US embassy cable - 88DAMASCUS1795

A SYRIAN DIPLOMAT'S VIEW OF LIFE IN TEHRAN

Identifier: 88DAMASCUS1795
Wikileaks: View 88DAMASCUS1795 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 1988-03-28 12:22:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: ECON PREL SY IR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 281222Z MAR 88
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4358
INFO GULF WAR COLLECTIVE
AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 01795 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL:  OADR 
TAGS:  ECON, PREL, SY, IR 
SUBJECT:  A SYRIAN DIPLOMAT'S VIEW OF LIFE IN TEHRAN 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  SOME SUBJECTIVE IMPRESSIONS OF 
LIFE IN THE IRANIAN CAPITAL FROM A SYRIAN DIPLOMAT 
PAINT A GLOOMY PICTURE.  END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  MR. HUSNI DIAB IS THE RECENTLY RETURNED SYRIAN 
COMMERCIAL COUNSELOR IN TEHRAN (RETURNED TO 
DAMASCUS MARCH 14).  HE IS A SUNNI DAMASCENE OF 
GOOD FAMILY WHO HAS SPENT THE BULK OF HIS CAREER 
IN THE BANKING SECTOR, FIRST WORKING FOR PRIVATE 
BANKS IN DAMASCUS, THEN FOR THE COMMERCIAL BANK 
OF SYRIA AFTER THE NATIONALIZATION OF THE BANKING 
SECTOR IN THE 1960S.  PRIOR TO DEPARTING FOR HIS 
MISSION IN TEHRAN, HE SPENT FOUR OR FIVE YEARS AT 
THE MINISTRY OF ECONOMY AND FOREIGN TRADE, WORKING 
WITH HIS OLD MENTOR AND UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, MINISTER 
OF ECONOMY AND FOREIGN TRADE, MOHAMMED IMADI 
(WHO WAS ALSO MINISTER OF ECONOMY IN THE LATE 
1970S).  MR. DIAB HAS SPENT THE LAST FIVE YEARS 
IN TEHRAN.  HE IS ALSO A FORMER AID GRANTEE WHO 
TRAINED WITH U.S. BANKS IN THE EARLY 1960S. 
 
-   -------------------- 
4.  LIFE UNDER THE SCUDS 
-   -------------------- 
 
IN A TYPICAL, FATALISTIC WAY, DIAB SAID THAT DURING 
THE RECENT PERIOD OF MISSILE ATTACKS HE PUT HIM- 
SELF TO SLEEP AT NIGHT WITH A VALIUM.  HE WENT ON 
TO SAY THAT IT WAS NOT SO BAD DURING THE DAY WHEN 
THE NOISE OF THE CITY WOULD DROWN OUT THE SOUND 
OF DISTANT MISSILES FALLING.  BUT IN THE QUIET OF 
THE NIGHT, THE SOUND WAS ALL TOO CLEAR.  DIAB 
ESTIMATED THAT OF A POPULATION OF APPROXIMATELY 
10 MILLION, ABOUT 30 PERCENT VACATED THE CITY AT 
NIGHT.  "THE WEALTHIER TEHRANIS GO AND STAY IN 
THEIR SUMMER HOUSES OR WITH RELATIVES IN THE OUT- 
LYING VILLAGES AND COUNTRYSIDE.  ANYONE WITH A 
CAR WILL DRIVE OUTSIDE OF THE CITY AND SLEEP IN 
THE CAR OR CAMP." 
 
