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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
03DAMASCUS6920 2003-12-02 13:25:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

ASAD: HOW DO WE TURN THIS AROUND?

Tags:   PREL KPAL MEPP PTER LE IZ IS SY 
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O 021325Z DEC 03
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1100
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L  DAMASCUS 006920 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/02/2008
TAGS: PREL KPAL MEPP PTER LE IZ IS SY
SUBJECT: ASAD: HOW DO WE TURN THIS AROUND?

Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Gene A. Cretz
(Releasable to Former NEA A/S Richard Murphy)



1. (C) Summary. During a 90-minute one-on-one meeting on
November 30, Syrian President Asad asked former NEA A/S
Richard Murphy for advice on what could be done to improve
US-Syrian relations and how Asad could expand his contacts
with US media. (Asad had just completed his interview with
the NY Times Neil McFarquhar, published December 1). Murphy
urged Asad to publicly support Iraqi stability and efforts to
move the peace process forward. Asad acknowledged that Syria
shared the US goal of a stable and prosperous Iraq and
America's goal of returning full sovereignty to Iraq as soon
as possible. He expressed doubts about US resolve to pursue
the Road Map in an election year. Murphy also urged that the
SARG resolve the Murad child abduction case. End summary.



2. (C) Former NEA Assistant Secretary Richard Murphy visited
Damascus November 29-December 1 as part of a regional visit
that will also include Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the
UAE. This message conveys Ambassador Murphy's report to the
Charge and Pol/C on his one-on-one meeting with Syrian
President Asad on November 30. Septels report Murphy's
meeting with FM Shara, and a separate meeting with the new
Syrian Prime Minister, Naji Al-Utri, which the Charge also
attended.



3. (C) REACHING US AUDIENCES: Having just finished an
interview with the New York Times (published December 1),
Asad asked for advice on expanding his contacts with the US
media. He seemed pleased with the NY Times' interview, but
noted that the paper reached only "the elites." What were
other vehicles? Asad had considered granting CNN's
Christiane Amanpour's request for an interview, but felt she
was not widely watched in the US. His next interview would
be with ABC's Peter Jennings, which he thought would reach a
wider audience. How should he contact other journalists?
Should he do his interviews in English? Should he do a human
interest story? Murphy advised using Syrian Charge Imad
Mustafa to contact the US press for as many interviews as he
could, and that they be conducted in English as much as
possible. Discussing his family and personal interests was a
good idea; the late King Hussein had built goodwill in the US
and Israel through such outreach.



4. (C) BILATERAL RELATIONS: Asad appeared concerned about
the deterioration in relations with the US: what can we do
about it? Murphy observed that while Syria had long been
unpopular in Washington circles and with US public opinion,
the frustration and irritation that had characterized
relations had turned to anger over Syria's shipment of
dual-use items and facilitation of volunteer fighters to
Iraq. Asad said these activities had stopped, and maintained
Syria was now trying to cooperate. Murphy said he understood
that Syria was doing relatively well with controlling its
border and there had been some cooperation over the Iraqi
assets issue. He asked Asad whether he thought the US and
Syria had a common interest in a stable and prosperous Iraq.
Yes, Asad replied. Did Syria agree that the Coalition ought
to transfer authority to an Iraqi government as soon as
possible? Asad responded that this was indeed Syria's
position. If this was the case, Murphy advised, then Syria
needed to say so. Syria should specifically and publicly
demonstrate its willingness to play a constructive role
through positive statements in support of efforts to
stabilize and rebuild Iraq. Asad insisted that Syria was
doing what it could on the border and other issues, including
Iraqi assets in Syrian banks and said that a US Army team
would be visiting "next week" to discuss border security.



5. (C) SUPPORTING PEACE EFFORTS: Murphy also suggested that
Syria play a more constructive role in support of efforts to
achieve regional peace. The signing of a symbolic peace
agreement negotiated by former Israeli and Palestinian
officials in Geneva on Dec 1 presented an opportunity for the
SARG to affirm its commitment to peace. Asad protested that
he hadn't read the agreement, and that it had nothing to do
with Syria. Murphy rejoined that Syria didn't need to know
what was in the text, and didn't have to support it, but it
should find a way to applaud the efforts of those who seek
peace. This particular agreement might not deal specifically
with Syria but it did deal with restoring hope for peace,
which did concern Syria. Asad seemed receptive to this
notion, though he did not go so far as to agree that he ought
to publicly commend such efforts. Indicating one concern
underlying his lack of enthusiasm, Asad asked Murphy for his
views on what the US government would be doing in the coming
year on the peace process. How serious would the US be?
Murphy predicted that the USG would stand by the Road Map,
but might not offer any further initiatives in the coming
months, noting that its expectations had been dampened by Abu
Mazen,s resignation. But the Road Map wasn't a vision, Asad
protested. Perhaps not, Murphy said, but it supported a
comprehensive peace and laid out specific, practical
requirements to achieve an Israeli/Palestinian settlement.



6. (C) DEALING WITH OBSTACLES: Murphy asked Asad for his
view of Hizballah and its intentions vis-a-vis a peace
settlement. Hassan Nasrallah, Asad replied, dresses like a
religious man, but he is really an excellent politician whose
basic interest is building an effective political party in
Lebanon. Their interest is in liberating Lebanon, not in
attacking Israel. Asad gave no ground on Murphy's point that
according to the UN, all of Lebanon's territory had been
liberated and that continued insistence that Shaba Farms was
part of Lebanon was not consistent with UNSCR 425. Only
Lebanon and Syria had the right to say which country owned
Sheb,a. Beirut and Damascus agreed it was Lebanese
territory. Murphy noted the statements by Hizballah leaders
calling for the liberation of Jerusalem. Asad asserted that
such statements were rhetorical only and ought not to be
taken seriously. Hadn't the Blue Line remained quiet? Why
had the Blue Line remained quiet, Murphy queried. Was it due
to Syria, Iran or Hizballah,s own self-discipline? Asad
replied that while Syria supported keeping the Blue Line
calm, it was Hizballah,s decision. He charged that the
Israeli provocations, intended to maintain tension among
Israelis, were largely responsible for any incidents that
occurred. The IDF overflew Lebanese territory, Hizballah
responded with "symbolic gestures" of defense by firing 57mm
AAA, and Israelis near the border went into their air
shelters.



7. (U) MURAD: Murphy asked the President what progress had
been made in locating the abducted children of Mrs. Elizabeth
Henry, whose former husband was known to have taken the
children from Lebanon to Syria. Asad said he was well aware
of the case and that he had instructed his Minister of
Interior to personally take charge of the matter.
Regrettably, the Syrian authorities did not know where Mr.
Murad was. Asad asked whether the USG might not provide
additional information to assist the Syrian authorities in
their efforts to track down Murad. Murphy said he would
convey this request, but urged that the SARG redouble its
efforts. It was very difficult to believe that Murad could
not be found.



8. (C) COMMENT: This was Ambassador Murphy's second meeting
with Asad (the first was in April 2002) who, despite the
ongoing crisis in relations, seemed relaxed, focused and
confident enough to conduct the entire meeting in English
(asking his interpreter for help with just three words).



9. (U) Ambassador Murphy cleared this message.



10. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.


CRETZ