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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08DAMASCUS849 2008-11-26 14:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

SARG FAST-TRACKING EU ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT

Tags:   ETRD PGOV EU SY 
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 000849 

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/ELA, EUR/ERA, ISN/RA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/26/2018
TAGS: ETRD PGOV EU SY
SUBJECT: SARG FAST-TRACKING EU ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Maura Connelly for reasons 1.4(b,d)

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Summary
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1. (C) An EU diplomat in Damascus confirmed that a delegation
would travel to Damascus to publicly "initial" the EU
Association Agreement with Syria on December 14, following
the successful conclusion of negotiations to update the
agreement text on November 24 in Brussels. In her view,
President Asad had empowered the Syrian negotiating team to
quickly conclude the negotiations in order to strengthen
Syria's position vis-a-vis Europe before the U.S.
presidential inauguration. She doubted that the 27 EU member
states could ratify the agreement so quickly, but assessed
that recent high-level SARG visits to European capitals had
been successful in persuading skeptics, such as the
Netherlands, to support the Syrian position. In her opinion,
the only political obstacle that might yet derail the
agreement would be additional IAEA criticism of the SARG's
nuclear program. End summary.



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SARG Can "Get to Yes" When They Want To


--------------------------





2. (C) EU Political and Economic Section Chief Angelina
Eichhorst (protect) confirmed that a delegation from the EU
would be traveling to Damascus to publicly "initial" the EU
Association Agreement with Syria on December 14. This step
comes after the November 24 conclusion of negotiations in
Brussels to update the agreement's text since previous
negotiations had stalled in 2004. Eichhorst told us that EU
and Syrian negotiating teams had been working "in parallel"
on possible amendments for "weeks," and said that the Syrian
delegation had worked "day and night" to finish its position
in the final days before going to Brussels. Once the
negotiations began, the EU team was surprised that the
Syrians had not presented detailed demands -- particularly
regarding agriculture and tariff structures. The SARG team
had instead pursued a strategy of updating only specific
technical language while addressing all other subjects as
simply and broadly as possible.



3. (C) Eichhorst said that the pace of the negotiations had
also exceeded the EU's expectations. In her opinion, the
SARG had helped speed the process by including in its
14-member delegation both currently empowered decisionmakers
(such as delegation head DPM Abdullah Dardari and State
Planning Commission Head Tayssir Raddawy) and almost exactly
the same drafters that had worked on the original text from
2000-2004. Consequently -- and in her opinion,
uncharacteristically -- the Syrian team rarely consulted with
Damascus before agreeing to amendments.



--------------------------


Timing Tied to Transition


--------------------------





4. (C) To Eichhorst, the Syrian team's behavior indicated
that President Asad wanted to conclude the agreement as
quickly as possible in order to present it to the incoming
Obama Administration as evidence that the EU has given Syria
a "clean bill of health." She suggested that the SARG may
also benefit from the transition of political power within
the EU, as many new parliaments and governments with no
background on Syria may also take office in early 2009. She
posited that it was unlikely the 27 EU member states could
ratify the agreement before the U.S. presidential
inauguration, however, as the EU would adjourn on December 19
for a lengthy holiday break. When the EU reconvenes in 2009,
she said, the Czechs may not want to tackle such a difficult
issue as Syria so early in their first EU Presidency, but
that French President Sarkozy would be likely to push them to
move forward.



--------------------------



DAMASCUS 00000849 002 OF 002


EU Members Likely to Ratify


--------------------------





5. (C) According to Eichhorst, once the Czechs place Syria's
Association Agreement on the EU agenda, the member states'
foreign ministers may choose one of three courses of action.
First, and in her opinion least likely, they could demand
specific amendments to the text and send it back to the
negotiating teams. Next, and she believes most likely, they
will vote to sign the agreement as negotiated. Finally, the
foreign ministers could stall the agreement by calling for
additional "political debate" over issues such as human
rights or Syria's non-cooperation with the IAEA.



6. (C) She pointed out that the SARG could preempt the human
rights argument by releasing Michel Kilo at any time, as he
has already served the mandatory two-thirds of his three-year
sentence, which ends in May 2009. In her opinion, European
suspicion over Syria's nuclear program is the only remaining
obstacle that might still derail the agreement's conclusion,
particularly if the IAEA makes any additional public
statements regarding Syrian non-compliance.



7. (C) Eichhorst remarked that the SARG had successfully
persuaded some key EU member states that Syria is deserving
of the agreement. She pointed to FM Muallem's "successful"
visit to the UK -- reciprocated last week by British FM
Miliband in Damascus -- as well as DPM Dardari's recent
travels to Athens and Prague. She specifically mentioned the
Syrians' success in "flipping" the Netherlands to supporting
the agreement, although she did not elaborate on what the
Syrians had done to change the Dutch position.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





8. (C) The SARG will champion the EU Association Agreement as
another example of European engagement -- along with the
visits of French President Sarkozy and British Foreign
Minister Miliband -- resulting from Syria's agreement to
establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon and continuation
of indirect peace negotiations with Israel. The SARG may
also believe that EU leaders will pressure the incoming Obama
Administration to similarly modify U.S. policy toward Syria.
As Syria had already liberalized many of its trade and
customs policies since 2004 to comply with WTO standards, the
agreement will have little economic impact other than
qualifying Syria to receive greater European development
assistance. In the long run, however, the SARG may find the
two protocols (on human rights and non-proliferation of WMD)
far more troublesome than any economic restructuring
requirements would have been.
CONNELLY