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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06DAMASCUS1695 2006-04-13 12:38:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

EU DIPLOMATS SEE A CROSSROADS ON STRATEGY TOWARD

Tags:   PREL PGOV EU SY 
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O 131238Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8323
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0009
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 001695 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PARIS FOR ZEYA, LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2016
TAGS: PREL PGOV EU SY
SUBJECT: EU DIPLOMATS SEE A CROSSROADS ON STRATEGY TOWARD
SARG


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4 b/d



1. (C) Summary: European diplomats posted to Syria are
increasingly questioning what they perceive as the EU policy
of isolating the SARG. Some diplomats, especially those from
Spain, Italy and Greece, but also from countries such the
Netherlands and Austria, point to the regime's increased ties
to Iran, Hamas and even Russia and question the long-term
costs of these ties to Europe's political and cultural
interests. The SARG's recent harder-line stance toward the
Europeans, including its refusal to apologize after angry
crowds burned the Danish and Norwegian embassies, the closing
of the European-funded civil society center and its response
to a confidential April 11 EU demarche to the SARG, is only
increasing the doubts of diplomats about the correctness of
their governments' approach to Syria. As one European
diplomat told us recently, "We're at a crossroads. We need
to decide whether to follow the hard-line U.S. approach and
undermine further our relationship with our near-neighbor
Syria, or whether we should engage the SARG in the hopes of
achieving future political and economic reforms that
eventually make it more like Europe." End Summary.



2. (C) EU DIPLOMATS SEE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF ISOLATION:
European diplomats posted to Syria are increasingly
questioning what they perceive as the EU policy of isolating
the SARG. Over the past several weeks, Poloff has met with
diplomats from 11 of the 17 EU countries represented in
Syria, including colleagues from Spain, Italy, Greece,
Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Slovak Republic.
To varying degrees, all of them indicated their growing
unease about the effectiveness of the EU's current policy
toward the SARG, even as Damascus eagerly flaunts proof of
its flourishing ties with Iran, Hamas and even Russia. As
one European diplomat told us April 12, the same day that
former Iranian President Rafsanjani arrived in Damascus, "If
you look at our cables from a year ago, they were predicting
that the strategy of isolation would push Syria toward Iran
and Hamas, and that's what has happened."



3. (C) Added to that, the EU diplomats point to signs that
the UNIIIC investigation could drag on for another two years
without ever producing conclusive answers as to who
assassinated former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. "We're just
standing by and watching, wasting time," said one Italian
diplomat, who specifically pointed to increased Iranian and
Russian influence in Syria. "I wish we'd had the courage to
do what Spain did with the Moratinos visit," said the
diplomat, referring to Spanish FM Moratinos' March 7
"refueling stop" that included a meeting with Syrian FM
Mu'allim. Some diplomats also expressed fears that continued
pressure on Syria would only add to regional instability (and
illegal immigration to Europe) and further complicate the
likelihood of Middle East peace.



4. (C) SARG TURNS BACK ON EUROPE: Fueling doubts among
diplomats about the EU policy of isolating the SARG is the
regime's recently harder-line stance toward Europeans,
including its initially brusque response over the February 4
damage at the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish embassies. While
some European diplomats still express doubts about the
likelihood of direct SARG involvement in burning of the
embassies, most said that the reaction to the cartoons
increased the urgency for more dialogue between Europe and
the Muslim world, including with Muslims in secular countries
like Syria. "The burning of the embassies was a wake-up
call," said a Danish diplomat, calling the incident a sign of
boiling Muslim resentment to perceived European arrogance and
disrespect. Spain, Italy and Greece see themselves as best
positioned for such a dialogue, given their historical,
geographic and religious ties to the region, according to
several interlocutors.



5. (C) Diplomats also see evidence of a more confrontational
SARG stance in the March 1 closure of the European
Commission-funded civil society training center and the
SARG's chilly response to a confidential April 11 EU demarche
on human rights issues. The SARG reportedly advised the EU
about licensing requirements for any training centers,
promised to investigate alleged detentions and
disappearances, and ended with the comment that "it could
deal with the Europeans once the Association Agreement was
signed." Results of the EU demarche are likely to be
discussed by the capitals next week, said a European
diplomat.


DAMASCUS 00001695 002 OF 002




6. (C) A CROSSROADS IN POLICY: Although none of the
diplomats who met with Poloff anticipated a dramatic shift in
EU policy anytime soon, most of them expressed anxiety about
the current policy. As one European diplomat told us
recently, "We're at a crossroads. We need to decide whether
to follow the hard-line U.S. approach and undermine further
our relationship with our neighbor Syria, or whether we
should engage the SARG in the hopes of achieving long-term
political and economic reforms that eventually make it more
like Europe." A Czech diplomat saw it differently, calling
for continued pressure but with greater U.S.-EU policy
coordination to foil SARG manipulation. The regime sees
Europe as a viable alternative to the U.S., said the
diplomat, who linked the SARG's initial interest in the
Association Agreement to increased U.S. pressure on Syria.



7. (C) Comment: EU diplomats here are clearly uncomfortable
with their current policy toward the SARG, which they see at
out of synch with their cultural, commercial and political
long-term interests. Many feel exposed by the relatively
weak response from European governments after the Danish and
Norwegian embassies were burned. Many have also concluded
that the SARG felt free to use Islamic cover to lash out at
the Europeans and remind them that there could be costs
associated with adopting the U.S. policy of isolating Syria
and slow-rolling to death the Association Agreement. These
diplomats seem to recognize, however, that the EU, except for
the odd maverick move by a Moratinos, cannot embark on a
fresh policy course with Syria until the completion of the
UNIIIC investigation.
SECHE