US embassy cable - 02DAMASCUS625

ASAD WARNS THAT STRIKING IRAQ WOULD CREATE CHAOS IN REGION

Identifier: 02DAMASCUS625
Wikileaks: View 02DAMASCUS625 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 2002-02-21 15:08:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL IS SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 211508Z FEB 02
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8125
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DAMASCUS 000625 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL 02/19/02 
TAGS:  PGOV, PREL, IS, SY 
SUBJECT:  ASAD WARNS THAT STRIKING IRAQ WOULD CREATE 
          CHAOS IN REGION 
 
REF:  FBIS 171750Z FEB 02; SERIAL EUP20020217000115 
 
CLASSIFIED BY CDA PHILO L. DIBBLE, REASONS 1.5 B/D. 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY. IN A WIDE-RANGING INTERVIEW WITH 
ITALIAN DAILY CORRIERE DELLA SERA, BASHAR AL-ASAD 
WARNED THAT A STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ WOULD DESTABILIZE 
THE REGION.  HE ALSO DENIED THAT SYRIAN OIL IMPORTS OF 
IRAQI OIL VIOLATED UNSCRS; REPEATED SYRIA'S COMMITMENT 
TO A COMPREHENSIVE PEACE; SAID THE U.S. ADMINISTRATION 
LACKS A CLEAR VISION REGARDING THE MEPN AND SPEAKS 
WITH A MULTIPLICITY OF VOICES; CLAIMED A "FREE PRESS" 
AND PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES AMONG THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF HIS 
PRESIDENCY; SAID INDIVIDUAL HUMAN RIGHTS MUST NOT 
CONFLICT WITH THE RIGHTS OF SOCIETY; SAID HIS PERSONAL 
INTERESTS INCLUDE EXERCISING, READING ABOUT HISTORY, 
COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY AND "ANYTHING DIGITAL;" AND CALLED 
FOR INCREASED DIRECT CONTACTS BETWEEN THE WEST AND 
MUSLIM COUNTRIES TO OVERCOME GLOBAL MISUNDERSTANDING. 
ASAD'S INTERVIEW WAS NOTEWORTHY FOR THE WIDE RANGE OF 
SUBJECTS DISCUSSED, HIS EVIDENT SELF-CONFIDENCE, AND 
THE EVOLUTION OF A PROFESSORIAL STYLE THAT RESULTS IN 
LENGTHY (AND SOMETIMES UNWISE) EXPLANATIONS OF SYRIAN 
POSITIONS.  HE REMAINS, IN OUR VIEW, VERY MUCH A WORK 
IN PROGRESS, BUT ONE WHOSE PROFESSED INTEREST IN 
ENGAGING THE WEST IS WORTH TESTING.   END SUMMARY 
 
2.  (C) IN AN INTERVIEW  PUBLISHED IN THE ITALIAN 
DAILY "CORRIERE DELLA SERA," IN ADVANCE OF HIS 19 
FEBRUARY VISIT TO ITALY, SYRIAN PRESIDENT BASHAR AL- 
ASAD COVERED TOPICS RANGING FROM IRAQ AND THE MEPN TO 
HIS HOBBIES.  THREE VERSIONS OF THE INTERVIEW 
APPEARED:  THE CORRIERE DELLA SERA PUBLISHED EXCERPTS 
OF THE INTERVIEW IN ITALIAN (TRANSLATED BY FBIS IN 
REFTEL), WHILE SYRIAN AND REGIONAL ARABIC MEDIA 
PUBLISHED A LONGER "FULL TEXT" IN ARABIC, AND THE 
SYRIA TIMES PUBLISHED A "FULL TEXT" IN ENGLISH THAT 
INCLUDED ADDITIONAL STATEMENTS THAT WERE NOT IN THE 
ITALIAN OR ARABIC VERSIONS.   HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SYRIA 
TIMES VERSION OF THE INTERVIEW FOLLOW. 
 
--------------- 
WARNING ON IRAQ 
--------------- 
 
3.  (U) "WHAT I ASK MYSELF IS THIS:   IS THERE ANY 
JUSTIFICATION FOR AN ATTACK ON IRAQ?   DOES AN ATTACK 
BY ANY CHANCE FORM PART OF THE STRUGGLE AGAINST 
TERRORISM?   IN ATTACKING IRAQ DOES ONE DEFEND JUSTICE 
AND DEMOCRACY, OR DOES ONE FUEL PRECISELY INJUSTICE 
AND THE ABSENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS?   I BELIEVE THAT AN 
ATTACK WOULD BE AGAINST JUSTICE AND AGAINST HUMAN 
RIGHTS.   ALL THE ARAB AND MUSLIM COUNTRIES, WITHOUT 
EXCEPTION, ARE OPPOSED TO IT.  AND ALL THE EUROPEAN 
ENVOYS WITH WHOM I HAVE MET, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, HAVE 
EXPRESSED THEMSELVES IN THE SAME WAY." 
 
