Top Lebanese interim government officials met Saturday with their Syrian counterparts in Damascus for the first time in nearly 10 years to discuss importing Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity through Syrian territory, and Syria said it was ready to cooperate.
Syrian state TV showed a smiling Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad receiving Lebanon's deputy prime minister, Zeina Akar, under a picture of President Bashar al-Assad and a Syrian flag. Arab media noted there was no sign of Lebanon's flag inside the room during the meeting.
U.S. sanctions on Damascus are a complicating factor in any effort to help Lebanon via Syria, but Arab media reported that the U.S. ambassador to Beirut, Dorothy Shea, appeared to give a green light to the Lebanese-Syrian gathering during a meeting she held with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the end of last month.
Nasri Khoury, who heads a Syrian-Lebanese cooperation commission, told journalists after the meeting that officials from both countries were eager to begin facilitating the delivery of electricity and gas. Both sides will now examine the technical details of the project.
But Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that Syria "does not even have the technical facilities to carry out such a transfer of Egyptian gas," and that "electricity lines from Jordan will cross Syrian territory around [the southern city of] Daraa, which is currently a war zone."
Diab said the decision to forge the agreement came from U.S. diplomacy, which he said was a bit unpredictable and filled with contradictions, especially regarding policy toward Syria.
He said that before the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon agreed to the deal, Jordan's King Abdullah tried to lobby for such an agreement when he met U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in July. Diab said Jordan was in a difficult economic position and wanted to normalize relations with Syria, suggesting that any taxes taken by Syria be used for humanitarian purposes only.
The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq met in Baghdad in June to agree to an energy cooperation deal in which Egypt would send natural gas and electricity to the other two countries. Discussions at the time hinted at eventually expanding the deal to Syria and Lebanon.
Paul Sullivan, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told VOA that Saturday's agreement between Lebanon and Syria would "make Hezbollah, Syria and Iran more powerful in Lebanon, [and] may also bring more trouble to the country. One has to wonder if there isn't another way to get fuel to Lebanon without handing [such] power to such a malign [actor]."
Meanwhile, Iraqi TV reported that Iran had cut gas shipments to Baghdad on Saturday, amid a spat over money Iraq owes Iran for energy shipments. Some reports said Baghdad was unwilling to pay Tehran because of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.