US embassy cable - 03DAMASCUS6920

ASAD: HOW DO WE TURN THIS AROUND?

Identifier: 03DAMASCUS6920
Wikileaks: View 03DAMASCUS6920 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 2003-12-02 13:25:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL KPAL MEPP PTER LE IZ IS SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 021325Z DEC 03
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1100
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L  DAMASCUS 006920 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/02/2008 
TAGS: PREL, KPAL, MEPP, PTER, LE, IZ, IS, SY 
SUBJECT: ASAD: HOW DO WE TURN THIS AROUND? 
 
Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Gene A. Cretz 
(Releasable to Former NEA A/S Richard Murphy) 
 
1.  (C) Summary. During a 90-minute one-on-one meeting on 
November 30, Syrian President Asad asked former NEA A/S 
Richard Murphy for advice on what could be done to improve 
US-Syrian relations and how Asad could expand his contacts 
with US media.  (Asad had just completed his interview with 
the NY Times Neil McFarquhar, published December 1).  Murphy 
urged Asad to publicly support Iraqi stability and efforts to 
move the peace process forward.  Asad acknowledged that Syria 
shared the US goal of a stable and prosperous Iraq and 
America's goal of returning full sovereignty to Iraq as soon 
as possible.  He expressed doubts about US resolve to pursue 
the Road Map in an election year.  Murphy also urged that the 
SARG resolve the Murad child abduction case.  End summary. 
 
2. (C) Former NEA Assistant Secretary Richard Murphy visited 
Damascus November 29-December 1 as part of a regional visit 
that will also include Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the 
UAE.  This message conveys Ambassador Murphy's report to the 
Charge and Pol/C on his one-on-one meeting with Syrian 
President Asad on November 30.  Septels report Murphy's 
meeting with FM Shara, and a separate meeting with the new 
Syrian Prime Minister, Naji Al-Utri, which the Charge also 
attended. 
 
3. (C) REACHING US AUDIENCES: Having just finished an 
interview with the New York Times (published December 1), 
Asad asked for advice on expanding his contacts with the US 
media.  He seemed pleased with the NY Times' interview, but 
noted that the paper reached only "the elites."  What were 
other vehicles?  Asad had considered granting CNN's 
Christiane Amanpour's request for an interview, but felt she 
was not widely watched in the US.  His next interview would 
be with ABC's Peter Jennings, which he thought would reach a 
wider audience.  How should he contact other journalists? 
Should he do his interviews in English?  Should he do a human 
interest story? Murphy advised using Syrian Charge Imad 
Mustafa to contact the US press for as many interviews as he 
could, and that they be conducted in English as much as 
possible.  Discussing his family and personal interests was a 
good idea; the late King Hussein had built goodwill in the US 
and Israel through such outreach. 
 
4.  (C) BILATERAL RELATIONS:  Asad appeared concerned about 
the deterioration in relations with the US:  what can we do 
about it?  Murphy observed that while Syria had long been 
unpopular in Washington circles and with US public opinion, 
the frustration and irritation that had characterized 
relations had turned to anger over Syria's shipment of 
dual-use items and facilitation of volunteer fighters to 
Iraq.  Asad said these activities had stopped, and maintained 
Syria was now trying to cooperate.  Murphy said he understood 
that Syria was doing relatively well with controlling its 
border and there had been some cooperation over the Iraqi 
assets issue.  He asked Asad whether he thought the US and 
Syria had a common interest in a stable and prosperous Iraq. 
Yes, Asad replied.  Did Syria agree that the Coalition ought 
to transfer authority to an Iraqi government as soon as 
possible?  Asad responded that this was indeed Syria's 
position.  If this was the case, Murphy advised, then Syria 
needed to say so.  Syria should specifically and publicly 
demonstrate its willingness to play a constructive role 
through positive statements in support of efforts to 
stabilize and rebuild Iraq.  Asad insisted that Syria was 
doing what it could on the border and other issues, including 
Iraqi assets in Syrian banks and said that a US Army team 
would be visiting "next week" to discuss border security. 
 