4.  (U) "AN ATTACK ON IRAQ WOULD BE EXTREMELY SERIOUS. 
THE PEOPLE'S WRATH WOULD BECOME FAR MORE DANGEROUS 
THAN POLITICAL REACTIONS.   I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THE 
UNITED STATES NEEDS TO ATTRACT ANY FURTHER HATRED." 
 
------------------------------------ 
SYRIA/IRAQ PIPELINE NOT A VIOLATION? 
------------------------------------ 
 
5.  (C) FROM ARABIC VERSION:  "CONCERNING THE OIL, WE 
ANNOUNCED OUR OPINION VERY CLEARLY FROM THE BEGINNING. 
WE SAID THAT THERE WAS OLD OIL PIPELINE BETWEEN US AND 
IRAQ THAT WE TESTED LAST YEAR.  WHEN WE SAY WE ARE 
TESTING, WE ARE DEFINITELY TESTING IT WITH OIL AND NOT 
WITH WATER OR AIR.  AND CERTAINLY THE DIRECTION IS 
FROM IRAQ TO SYRIA BECAUSE WE HAVE NO OIL TO SEND TO 
IRAQ.  AND I HAVE SAID THIS TO AMERICAN OFFICIALS. 
BUT THIS IS A VERY OLD PIPELINE THAT HAS BEEN THERE 
SINCE THE FIFTIES, AND WHEN WE HAD OUR POLITICAL 
DIFFERENCES WITH IRAQ, THIS PIPELINE WAS NOT USED. 
ITS OPERATION IS DIFFICULT, WHICH PROMPTED US TO 
ANNOUNCE THAT WE ARE GOING TO BUILD A NEW PIPELINE 
WITH MUCH BIGGER CAPACITY.  AND WE WERE DISCUSSING 
THIS PIPELINE WITH COUNTRIES IN THE REGION AND WITH 
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES.  AND WE SAID THAT WITH THIS NEW 
PIPELINE OR IN ANY OIL TRANSACTIONS WITH IRAQ, WE WILL 
ABIDE BY UN RESOLUTIONS." 
 
6.  (U) THE SYRIA TIMES VERSION ADDS:  "AND WE SAID 
THAT WITH THIS NEW PIPELINE WITH IRAQ, WE ARE GOING TO 
BE COMMITTED TO UN RESOLUTIONS AND WE WERE SUPPOSED TO 
SUBMIT A REQUEST FOR A MEETING THAT THE UN SHOULD 
CONVENE ABOUT THIS ISSUE AT THE END OF LAST SUMMER, 
AND THEN THIS MEETING WAS POSTPONED.  AND THEREFORE, 
WE ARE NOT VIOLATING ANY U.N. RESOLUTIONS." 
 
----------------------- 
NO CONDITIONS FOR PEACE 
----------------------- 
 
7.  (U) "SYRIA HAS NEVER SET ANY CONDITIONS, AND WE 
ALWAYS SAY THAT SYRIA DOES NOT HAVE CERTAIN CONDITIONS 
AT ALL.  WHEN SYRIA SPEAKS ABOUT THE BASES FOR PEACE 
IT REFERS TO THE NECESSITY OF IMPLEMENTING SECURITY 
COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS AND MADRID'S TERMS OF REFERENCE. 
THESE TERMS OF REFERENCE WERE NOT INVENTED BY SYRIA, 
RATHER THEY WERE AMERICAN IDEAS AND THEY BECAME 
INTERNATIONAL RESOLUTIONS ONCE THEY WERE APPROVED BY 
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. ... HENCE, OUR CONDITIONS 
ARE THE CONDITIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND 
THEY STIPULATE THE FULL RETURN OF SYRIAN RIGHTS." 
 
--------------------- 
AMERICA HAS NO VISION 
--------------------- 
 
8.  (U) "UNTIL NOW THE ROLE THAT HAD BEEN GIVEN TO 
EUROPE BY THE UNITED STATES IS TO MARKET AMERICAN 
IDEAS, BUT HAS NOT YET BEEN ALLOWED TO PLAY A ROLE OF 
ITS OWN MAKING.  BUT EVEN THE AMERICAN ADMINISTRATION 
DOESN'T HAVE A CLEAR VISION OF HOW TO CONDUCT THIS 
PEACE PROCESS. ...I CAN'T SEE THAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES 
ARE PREPARED FOR THIS ROLE UNLESS EUROPE WANTS TO PLAY 
THIS ROLE IN AN INDEPENDENT FASHION." 
 
---------------------------------------- 
AND SPEAKS WITH A MULTIPLICITY OF VOICES 
---------------------------------------- 
 
9.  (U) "I THINK THAT IF THE AMERICAN ADMINISTRATION 
IS ABLE TO FORMULATE A SINGLE OPINION, THEN THEY COULD 
PROBABLY HAVE COOPERATION WITH EUROPE.  BUT YOU NEED 
FIRST TO HAVE A SINGLE OPINION.  THIS IS WHAT I SAID 
TO WILLIAM BURNS, THE U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF 
STATE, WHEN HE VISITED ME IN DAMASCUS TWO MONTHS AGO. 
I SAID TO HIM: YOU ARE A GROUP OF ADMINISTRATIONS, NOT 
JUST ONE ADMINISTRATION.  EACH ONE OF YOUR 
ADMINISTRATIONS HAS A DIFFERENT OPINION." 
 
