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05DAMASCUS5780 2005-11-01 16:58:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DAMASCUS 005780 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2015

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche, per 1.4 b,d.

1. (C) Syrian contacts reacting in the immediate wake of
passage of UNSCR 1636 predicted that the SARG, despite
mounting pressure, would provide only limited cooperation
with the UNIIIC investigation, while trying to prolong any
negotiations on the modalities of the cooperation. In
addition, the SARG is likely to shore up domestic support
with a release of poltical prisoners and other political
reforms. It will exploit an anxious public mood and continue
to fan anti-American sentiments. Contacts were divided about
the strength of the resolution and its impact on the regime.
One view argues that if President Bashar al-Asad does not
take dramatic action, amounting to a "palace coup" that would
involve separating his fate from that of family members
likely to be named as suspects, the regime would end up
taking the country down a disastrous path. Proponents of
this view said that the army would have to play a critical
role in this scenario, but they did not believe circumstances
had yet ripened for such a move. A second view argues that
the regime is betting that limited help from its allies,
mistakes by resolution sponsors that would give the regime
popular support, and ongoing anti-American, anti-Mehlis
propaganda would allow the regime to survive, even if if
faces a year or two of sanctions. Human-rights activists
generally hailed the resolution as a useful tool with which
to pressure the regime. End Summary.

2. (C) Reacting to passage of UNSCR 1636, long-standing
Embassy contact Dr. Samir al-Taki told Polchief he expects
relatively dramatic developments in the next two months. He
said he had spoken with a range of political, security, and
party figures in the hours after passage of UNSCR 1636 and
warned them to expect a demand from UNIIIC head Mehlis in the
next few days that key Syrian suspects be rendered abroad for
questioning. Al-Taki said that "half-cooperation" or "fake"
cooperation with UNIIIC is the most dangerous solution for
Syria because it would expose the nation to consequences,
without gaining any benefit.

3. (C) In al-Taki's view, it is necessary to fully cooperate
with UNIIIC in a way that would "split the SARG leadership"
and separate the fate of President Bashar al-Asad from that
of his brother Maher, and his brother-in-law, SMI chief Asif
Shawkat. Al-Taki described as urgent the need to find ways
to convince Asad that he needed to take action, and soon, to
facilitate this separation. Al-Taki said it is not clear
whether Asad could hand over the two or separate his fate
from theirs, "because it will involve some kind of internal

4. (C) Like other contacts, al-Taki described a divide in
the regime between those who followed his and GID head Ali
Mamluk's assessment that the President needed to take drastic
action, and those siding with Maher and Shawkat, who argued
for limited cooperation and for waiting to see what happened.
Ba'ath Party Regional Command member Haithem Satayhi was
described as one offering Asad honest advice that leaned
toward the al-Taki/Mamluk view of the situation. According
to al-Taki, Mamluk assessed that the situation was not yet
ripe for any type of partial coup in support of the President
by military elements opposing Maher and Shawkat, but
indicated the current "difficult, fluid" situation could move
in this direction. Al-Taki lamented that "there are only
four people in the military/security services, and one
political figure," who could confront "the suspects and their
supporters" but did not elaborate.

5. (C) Al-Taki pointed to a SARG leadership meeting that
took place October 31, including political, security, and
party officials. He described it as "hectic and confused"
with people focused on their individual survival. "What they
don't understand is that once the UN names them, there won't
be any place to flee to or access to the money they have
obtained." Al-Taki said his source for this description was
Ali Mamluk, the head of GID, with whom he spoke directly.
Mamluk described to al-Taki an argument between the President
and Shawkat before the meeting, in which Shawkat was quoted
as saying "We came (to power) together, and we will leave

6. (C) While acknowledging family pressures, al-Taki said
that they would not be critical. For him, "the key now is
the Syrian army" (military forces not including the security
services). "It must stand up for Syria's future stability
and survival," said al-Taki. The fact that Shawkat had
spread "his men" throughout the security services would not
be critical if the army moved.

7. (C) On a related note, al-Taki said it was regrettable
that the American Ambassador is not present in Syria at
present, noting that U.S. input in the coming period could be
critical. "Only the U.S. among foreign elements can shape
the upcoming events."

8. (C) Al-Taki discounted the significance of any relief
that SARG officials expressed with the language of the
resolution passed. He also insisted that the SARG, as soon
as possible, should negotiate a protocol with UNIIIC on
future cooperation. He expected that it would not be to the
SARG's advantage, because the government had waited too long
to act, but anything would be better than no action.

9. (C) LAYING OUT THE SARG STRATEGY: All4Syria website
founder and Ba'athist reformer Ayman Abdul Noor also pointed
to this split between hard-liners supporting the Maher and
Shawkat and those who were arguing for a somewhat more
moderate position on UNIIIC cooperation, in tandem with
"fundamental internal change." He said these changes would
include starting negotiations with the opposition on a new
political parties law, releasing all political prisoners,
some economic reforms, and announcing elections, "with the
prospect of real competition and power-sharing." Despite
this split, Abdul Noor detected the outlines of a strategy
emerging which would amount to the "cooperation-lite" policy
with UNIIIC that al-Taki decried as the most dangerous, and a
few internal changes.

