approach to strategic issues in the region at a critical moment.”
Sending Clinton as a proxy representative of the U.S. into unfriendly countries was not so unusual – that same summer, the former president went to North Korea to visit with Kim Jong-il to secure the release of two American reporters who had been captured and imprisoned in the remote Asian country.
Shaaban replied back to Indyk: “I am glad to let you know that President Assad also welcomed the idea of [receiving] President William Clinton and the accompanying delegation…”
However, by late August 2009, Indyk informed the Syrian official that Clinton would not be able to make it to Damascus, thereby ending the possibility for an extraordinary meeting between two world leaders.
It is unclear why Clinton backed out from going to Syria. From Assad’s perspective, a photo opportunity with the former President of the U.S, would likely have served as a public relations bonanza.