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05DAMASCUS6077 2005-11-22 09:50:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 006077 



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

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

1. (C) Summary: In separate meetings November 15-16, three
non-Ba'athist Syrian MP's sounded off about the Mehlis
investigation, President Asad's November 10 speech, and the
recent imprisonment of opposition figure Kamal Labwani. In
their first meetings with Polchief, they hewed closely to the
SARG line on these issues, questioning Mehlis' independence,
highlighting the positive in Asad's speech, and rejecting the
statements on Labwani as not helpful. One of the MP's,
moderate Islamist Mohammed Habash, noted that the U.S. cannot
succeed with its policy objectives in Syria if it tries to
engage with civil society and the opposition, while ignoring
the government. End Summary.

Regarding the UN investigation into the Hariri assassination,
Lattakia MP Noumeir al-Ghanem, head of the Foreign Relations
Committee of the Parliament, questioned Mehlis's
independence, and, hinting at U.S. involvement, observed that
many of his decisions seemed "directed" by a foreign power.
PolChief countered the notion and noted that USG officials
were often caught scrambling, trying to anticipate where
Mehlis is heading with his investigation. Ghanem also
pointed to Mehlis's refusal to negotiate an MOU with Syria
and to meet even briefly with the Syrian judicial commission
investigating the Hariri killing as additional signs that
UNIIIC is out to humiliate Syria and force the SARG into a
non-cooperative response.

3. (C) Ghanem said that he would head a small Parliamentary
delegation that would travel to UNSC capitals soon and noted
his interest in traveling to Washington to meet with
Congressmen. (Note: Ghanem is a professor of architecture
at Tishrin University, in the coastal city of Lattakia. His
father played a formative role in the political mentoring of
the young Hafez al-Asad.)

4. (C) Damascus MP Baha Eddin Hassan, a businessman, told
Polchief the Syrian street is convinced that the regime "is
innocent of the blood of Hariri." (Comment: Actually the
fluid street consensus that developed after Asad's speech
leaned more to the view that Mehlis had not proven any
involvement by Syrian officials and should not be allowed to
humiliate Syria.)

5. (C) THE ASAD SPEECH: These representatives spoke in
generally positive terms about Asad's November 10 speech.
Hassan said the speech had helped ease the concerns of people
and give them renewed hope, after a month-long period when
Syria had been subjected to intense international pressure
and criticisms. Like Hassan and others, Ghanem acknowledged
that parts of the speech "were rough," especially the
President's remarks on Lebanon and PM Siniora. In attempting
to explain some of the harshness, Ghanem said there is a
sense in Syria that the Lebanese "are egging on Mehlis."
Both men said that Siniora had not kept commitments he had
made to Asad.

also noted that Asad had made clear in the speech that he was
ready to cooperate with the U.S. on Iraq and other issues and
asked PolChief why the U.S. continually refuses to open a
channel to explore how a deal could be worked out. Liberal
Islamist MP Dr. Mohammed Habash said that increasing U.S.
pressure, creating the perception that the U.S. wants regime
change, had allowed Asad in his speech to forge a strong bond
between the regime and the Syrian people. (Comment: Until
Asad's speech, a street consensus had been emerging that
Syrians should not have to pay for the mistakes of a handful
of senior regime officials. That view has not disappeared,
but has been stifled by Asad's emotional appeal to Syrians'
strong feelings about national pride and dignity.)

7. (C) BRISTLING AT LABWANI: Hassan bristled at the recent
USG statements in support of opposition figure Kamal Labwani,
which he described as indicative of a "grudge against Syria."
Hassan attempted to dismiss Labwani as "completely unknown"
in Syria and questioned why the U.S. attempted to make "major
figures" out of people like Labwani and Farid al-Ghadry.
Habash also maintained that the USG statements on Labwani
were not helpful. Echoing the sentiments of many Syrians
(and a view that SARG has successfully propagated), Habash
claimed that Labwani "crossed a red line" when he decided to
meet with senior USG officials at a time when Syria was being
subjected to intense U.S. pressure and hostility. That
decision had allowed the SARG to portray Labwani as "a
collaborator" and to undercut his credibility. (Note:
Habash is known as the most prominent liberal Muslim cleric
in Syria. He heads an Islamic Studies Center and clearly has
quiet regime endorsement of his views. His observations on
Islam and fundamentalism in Syria are reported septel.)

8. (C) More broadly, Habash noted that the U.S. cannot
succeed with its policy objectives in Syria, especially in
the area of democratization and strengthening civil society
and respect for human rights, if it tries to engage with
political reformers and the opposition, while ignoring the
government. Like many moderate reform-minded figures in
Syria, Habash says it is essential to support the reform
efforts of President Asad. Proceeding without SARG
engagement will not be productive for civil society or for
the U.S., he added. On a separate note, Habash pointed out
that while the USG was pushing for passage of UNSCR 1636 and
insisting on full Syrian compliance, Israeli PM Sharon issued
a statement saying that "he would ignore UN resolutions on
the Golan Heights and would build new settlements there."
Finally, Habash expressed support for the Damascus
Declaration and regret that the SARG had not responded more
positively to the initiative.

9. (C) Comment: All three of these MP's, while listed as
Independents rather than Ba'athists, are government
supporters to one degree or another. Habash and Ghanem
offered more nuanced views that betray private reservations
about the limited scope and pace of political and economic
reform in Syria. Habash is a provocative and independent
thinker in his chosen field of Islamic theology. However,
most of the handful of independent political figures who were
in Parliament are now in prison or chose not to run for
re-election to a body they felt the government was using as a
sham to cover the lack of real democratic development in