The Real Story

From the JTA

The diminishing fortunes of the Bush administration and the resurgent fortunes of Hezbollah may be behind the surprising announcement that Syria and Israel are renewing peace talks.

The announcements Wednesday by the two countries, which said Israel and Syria would launch talks in Ankara under Turkish auspices, came despite longstanding U.S. opposition to talks with Syria.

The news garnered only tepid endorsement from the Bush administration.

“We were not surprised by it, and we do not object to it,” said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman. “We hope that this is a forum to address various concerns we all have with Syria — Syria’s support of terrorism, repression of its own people.”

With Bush nearing the end of his term in office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might have felt emboldened to shuck off Bush’s longstanding resistance to outreach toward Syria, analysts said.

“This demonstrates that what has kept things back is the United States,” said Steve Spiegel, a professor of political science at UCLA and a scholar at the Israel Policy Forum. Bush’s “leverage is not as great — Bush has seven-and-a-half months left.”