5.  (C) SUPPORTING PEACE EFFORTS:  Murphy also suggested that 
Syria play a more constructive role in support of efforts to 
achieve regional peace.  The signing of a symbolic peace 
agreement negotiated by former Israeli and Palestinian 
officials in Geneva on Dec 1 presented an opportunity for the 
SARG to affirm its commitment to peace.  Asad protested that 
he hadn't read the agreement, and that it had nothing to do 
with Syria.  Murphy rejoined that Syria didn't need to know 
what was in the text, and didn't have to support it, but it 
should find a way to applaud the efforts of those who seek 
peace.  This particular agreement might not deal specifically 
with Syria but it did deal with restoring hope for peace, 
which did concern Syria.  Asad seemed receptive to this 
notion, though he did not go so far as to agree that he ought 
to publicly commend such efforts.  Indicating one concern 
underlying his lack of enthusiasm, Asad asked Murphy for his 
views on what the US government would be doing in the coming 
year on the peace process.  How serious would the US be? 
Murphy predicted that the USG would stand by the Road Map, 
but might not offer any further initiatives in the coming 
months, noting that its expectations had been dampened by Abu 
Mazen,s resignation.  But the Road Map wasn't a vision, Asad 
protested.  Perhaps not, Murphy said, but it supported a 
comprehensive peace and laid out specific, practical 
requirements to achieve an Israeli/Palestinian settlement. 
 
6.  (C) DEALING WITH OBSTACLES:  Murphy asked Asad for his 
view of Hizballah and its intentions vis-a-vis a peace 
settlement.  Hassan Nasrallah, Asad replied, dresses like a 
religious man, but he is really an excellent politician whose 
basic interest is building an effective political party in 
Lebanon.  Their interest is in liberating Lebanon, not in 
attacking Israel.  Asad gave no ground on Murphy's point that 
according to the UN, all of Lebanon's territory had been 
liberated and that continued insistence that Shaba Farms was 
part of Lebanon was not consistent with UNSCR 425.  Only 
Lebanon and Syria had the right to say which country owned 
Sheb,a.  Beirut and Damascus agreed it was Lebanese 
territory.  Murphy noted the statements by Hizballah leaders 
calling for the liberation of Jerusalem.  Asad asserted that 
such statements were rhetorical only and ought not to be 
taken seriously.  Hadn't the Blue Line remained quiet?  Why 
had the Blue Line remained quiet, Murphy queried.  Was it due 
to Syria, Iran or Hizballah,s own self-discipline?  Asad 
replied that while Syria supported keeping the Blue Line 
calm, it was Hizballah,s decision.  He charged that the 
Israeli provocations, intended to maintain tension among 
Israelis, were largely responsible for any incidents that 
occurred.  The IDF overflew Lebanese territory, Hizballah 
responded with "symbolic gestures" of defense by firing 57mm 
AAA, and Israelis near the border went into their air 
shelters. 
 
7. (U) MURAD: Murphy asked the President what progress had 
been made in locating the abducted children of Mrs. Elizabeth 
Henry, whose former husband was known to have taken the 
children from Lebanon to Syria.  Asad said he was well aware 
of the case and that he had instructed his Minister of 
Interior to personally take charge of the matter. 
Regrettably, the Syrian authorities did not know where Mr. 
Murad was.  Asad asked whether the USG might not provide 
additional information to assist the Syrian authorities in 
their efforts to track down Murad.  Murphy said he would 
convey this request, but urged that the SARG redouble its 
efforts.  It was very difficult to believe that Murad could 
not be found. 
 
8.  (C) COMMENT: This was Ambassador Murphy's second meeting 
with Asad (the first was in April 2002) who, despite the 
ongoing crisis in relations, seemed relaxed, focused and 
confident enough to conduct the entire meeting in English 
(asking his interpreter for help with just three words). 
 
9.  (U) Ambassador Murphy cleared this message. 
 
10. (U) Baghdad minimize considered. 
 
 
CRETZ 

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