Middle East: Why Assad Saw the Light

Syria shrewdly says yes to Bush's peace plan, but Israel suspects a trick to shift the blame for future delays

Syrian President Hafez Assad ordinarily is no one's idea of a cooperative statesman, not with his record as a bloodily repressive dictator. But Assad is shrewd enough to sense which way the winds of world power are blowing. So last week he accepted the American formula for a Middle East peace conference. That, in effect, made him the first Arab leader since Egypt's Anwar Sadat to agree to public, direct peace talks with Israel: that is what the conference is supposed to lead to, after a brief ceremonial opening.

None of which necessarily means that a conference will meet anytime soon....

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