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06DAMASCUS3223 2006-07-03 11:45:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

UNDER PRESSURE, SYRIAN REGIME STIRS STONE SOUP

Tags:   PREL PGOV KPAL SY 
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1. (C) Summary: The ongoing Gaza crisis notwithstanding,
the SARG is conducting its foreign policy in traditional
Syrian style, playing for time and survival against
international pressure on a range of issues. This was most
recently demonstrated by the July 1 meeting between the
visiting Qatari FM and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in
Damascus, according to Syrian foreign policy analyst Samir
al-Taki. The SARG used the visit to convey its willingness
to listen to outsider advice about the ongoing standoff
between Israel and Hamas, asserted al-Taki, predicting that
the regime will sidestep any demands to pressure
Damascus-based Hamas leaders about the fate of the kidnapped
Israeli soldier. Given continued USG pressure for the
international isolation of Syria, the SARG continues to
pursue opportunities to engage other governments, including
Russia, China, India, Iraq, Italy, and possibly Germany,
al-Taki said. The SARG is likely to continue to encourage
visits by foreign officials who seek Syria's assistance with
the standoff in Gaza (and other regional concerns) and to use
these opportunities to convey a message that the pressure
politics of the West are, in fact, impeding the SARG's
ability to intervene effectively. End Summary.



2. (C) The SARG is conducting its foreign policy in
traditional Syrian style, playing for time and survival
against international pressure on a range of issues,
according to Syrian foreign policy analyst Samir al-Taki, who
cited the stone soup fable with protagonists stirring a stone
and water in a pot to elicit outside contributions, while
adding nothing themselves. The SARG was using the Qatari
FM's July 1 visit to convey its willingness to listen to
outsider advice about the ongoing standoff between Israel and
Hamas, even those interlocutors with good ties to the USG,
al-Taki said. The SARG, however, would never offer up all of
the details about the "cards" it is holding to other leaders
in the region or ask another country to serve as an
intermediary, al-Taki said. Separately, the Qatari
Ambassador here told the Charge on July 2 that al-Thani went
directly from the airport to Asad's palace, where he held a
one-on-one session with Asad, followed by an expanded meeting
attended by Syrian FM Walid Mu'allim. Talks dealt with
ongoing events in the Palestinian Territories, with Asad
assuring al-Thani of his interest in helping to resolve the
ongoing crisis, while claiming that it was difficult for him
to do as much as he might like, for fear he would be seen as
succumbing to international (i.e. U.S.) pressure, according
to the Qatari Ambassador.



3. (C) The SARG never responds to direct international
pressure but instead formulates its foreign policy,
particularly toward Israel, based on public sentiment,
asserted al-Taki. The regime has been rallying support for
the Palestinian cause, with a public fund drive launched
earlier this year, which has so far netted more than 12.6
million USD, which is to be delivered "at the proper time" to
help in "the education, charitable, health and human fields,"
according to a report in the official Syrian Arab News Agency
(SANA). Another SANA news item reported a "huge mass
demonstration" in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza that
took place the evening of July 2 in the Palestinian refugee
camp of Yarmouk in Damascus. (Note: We have been unable to
confirm the size of the demonstration and have received no
reports of similar protests outside the Palestinian camps.)
The regime will sidestep any demands to pressure Mish'al
about the fate of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, predicted
al-Taki, who denounced USG silence over past and ongoing
Israeli actions leading to civilian deaths. Separately,
SANA reported July 3 that Syria would only lean on Hamas to
find a solution to the crisis only after Israel stops its
attacks on Gaza.



4. (C) Al-Taki commented on a range of other bilateral
relationships, including:

-- SYRIA-LEBANON: The June 28 meeting in Damascus between
Asad and visiting Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri
would not produce a visit by Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora
because the SARG doesn't really want him to come, al-Taki
said. "The regime is using velvet words to cover an iron
hand," said al-Taki, noting that the SARG has decided to
close the door on Lebanon and let the country stew in its
escalating domestic problems.

-- SYRIA-IRAQ: While closing the door on Lebanon, Syria is
interested in "opening its door" completely to Iraq, despite

DAMASCUS 00003223 002 OF 002


USG pressure on Baghdad to stifle prospects of restoring full
diplomatic relations, al-Taki said.

-- SYRIA-IRAN: The SARG has recently decided to try and
limit some of Iran's overt religious influence in Syria,
which is creating resentment among the majority Sunni
population, al-Taki claimed. (Note: Despite al-Taki's
assertion, SANA reported the July 2 arrival to Damascus of
the grandson of Iran's late Ayatollah Khomeini, who was
"warmly welcomed" by Syria's Vice President Farouk
al-Shara'a.)



5. (C) Given continued USG pressure for the international
isolation of Syria, the SARG continues to seek engagement
with other governments, al-Taki said. Russia has been
telling the SARG "to go ahead, we support you," and
discussions are underway about a possible visit by Russia's
FM to Damascus, al-Taki said. The Chinese support the
regime, and talks are ongoing about an Asad trip to India,
al-Taki stated. The Europeans are wavering over their policy
of isolating Syria; most recently, Germany has indicated
interest in engaging the SARG to help fill what it sees as a
potential regional power vacuum, which it fears would be
exploited by Islamists and backers of Iran, al-Taki claimed.
French officials have also expressed deep reservations about
French President Jacques Chirac's policy of isolating Syria,
said al-Taki, recently in Paris as part of a two-person
delegation from the new Asharq Center for Strategic Studies,
which has ties to Syrian FM Mu'allim. During a lunch with
French MFA officials, a vice minister stated that France
should be more open to Syrian views in formulating its
Lebanon policy, al-Taki claimed. (Note: The second member
of the Syrian delegation told us a few weeks ago that French
officials seemed open to more contact, with the exception of
Chirac, but that the hard sell was with Asad, who was
convinced that nothing could be accomplished until Chirac
left office.) A SANA report on July 3 reported a meeting
between Mu'allim and the visiting former Italian FM Gianni De
Michelis on the situation in the Palestinian Territories and
Syria-Italy relations.



6. (C) Comment: We agree with al-Taki's assessment that the
SARG is using the ongoing conflict in Gaza to elevate its
importance both regionally and internationally. The SARG is
likely to continue to encourage visits by foreign officials
who seek Syria's assistance with the standoff in Gaza (and
other regional concerns) and to use these opportunities to
convey a message that the pressure politics of the West are,
in fact, impeding the SARG's ability to intervene effectively.
SECHE