US embassy cable - 00DAMASCUS3013 (original version)

ASAD LAID TO REST, BASHAR ERA BEGINNING, SYRIANS ADJUST TO NEW REALITY (original version)

Identifier: 00DAMASCUS3013
Wikileaks: View 00DAMASCUS3013 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 2000-06-13 18:30:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINR SY
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
O 131830Z JUN 00
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1438
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY NICOSIA 
AMEMBASSY ANKARA 
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 003013 
 
NICOSIA FOR ILMG 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 6/13/10 
TAGS: PGOV, PINR, SY 
SUBJECT: ASAD LAID TO REST, BASHAR ERA BEGINNING, 
         SYRIANS ADJUST TO NEW REALITY 
 
REF: DAMASCUS DAO IIR 6 891 0161 00 
 
CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR RYAN C. CROCKER, REASON 1.5 (B) 
AND (D) 
 
SUMMARY 
-------- 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY.  IN THE PAST THREE DAYS, AS MANY SYRIANS 
SAT NUMBLY ABSORBING THE NEWS THAT THEIR PRESIDENT, 
LEADER, AND FATHER FIGURE OF THREE DECADES HAD DIED, SON 
BASHAR AL-ASAD HAS QUIETLY AND SO FAR EFFECTIVELY 
ASSUMED CHARGE; HE AWAITS ONLY OFFICIAL PARTY AND 
CONSTITUTIONAL BLESSING.  WE BELIEVE THIS WILL COME 
QUICKLY AND WITHOUT DISRUPTION.  THE PARTY CONGRESS THAT 
WILL PROMOTE BASHAR TO PARTY HEAD WILL BEGIN JUNE 17, 
ALTHOUGH NOT WITH UNANIMOUS ENTHUSIASM.  IN A CAREFULLY 
CHOREOGRAPHED FUNERAL DISPLAY, SENIOR SYRIAN OFFICIALS, 
WITH DEFMIN MUSTAFA TALAS IN THE LEAD, LENT THEIR FULL 
SUPPORT AT OFFICIAL CEREMONIES JUNE 13 IN DAMASCUS.  THE 
ERA OF HAFIZ AL-ASAD, WHO, ON JUNE 10, DIED EXACTLY 33 
YEARS LATER TO THE DAY THAT ISRAEL FIRST REOCCUPIED THE 
GOLAN, IS OVER..  END SUMMARY. 
 
SYRIANS GATHER IN SHOCK--AND SORROW 
----------------------------------- 
 
2. (C)  MINISTER OF HEALTH DR. MUHAMMAD AL-SHATTI, 
ESCORT TO THE U.S. DELEGATION, TOLD THE AMBASSADOR THAT 
THE NATION WAS STILL "IN A STATE OF SHOCK."  BEFORE 6 
A.M. THE MORNING OF ASAD'S FUNERAL JUNE 13, SYRIANS FROM 
ALL CORNERS HAD BEGUN TO GATHER IN THE CENTRAL AREA 
WHERE HIS CASKET WOULD BE CARRIED IN WALKING PROCESSION. 
WHILE REPUBLICAN GUARD AND POLICE SECURITY WAS THICK 
ALONG THE FUNERAL ROUTE AND THE AIRPORT ROAD, THE MANY 
THOUSANDS OF EMOTIONAL MOURNERS MADE THEIR MARCH AND 
DEPARTED WITHOUT INCIDENT.  THE FACT THAT MANY OF OUR 
CONTACTS HAVE FOR DECADES FELT NO PROBLEM EXPRESSING 
THEIR FRUSTRATION, RESENTMENT, OR OPPOSITION TO THIS 
REGIME DOES NOT CHANGE THE FACT THAT THE IMPORTANCE OF 
ASAD'S PASSING IS STILL BEING ABSORBED, AND FOR SOME, 
THE FEELING OF LOSS IS STRONG.  THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT IS 
HEIGHTENED BY UNCERTAINTY AND APPREHENSION ABOUT THE 
FUTURE. 
 
