Syria ridiculed Saturday Washington's dispatch of the USS Cole and two other vessels to waters off Lebanon as a "losing bet," and said Washington was unable to impose its solution to Lebanon's long-running political crisis by force, reports CBS News producer George Baghdadi in Damascus.
"There is a history of U.S. interventions in Lebanon. I think all those experiments were totally useless. I would tell those Lebanese who are betting on U.S. show of strength force that this is a losing bet. America cannot impose a solution in Lebanon as it sees it," Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Moallem told reporters in the first official reaction to the U.S. move.
"The only solution comes within the framework of the Arab initiative … and Lebanese consensus," said Moallem, who was speaking at a joint press conference with Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
Moussa was in Damascus Saturday to discuss with Syrian officials the Lebanese crisis, as well as an Arab summit to be held in Damascus at the end of this month.
No invitations were reported to have been sent to Saudi Arabia and Lebanon by midnight Friday, the deadline for receiving invitations, as Egypt was also threatening to boycott the gathering.
The deployment of three ships appeared to be aimed at making an American show of strength at a time of increasing international frustration at the volatile political deadlock in Lebanon between the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the Syria and Iran-backed opposition, led by Hezbollah.
The government and opposition in Lebanon have been locked in a 15-month power struggle, with Hezbollah and its allies trying to force out Saniora's administration. The deadlock has prevented the country from electing a president since November, leaving the post empty in a dangerous power vacuum.
The United States - along with anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon - accuses Damascus of trying to re-impose its control in Lebanon.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to visit the Middle East next week.
"In fact, the policy of this U.S. Administration in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq has proved to be wring. That is why no one can predict what the intentions of the U.S. Administration are. We judge on acts and I would say that such a show of force will have no avail and will not lead, as they claim, to stability," Muallem said in reply to a question to our Damascus correspondent.
"Such a show is absolutely against the stability of the region," he said adding that the presence of the warship "reinforces what we have been saying - that America is obstructing proposed political solutions in Lebanon."
Among those solutions, he said, was an Arab initiative which Moussa has been trying for weeks to market among feuding parties in Lebanon.
"America, by sending this warship, is sending an important message to the secretary general (Moussa) and the Arab League," al-Moallem said, without elaborating.
The state-run Tishrin newspaper also labeled the American deployment of warships off the coast of Lebanon as "unacceptable."
Ibrahim Al-Daraji, International Law Professor at Damascus University, suggested that some reactions to the U.S. move were extremely exaggerated.
"I think the move has no military dimensions, it is no more than a political message," he told CBS in a telephone conversation.
"This is a signal of U.S. political and diplomatic bankruptcy. The Americans have tried almost everything to pressure Syria but with no avail. They have tried siege, isolation, economic sanctions - such as a recent presidential executive order allowing sanctions against Syrian officials meddling in Lebanon and a member of Assad's family - and they couldn't yield Damascus," he added.
He said the deployment of U.S. warships off the coast of Lebanon was only meant to say that the Americans want to impose their own solution in Lebanon.
"But, militarily speaking, the USS Cole, which was hit in Yemen a few years ago, cannot do a way by its own. We need to watch a military buildup as we did see before the war in Iraq," he said.