Barack Obama’s Middle East Policy Adviser recently discussed presidential politics with high-level Syrian officials during a conference underwritten Syrian business interests and a Canadian oil company.
Adviser Daniel Kurtzer told the New York Sun the trip was not related to his campaign work, but that he did discuss the next president’s role in Syria’s relationship with Israel with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
"I urged him to move ahead in the Israel-Syria negotiations as much as possible so that whoever is the next president would not start from too far down the track," Kurtzer told the Sun. "I did not say anything about Obama or McCain. I said whoever is the next president is not going to want to inherit a process that isn't going anywhere."
The exchange took place at lawyer’s conference organized by the British Syrian Society in Damascus in early July. Kurtzer was invited because he is on the board member of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative.
Al-Moallem’s father in law is a co-founder of the British Syrian Society and the event was paid for by Syrian corporations and the Canadian oil company, Petro-Canada.
Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told the Sun he hoped he wasn’t being “used” by the Syrians. “None of us thought we were being used,” Kurtzer said on behalf of those attending the conference. “But we will see over time.”
After the conference concluded, Kurtzer traveled with Obama’s campaign while it was swinging through Israel and Palestine.
The Obama campaign said Kutzer’s participation in the conference had “no connection with the campaign.”
Tony Badran, an expert on Lebanon and Syria for the Defense of Democracies, was not surprised Kurtzer was meeting with the Syrians. He likened the meeting to other informal lobbying efforts done on Syria’s behalf.
“It’s not a secret that the Syrians are openly banking on Barack Obama,” Badran told the Sun.