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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07DAMASCUS701 2007-07-10 14:15:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

SYRIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ON HIS STRUGGLE WITH

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM SY 
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VZCZCXRO8110
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHDM #0701/01 1911415
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 101415Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3840
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0496
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 000701 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PARIS FOR WALLER, LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/05/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SY
SUBJECT: SYRIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ON HIS STRUGGLE WITH
CANCER AND FOR POLITICAL CHANGE

REF: DAMASCUS 0628

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Michael H. Corbin for reasons 1.4 b/d



1. (C) Summary: On July 3, prominent Syrian opposition
leader Riad Seif provided an update on his unsuccessful
efforts so far to obtain permission to travel overseas for
treatment of his prostate cancer, including his meetings with
a Syrian VP and intelligence chiefs. He observed that the
relatively friendly manner in which he has been greeted by
SARG officials indicates that the SARG may be seeking a deal
with Seif in exchange for his silence. The 61-year-old Seif
expressed anger at his illness, given his efforts to enlarge
the Damascus Declaration (DD) group that he leads into a
180-person National Congress by as early as September.
While we agree with Seif's assessment that the SARG may be
exploring avenues to exploit Seif's illness for a political
deal, we doubt the regime will allow the charismatic Seif to
leave the country out of fear that he would speak freely and
raise funds. End Summary.



2. (C) SEEKING OVERSEAS TREATMENT FOR PROSTATE CANCER: In a
July 3 meeting with A/DCM and Poloff, prominent Syrian
opposition leader Riad Seif provided an update on his efforts
to obtain SARG permission to travel to Germany for treatment
of his prostate cancer as reported in reftel. Seif said that
he started the process three weeks earlier with a phone call
to the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) head of
internal security Fouad Nassif Kheirbek, who greeted him in a
friendly manner and said he had been wanting to meet Seif.
Subsequently, Seif met with one of Syria's two vice
presidents (the vastly less influential one) Najah al-Attar
to seek her influence with Syrian President Bashar al Asad.



3. (C) Shortly after the Attar meeting, head of Syrian GID
chief Ali Mamluk called Seif, requesting a meeting and a copy
of his doctor's recommendation that he seek treatment outside
Syria, Seif said. The hour-long Mamluk meeting was "very
friendly," Seif said. Mamluk welcomed him and said that the
political opposition is "a must" in every country--to which
Seif observed that the stronger the opposition, the wealthier
the country. Mamluk responded that Syria was "wanted by
America" and hence had to exercise caution in allowing
openings for increased political opposition. Seif said he
retorted that he had a different opinion and that Syria's
main mistake of the last decade was not knowing how to deal
with the West. Israel was an expert in dealing with the
West, while Syria was the worst, said Seif, adding that as a
result Syria was unable to defend itself. Mamluk suggested
that the opposition should focus on combating corruption and
developing the country's industrial capacities. (Comment:
Ironically, these are the issues that Seif championed during
the 1990s when he was an MP and businessman, marking the
beginning of his political troubles with the SARG and
eventually leading to a five-year prison sentence. Now, the
regime has taken up these topics--albeit in a very limited,
piecemeal way--to avoid more sensitive domestic political
reforms. End Comment.)



4. (C) Mamluk concluded their meeting by saying that the
SARG would cover all costs of treatment in a Syrian hospital
of Seif's choice, and Mamluk's assistant gave Seif his
personal phone number, exhorting him to call anytime. After
the meeting with Mamluk, Seif's Damascus-based doctor
privately told him that he had been contacted by two public
sector specialists who tried to persuade him to change his
recommendation for treatment outside Syria. Seif told A/DCM
he will continue his efforts to obtain treatment outside the
country and has sent his medical reports to doctors in
Germany and France for their opinions. In the meantime, he
was having difficulty obtaining interim medications through
Syrian pharmacies. Seif said he was not sure if, in the end,
the SARG would allow him to travel, but that he thought the
SARG wanted to make a deal, given their manner toward him and
Seif's growing political influence among the domestic
opposition. Seif said he had privately offered not to speak
out politically while overseas, but so far that offer had not
been accepted.



5. (C) EFFORTS TO EXPAND DAMASCUS DECLARATION GROUP
CONTINUE: Seif expressed anger at his illness, given his
efforts to enlarge the Damascus Declaration (DD) group that
he leads from a core group of about three dozen members to a
180-person National Congress. (At the same time, he quoted a

DAMASCUS 00000701 002 OF 002


Damascene proverb advising those planning to make war to
first appear weak.) Seif said he hoped that, by the fall,
and possibly as early as September, the National Congress
would meet for the first time and elect a 17-member executive
committee, which would draft a public political platform. In
the meantime, Seif was arranging for current DD members get
to know the prospective National Congress candidates at a
series of receptions in Damascus and around the country. The
first such reception had taken place on June 28 for 40
persons, including DD members as well as prospective National
Congress candidates such as anti-violence Islamist Dr. Jowdat
Said, popular Syrian actor Khalid Tajir, young and moderate
Sunnis, and well-respected Alawites, Seif said. The DD group
had decided not to begin work on a public statement about the
Congress, in the hopes that the expanded group would be less
influenced by the Arab Nationalists and other ideologues, who
currently dominate DD discussions, Seif said. Particularly
dogmatic were Communist Party Action chief Fateh Jammous and
Socialist Union chief Hassan Abdulazeem, Seif noted.



6. (C) IRAQ THE REGIME'S BOGEYMAN: Seif confirmed that
Syrians often cite the Iraqi conflict as boosting their
tolerance for the SARG, noting that, "People say that if the
regime here falls, the incoming regime could be worse. They
tell themselves that they have waited more than 40 years for
the Ba'ath Party to leave power and that they can wait a
little longer." The DD group and the National Congress are
intended to show Syrians and the international community that
democratic reforms in Syria can be done in a safe,
non-sectarian way, Seif said. The regime, however, continues
to capitalize on the situation in Iraq to make people afraid
of democracy, Seif said.



7. (C) ASAD'S SYRIA: Asked for his assessment of Syrian
President Bashar al-Asad, Seif characterized the President as
"the stupid owner of a farm called Syria." He elaborated by
saying that Asad, Asad's brother Maher and sister Bushra, as
well as the President's brother-in-law and head of Syrian
Military Intelligence Asef Shawkat, are a gang that was born
into power and that sees itself as the owner of Syria. Asad
had had a chance to permit the development of nascent
democratic reforms following his accession to the presidency
during a period that is sometimes referred to as the Damascus
Spring. "It could have absolved him of his father's sins,"
Seif said. Instead, Asad blocked the reforms and sent
activists to prison, said Seif, who was one of those
imprisoned. Asad will not give a second chance to meaningful
reforms, as they would put him out of power, Seif predicted.



8. (C) Comment: We agree with Seif's assessment that the
SARG may be exploring avenues to exploit Seif's illness for a
political deal. At the same time, we doubt the regime will
allow the charismatic Seif to leave the country for fear of
the opportunities that this would afford him for political
outreach and fund-raising in Western capitals. In our
estimation, the regime will likely calculate that ephemeral
international indignation over Seif's plight (like that
expressed in the past on behalf of ailing political prisoner
Aref Dalila) would be more palatable than a strengthened
domestic opposition, which up until now is unfunded, weak and
relatively unknown.
CORBIN