AT THE PALACE: BASHAR IN CHARGE 
------------------------------- 
 
3. (C) NEWLY-MINTED GENERAL BASHAR AL-ASAD ACTED NOT 
ONLY AS A BEREAVED SON, BUT ALSO AS THE LEADER OF SYRIA 
AND THE PARAMOUNT HOST TO A STREAM OF FOREIGN 
DIGNITARIES ARRIVING TO PAY THEIR CONDOLENCES AND 
RESPECTS TO HIS FATHER THE MORNING OF JUNE 13.  THE 
MASSIVE, GLASS-WALLED PALACE THAT SITS ON THE HILLS 
OVERLOOKING DAMASCUS WAS FILLED WITH A RESPECTFUL BUZZ 
AS LARGE DELEGATIONS WERE LED, IN EFFICIENT PROCESSION, 
TO STAND BEFORE ASAD'S CASKET.  DELEGATES THEN PROCEEDED 
TO BRIEF MEETINGS WITH FOREIGN MINISTER FAROUK AL-SHARA, 
AND THEN GREETED COMMANDER IN CHIEF BASHAR AL-ASAD, WHO 
STOOD ALONE (NOTABLY WITHOUT HIS BROTHERS OR UNCLES) IN 
A LARGE RECEIVING ROOM TO THE SIDE.  THE MESSAGE WAS 
CLEAR THAT THIS WAS NOT A FAMILY GATHERING; GENERAL 
BASHAR WAS THERE AS CHIEF OF STATE.  HE APPEARED CALM, 
POISED, AND AUTHORITATIVE. 
 
4. (C) PROMINENT AMONG SENIOR SYRIANS WHO LINED THE 
FORMAL RECEIVING ROOM WAS DEFMIN TALAS, LENDING SUPPORT 
TO SEVERAL REPORTS THAT SINCE ASAD'S DEATH TALAS HAD 
ASSUMED THE ROLE AS NUMBER ONE ADVISER TO BASHAR.  FM 
SHARA ACTED AS CO-HOST, SHUTTLING BETWEEN HIS DUTIES ON 
THE SYRIAN DELEGATION AND RECEIVING AND BIDDING GOODBYE 
TO VISITING DIGNITARIES.  THE LEBANESE LEADERSHIP AND 
OTHER LEBANESE WERE IN STRONG EVIDENCE AND SAT OPPOSITE 
THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN THE RECEIVING HALL. 
 
NO ONE OPPOSING, BUT NOT EVERYONE 
HASTENING TOWARD THE FUTURE 
---------------------------------- 
 
5. (C) THE FUNERAL CEREMONIES WENT SMOOTHLY, INDICATING 
THAT THE SYRIA'S CURRENT LEADERSHIP AND BA'TH PARTY 
MACHINERY WAS ABLE TO FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY IN A CRISIS 
SITUATION.  THE BA'TH PARTY CONGRESS WILL BEGIN AS 
PLANNED JUNE 17, ALTHOUGH NOT ALL PARTY MEMBERS ARE 
RUSHING TO EMBRACE THE NEW ERA.  MINISTER OF HEALTH AL- 
SHATTI TOLD THE AMBASSADOR THAT IT WAS BASHAR WHO HAD 
INSISTED THAT THE BA'TH PARTY CONGRESS GO AHEAD AS 
PLANNED, AN IMPORTANT STEP ON MOVING THE COUNTRY FROM 
MOURNING THE PAST TO BUILDING THE FUTURE.  HE REMARKED 
THAT, LEFT TO ITS OWN DEVICES, THE OSSIFIED PARTY 
LEADERSHIP PROBABLY WOULD WAIT ANOTHER SIX MONTHS, AND 
SAID THAT WHILE "NO ONE WAS OPPOSED, NOT EVERYONE WAS 
HASTENING TOWARDS IT."   ON THE MUCH-DISCUSSED ISSUE OF 
ASAD'S RIVAL AND BROTHER RIF'AT, BOTH THE RUSSIAN AND 
EGYPTIAN AMBASSADORS DISCOUNTED THIS THREAT DESPITE THE 
RIF'AT STATEMENT IN SPAIN CHALLENGING HIS NEPHEW. 
 
6. (C) COMMENT.  THE SYRIAN SUCCESSION IS PROCEEDING AS 
SMOOTHLY AND CALMLY AS POSSIBLE.  BASHAR PRESIDED AS 
LEADER OF SYRIA DURING THE FUNERAL PROCEEDINGS; SENIOR 
SYRIANS WERE THERE TO LEND HIM SUPPORT.  DESPITE THE 
PROMINENT PRESS PLAY, FEW OF OUR CONTACTS TAKE THE 
RIF'AT CHALLENGE SERIOUSLY.  THE ERA OF HAFIZ AL-ASAD 
HAS OFFICIALLY PASSED AND THE BASHAR ERA HAS BEGUN.  THE 
SON APPEARS WELL ON HIS WAY TO GAINING POWER IN AN 
ORDERLY FASHION.  THE QUESTION NOW IS WHETHER HE CAN 
KEEP IT. UNLIKE JORDANIAN KING ABDULLAH, WHO ASSUMED THE 
THRONE BOLSTERED BY INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT AND 
LEGITIMACY, BASHAR'S QUEST FOR LEGITIMACY WILL HINGE 
MORE ON SYRIA'S COMPLEX INTERNAL SITUATION. 
 
CROCKER 

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