-   ----------------- 
5.  IRANIAN OFFICIALS 
-   ----------------- 
 
DIAB SAID THAT THE TOP LEVEL IRANIAN OFFICIALS HE 
DEALT  WITH WERE INCOMPETENT AND UNTRAINED.  MID- 
LEVEL OFFICIALS, PARTICULARLY IN THE BUSINESS AND 
ECONOMIC SECTORS, HAD OVERWHELMINGLY BEEN TRAINED 
IN THE U.S.  HE ADDED THAT HE FREQUENTLY PASSED 
THE U.S. EMBASSY BUILDING ON HIS WAY TO AN ADJACENT 
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BUILDING.  HE SAID THE PREMISES 
ARE STILL MANNED BY REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS BUT NOT 
USED.  DIAB'S COMMENTS ON THE IRANIAN BUREAUCRACY 
WERE SCATHING.  "A SINGLE, SIMPLE TRANSACTION 
CAN TAKE THREE OR FOUR MONTHS TO COMPLETE.  TO 
ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING REQUIRES AT LEAST THREE OR 
FOUR SEPARATE TRANSACTIONS.  THE IRANIAN BUREAUC- 
RACY IS A NIGHTMARE TO DEAL WITH."  CONSIDERING 
THAT THE SYRIAN BUREAUCRACY'S PACE IS CLOSER TO 
THE TORTOISE THAN THE HARE, THIS IS STRONG LANGUAGE 
INDEED. 
 
-   ------------------------- 
6.  IRANIAN TOURISTS IN SYRIA 
-   ------------------------- 
 
DIAB AGREED THAT THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT PAYS 
SYRIAN GOVERNMENT $250 PER TOURIST FOR A ONE 
WEEK TRIP TO SYRIA, INCLUDING FOOD AND TRANSPOR- 
TATION.  HE SAID THE ARRANGEMENT IS FOR TWO 
THOUSAND TOURISTS PER WEEK.  HE DENIED THAT 
FAMILIES OF MARTYRS ARE PROVIDED THIS TRIP AS A 
FREE BONUS.  AT THE SAME TIME, HOWEVER, HE SAID 
THAT UNDER BLACK MARKET RATES FOR THE IRANIAN 
CURRENCY THE AVERAGE IRANIAN PAYS APPROXIMATELY 
$80 FOR THE TOUR.  HE SAID FOR THE MOST PART THE 
TRAVELERS ARE POOR VILLAGERS AND/OR RELIGIOUS 
ADHERENTS WHO ARE INTERESTED IN VISITING DAMASCUS' 
MOSQUES AND SHRINES.  THE WEALTHIER IRANIANS, HE 
ADDED, PARTICULARLY NOW DURING THE ANNUAL FEAST 
OF NAWRUZ, ARE TRAVELING TO EUROPE, CANADA AND 
THE U.S. 
 
-   -------------- 
7.  FUNDAMENTALISM 
-   -------------- 
 
DIAB WAXED PHILOSOPHICAL REGARDING THE CAUSES OF 
FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN.  ESSENTIALLY, IT BOILED 
DOWN TO AN OPINION THAT THE SHAH IGNORED THE 
GROWING GAP BETWEEN THE SMALL WEALTHY ELITE AND 
THE GREAT MASS OF POOR.  THE SHAH SHOULD HAVE 
DEVOTED MORE TIME AND MONEY TO PROVIDING ROADS, 
ELECTRICITY, CLEAN WATER AND EDUCATION TO THE 
MASSES AND NOT TO BEAUTIFYING EXCLUSIVE PARTS OF 
TEHRAN AND OTHER CITIES.  THE POOR REACTED BY 
TURNING TO RELIGION AND THE REVOLUTION WAS BORN. 
NOW, EVEN FOR A FRIENDLY SYRIAN DIPLOMAT, LIFE 
IS DIFFICULT.  THE BUREAUCRACY IS SLOW AND 
STUPID.  THE ECONOMY IS IN TROUBLE AND THERE ARE 
SHORTAGES OF ALL KINDS.  LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, 
THE SCUDS ARE FALLING. 
 
8.  WHEN DIAB RECEIVED WORD OF HIS REASSIGNMENT 
HOME, HIS COLLEAGUES IN THE EMBASSY CAME BY TO 
CONGRATULATE HIM.  EVEN THE BENEFITS OF LIVING 
ABROAD ON A DOLLAR SALARY, APPARENTLY, DO NOT 
COMPENSATE FOR THE HARDSHIPS OF LIVING IN TEHRAN. 
 
9.  MINIMIZE CONSIDERED.  EAGLETON 

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