10. (C) The regime will try to enter into drawn-out
negotiations with Mehlis on the modalities for cooperation,
discussing guarantees for any witnesses sent abroad (e.g. no
change in status from witness to suspect, UN commitment they
will be allowed to return to Syria) and so forth. For every
positive step the SARG takes towards cooperating, it will
send a warning signal that at a certain point, if pushed too
hard, the cooperation will stop. In the intermediate future,
the regime understands that this posture will likely lead to
sanctions, which it prefers to taking the drastic action of
delivering Maher al-Asad and Shawkat.

11. (C) By insisting publicly that it will cooperate fully,
while insisting on conclusive evidence, the regime will keep
Syrian public opinion on its side, even in the face of the
sanctions threat. At the same time, the regime will
intensify its anti-American campaign, as it tries to enhance
its pull on Syrian public opinion. Abdul Noor described the
message going out of the mosques over the past week, as
directed by SARG authorities, as inflammatory, emotional, and
dangerous, since once such discourse took on religious
overtones, it became irrational and difficult to control.

12. (C) Abdul Noor expected the regime to reduce any
residual domestic criticism by using the anti-American line,
charges of international conspiracy, and the message that
Syria is being targeted without evidence or sense of fair
play. Part of its strategy will also include attacking the
personal credibility of Mehlis, which the regime so far has
not done. Abdul Noor insisted that the SARG has photographs
of Mehlis meeting with Mossad agents, and will broadcast such
visuals in the coming days. The SARG will also spread the
view that "Syria is targeted, not the regime." He urged the
U.S. to speak out publicly in the next few days to make clear
(and counter regime propaganda) that neither the U.S. nor the
UN would target the Syrian people, but instead would focus on
individuals in the regime.

13. (C) If the regime borrows a few of the other
recommendations from the moderate camp (in which Abdul Noor
includes himself), Asad will also change a few members of his
government, particularly FM Shara'a. Asad is also likely to
deliver a speech to the nation in the coming days, explaining
"how the country got into such a mess."

14. (C) Abdul Noor insisted that Bashar al-Asad has the
power to turn over family members to Mehlis for interrogation
or even trial, even without demanding conclusive evidence
first, but "he does not want to." When asked why he would
not want to, if Asad faces such a threat to his regime, Abdul
Noor replied cryptically, "because he knows," hinting that
what the two know about the assassination of Hariri poses
more danger to his regime than a possible UN sanctions regime.

15. (C) Abdul Noor took issue with the official view that
the resolution had been watered down and was not so damaging
to Syria. It is still "a Chapter VII resolution" and shows a
clear, unanimous call by the Council for SARG action, he

16. (C) Historian Sami Moubayed speculated that the regime
has already decided to do the minimum and is basically "just
waiting for sanctions." While there is some hope that Russia
and other allies will help them avoid the sanctions, Moubayed
discounted that possibility. Concurring with many other
contacts, he said it is impossible for Bashar al-Asad to turn
over his brother or brother-in-law as suspects. Maher sees
himself as his brother's equal in "the family enterprise."
Some sort of limited questioning in Cairo might eventually be
accepted, but even that would be viewed as "a tremendous
humiliation" for the regime. Moubayed also predicted
increasing anti-American sentiment stoked by the regime, but
noted that such feelings were already present on the Islamic
street in Syria. Like Abdul-Noor, he also predicted SARG
domestic moves to shore up public support.

17. (C) MP George Jabbour, a regime defender, hailed the
successful efforts of Russia to have removed from the
resolution the reference to Article 41 and to have inserted
the reference to Syria's newly formed investigative
committee. He told Polchief things were not yet at an
impasse, but they could develop in that direction if what he
projected as negotiations between Syria's investigative
committee and UNIIIC broke down. Jabbour acknowledged "very
strong feelings" in Syria against the UN and Mehlis, which he
regretted, but blamed on Mehlis' mistaken insistence on
publishing his report before his findings were final.

18. (C) Human rights activist Anwar al-Bunni predicted a
crisis between the SARG and the UN even before December 15,
with SARG efforts to combine pretenses of cooperation with
stalling tactics doomed to failure. In his view, UNSCR 1636
makes clear that the SARG will not be offered a deal to get
out of its predicament. He also expressed his belief that
the resolution successfully differentiated between the regime
and the Syrian people.

19. (C) Other civil-society activists also weighed in with
Emboffs. Maan Abdul Salam said that the international
community had acted wisely in compromising on the resolution
to get unanimous passage. The SARG would now have more
difficulty gaining time by playing up divisions in the
international community. Taking issue with assessment of
other contacts, Abdul Salam insisted that the SARG's efforts
to gain the support of the public with Syrian nationalist
messages were not working. Attorney and activist Da'ad Musa
described 1636 as "a soft resolution" but at the same time
expressed relief that it stopped short of a repeat of UN
sanctions like those implemented against Iraq and Sudan,