2004-01-14 15:27:00
Embassy Ankara
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000226 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/13/2014

(U) Classified by Ambassador Edelman, E.O. 12958, reasons 1.5
(b) and (d).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000226


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/13/2014

(U) Classified by Ambassador Edelman, E.O. 12958, reasons 1.5
(b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Assad's January 6-9 visit to Turkey was the
first by any Syrian President. Assad met one-on-one with PM
Erdogan and President Sezer, and also met FM Gul, TGS Chief
Ozkok, Parliament Speaker Arinc, and main opposition CHP
leader Baykal. Turkish contacts say GOT raised terrorism,
WMD and Syrian-Israeli relations, without any notable
response from Assad. The two sides signed agreements on
double taxation, mutual foreign investment incentives, and
tourism. The visit, another step forward in bilateral
relations, is a piece in FonMin Gul's desire for a foreign
policy more oriented toward the Islamic world. End Summary.


2. (C) According to MFA Middle East DG Tahsim Burcuoglu,
Assad expressed concern (Burcuoglu described him as
"panicked") about the current situation in Iraq, including
worries about a separate Kurdish state in the north. Assad
claimed Syria is trying to control border crossings into
Iraq, but mainly expressed hope for early elections and a
swift end to U.S. occupation.


3. (C) Turkish interlocutors assert to us that they pressed
Assad and his delegation on three terrorism-related issues:
suspects in the November Istanbul bombings believed to be at
large in Syria; Syrian support for anti-Israel terrorist
groups; and terrorist infiltration to Iraq from Syria.
According to DG Burcuoglu, Assad expressed a willingness to
work with Turkey on the Istanbul bombing suspects but
requested more information from the Turks first. The Turks
also asked Assad to stop supporting Hezbollah, HAMAS,
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine. According to Burcuoglu, Assad
merely repeated "the usual things" and claimed Syria is
trying to control its Iraqi border to prevent terrorist
infiltration. Israeli DCM Nahshon told us the Turks say they
still await the Syrian response.


4. (C) Burcuoglu told us Assad raised WMD on his own, saying
he does not want to see any WMD in the region. Assad worried
that, at the UK's behest, the EU will re-open the WMD article

of Syria's EU partnership agreement. Ali Sarikaya, an aide
to PM foreign policy advisor Ahmet Davutoglu, claimed to us
that Assad denied Syria has WMD but affirmed its "right" to
possess them "in light of Israeli WMD."

Syria's Relations with Israel

5. (C) The Assad visit also allowed Turkey to portray itself
as a peace mediator between Israel and Syria. Israeli DCM
Nahshon said he had spent the month before the visit working
with GOT officials on issues to raise with Assad, and PM
Erdogan personally debriefed the Israeli Ambassador on the
visit January 8. Spinning the visit as "extremely
constructive", Nahshon said the Turks claimed Israeli issues
were at the top of the agenda. In addition to urging Syria
to stop supporting anti-Israel terrorist groups, Erdogan and
Sezer reportedly raised the issue of accounting for missing
and dead Israeli citizens in Syria and Lebanon; Assad was
noncommittal. According to Burcuoglu, Assad said he could
not make concessions on the Golan Heights but is ready to
discuss other issues. On January 12, Israeli President
Katsav invited Assad to visit Jerusalem; Nahshon said this
gambit is "of course" related to Assad's Turkey visit.
According to media reports, the Syrians quickly rejected the

Economic Issues

6. (C) The GOT and the Syrians also signed agreements on
double taxation, foreign investment incentives, and tourism.
According to Burcuoglu, the agreements had been in the works
since 2002. Language that referred to the long-disputed area
of Hatay (called Alexandretta by the Syrians) hung up the
agreements until the last minute. However, just before the
visit, the Syrians accepted the Turkish language. In
Istanbul, Assad also paid a visit to the Istanbul Stock
Exchange and despite looking slightly bewildered (according
to Burcuoglu, the visit was Mrs. Assad's idea),promised to
create one in Damascus.

7. (C) Comment: At Assad's request, his meetings with
Erdogan and Sezer were one-on-one, according to Burcuoglu, so
that Assad could get away from his "entourage." According to
Burcuoglu and Israeli DCM Nahshon, the GOT perceived Assad as
"sincere" and believes he has had a "change of mentality."
Islamist-oriented contacts who are close to FonMin Gul, for
instance journalist Fehmi Koru, have insisted to us that the
visit was immensely positive and that Assad is an agent of
democratic change. The Turkish press fawned over Assad in a
manner rarely seen. However, the results of the visit appear
modest at best. Bilaterally, the visit is another step in
relations that have steadily improved since 1998, when the
two nations almost went to war over Syria's harboring of PKK
leader Ocalan. Assad appears to have bowed to reality on the
Hatay/Alexandretta dispute, ameliorating a bilateral
irritant. However, the visit seems to have contributed
little to regional issues. Although the Turks are fond of
seeing themselves as regional brokers and apparently worked
closely with the Israelis on the visit, they seem to have
gotten little movement out of Assad. End Comment.

8. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.