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03ROME5473 2003-12-05 10:22:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rome
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L  ROME 005473 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/12/2013

REF: ROME 05363


1. (C) Summary: During recent closed talks with the Italian
MFA, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Muallem expressed a
desire to improve US-Syrian relations by developing a higher
level dialogue on a more equal footing. Muallem said that a
settlement with Israel is the best strategic option for
Syria. Hezbollah could not be destroyed, but Syria was doing
its best to control the organization and felt it could be
rendered insignificant if a true agreement is reached with
Israel. Syria wants to participate in bilateral or
multilateral discussions with the US on Iraq. The meeting did
not appear to us to reveal anything new, but the Italians
believe it may offer the USG an opening to test Syria's
willingness to cooperate more effectively in the region. A/S
Burns' counterpart, Amb. Ricardo Sessa, will ask for the USG
view of the Syrian points when he meets Burns in Rome
December 9. End Summary

2. (C) Pol M/C met with MFA, Eastern Mediterranean Office
Director, Luca Ferrari to follow up on the November 27-28
Syria-Italy meeting held in Rome. The meeting originated from
MFA Mediterranean and Middle East Director General, Ricardo
Sessa's recent trip to Syria during which the Italians urged
the Syrians to do more in relation to Israel and extended an
invitation to come to Rome to conduct closed talks to explore
meaningful actions. (reftel)

3. (C) The Syrian delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign
Minister Walid Muallem and the Italian delegation was headed
by U/S Alfredo Luigi Mantica. Ferrari indicated that the
Syrian's principal message was to improve US-Syrian relations
by developing a higher level dialogue on a more equal
footing. Ferrari stated that the meeting was open ("more
relaxed and informal than the Syrians have ever been") and
that the Syrians declared a desire to work with the US and
the international community in order to achieve progress. The
meeting focused on the Syrian-Israeli peace process,
Hezbollah, and Iraq. Ferrari stated that the Syrians wanted
the Italians to deliver messages on the above issues to the
US and were hoping to receive a response from the US via the

Peace Process


4. (C) The Syrians stated that a settlement with Israel is
the best strategic option for Syria. They expressed a
willingness to restart negotiations with Israel based on the
border demarcation of July 4, 1967. Although not presented as
a precondition, the Syrians expressed the futility of any
talks if there is no agreement on the border. If Israel
agrees to the 1967 border, the Syrians said they would be
ready to pick up the dialogue based on what was already
achieved up to the Shepherdstown agreements. Ferrari also
reported that the Syrians expressed their desire to sign
agreements and normalize relations with Israel regardless of
the continuing issues with Palestine, Iraq and the rest of
the region. Muallem expressed concern that PM Sharon would
not negotiate with Syria. Ferrari replied that, although this
may be true in the Palestinian case, the Syrian front may be
one of the only areas where Sharon could demonstrate progress.



5. (C) The Syrians stated that they did not consider
Hezbollah a terrorist organization, but recognized it as a
powerful and influential political force. The Italians
responded that regardless of what the Syrians say, Hezbollah
acts like and is considered a terrorist group by Italy, the
US, and many other states. According to Ferrari, the Syrians
did not argue the issue and continued the discussion stating
that Hezbollah could not be destroyed and that they were
doing their best to control the organization. The Syrians
went on to state that the group could be rendered
insignificant if a true agreement is reached with Israel.



6. (C) The Syrians expressed a readiness to participate in
bilateral or multilateral discussions with the US on Iraq.
The Syrians stated that, although they are willing to pursue
a higher level dialogue with the US, they do not feel
obligated to participate. They stressed that they will only
be willing to maintain a dialogue with the US and help in
Iraq if they receive fair treatment from the US. Ferrari
indicated that the Syrians perceive the US as a bully who

threatens and dictates. The Syrians expressed a desire to be
part of a comprehensive dialogue on Iraq and feel they can
offer many resources and information on dealing with Iraq and
terrorism. They do not feel the current dialogue is
productive and seek improved strategic talks with the US. Pol
M/C stated that bilateral talks do exist. What the Syrians
are after is exchanges with higher level officials.

MFA Impressions


7. (C) Ferrari closed stating that he felt Deputy Foreign
Minister Muallem had come to Rome with the authority to speak
frankly and delivered sincere messages. Ferrari believes the
Syrians genuinely want to progress on the peace process with
Israel, assist in the war on terrorism, and participate in
the reconstruction of Iraq. Deputy Foreign Minister Muallem
repeatedly stated that Syria was misunderstood and was not
being given the respect and fair treatment it expects in
order to participate as a full partner in the region. Ferrari
believes the Syrians want to restart strategic talks on more
cordial terms and at a higher level with the US and want to
protect their own interests through cooperation with the US.



Although interesting, Ferrari's read-out does not seem to us
different from what the Syrians have been saying publicly and
privately to us. By using the Italians as the go between the
Syrians can maintain a distance while getting their message,
genuine or not, delivered to Washington via a more credible
channel. The Italians also wish to play a more important role
in the region and wish to be viewed as the key negotiator
who, if things work out, can take credit for bringing parties
together and moving regional peace and stability forward.

2003ROME05473 - Classification: CONFIDENTIAL