----------------------------------- 
LEBANON: OUR PRESENCE IS TEMPORARY 
----------------------------------- 
 
10.  (U) "WE DON'T BUILD OUR RELATIONS WITH LEBANON ON 
THE BASIS OF THE MILITARY PRESENCE. ...THE PRESENCE IS 
A TEMPORARY ONE.  I THINK THE ACTUAL ACT OF 
REDEPLOYMENT IS SUBJECT TO A MILITARY FACTOR AND THE 
CONDITIONS THAT INFLUENCE THIS, PARTICULARLY THE SOUTH 
OF LEBANON AND THE ISRAELI SITUATION." 
 
11.  (U) [ASKED ABOUT SYRIAN RELATIONS WITH ELIE 
HOBEIKA]  "IN FACT, THE ONE WHO SUPERVISED AND 
INITIATED THE KILLINGS IS SHARON PERSONALLY." (ASAD 
DID NOT MENTION HOBEIKA.) 
 
----------------------------------- 
GET TO THE ROOT CAUSES OF TERRORISM 
----------------------------------- 
 
12.  (U) [REGARDING SUICIDE BOMBERS] "I CAN BRIEFLY 
SAY THAT THE FRAME OF MIND THAT PUSHES PEOPLE TO DIE 
IS THE RESULT OF THE ACCUMULATION OF HUGE FRUSTRATION 
AND OPPRESSION THAT IS PRACTICED AGAINST THE 
PALESTINIAN PEOPLE.  WHETHER THE WEST AGREES OR 
DIFFERS WITH THEM, THEY ARE THE RESULT OF ISRAELI 
TERRORISM AGAINST THEM.  WESTERN OFFICIALS WASTE THEIR 
TIME IN CONDEMNING THESE PEOPLE.  WHY DON'T THEY GET 
REALISTIC AND GO BACK TO THE ROOT CAUSES?  THESE 
PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT IF THEY DON'T GO DIE IN ISRAEL, 
THEY ARE GOING TO BE KILLED IN THEIR OWN HOUSES, 
BECAUSE SHARON IS COMING TO THEM IN THEIR HOUSES. .WE 
THINK, REGARDLESS OF OUR OWN PERSONAL OPINIONS, THAT 
THE ONLY SOLUTION  IS TO ADDRESS THE REAL CAUSE OF 
THIS PROBLEM BY EXERTING PRESSURE ON ISRAEL TO STOP 
KILLING THE PALESTINIANS." 
 
------------------------------ 
SYRIAN UN REP COMMENTS ON 9/11 
------------------------------ 
 
13.  (U) [NO APOLOGY, BUT A LENGTHY EXPLANATION ABOUT 
DIFFERING FRAMES OF REFERENCE; ESSENTIALLY, PEOPLE 
FEEL MOST STRONGLY WHAT IS RELEVANT TO THEM AND THE 
COMPARISON WAS BETWEEN 9/11 AND THE ACCUMULATION OF 
THE PAIN INFLICTED UPON PALESTINIANS AND ARABS BY 
ISRAEL SINCE 1948.] 
 
------------------ 
ISLAM AND THE WEST 
------------------ 
 
14.  (U) IS THERE A BOOK FOR WESTERN READERS THAT CAN 
EXPLAIN THE RELATION BETWEEN THE ISLAMIC WORLD AND THE 
WESTERN WORLD?]  "REGRETTABLY, MOST OF THE BOOKS 
AVAILABLE NOW ARE WRITTEN BY NON-MUSLIMS. WE ARE DOING 
SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN SYRIA, WE ARE TRYING TO CALL 
FOR OTHER COUNTRIES TO CONDUCT WORKSHOPS AND SEMINARS 
ABOUT ISLAM.  THIS IS WHAT WE DID WITH THE AMERICANS 
AND THE EUROPEANS; WE SHALL CONTINUE THESE DIALOGUES 
WITH DIFFERENT COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD ABOUT MEDIA, 
ACADEMIA, CULTURE, AND BUSINESS.  I ADVISE THAT DIRECT 
CONTACT, PERSONAL CONTACT BE ESTABLISHED." 
 
------------ 
HUMAN RIGHTS 
------------ 
 
15. (U) "FIRST, WE SAY HUMAN RIGHTS, BUT WE CAN'T 
SEPARATE BETWEEN THE RIGHT OF ONE PERSON AND THE RIGHT 
OF SOCIETY.  SECOND, WHEN WE SAY THE RIGHT OF ONE 
PERSON, IT MEANS HIS RIGHT TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE 
IMPROVEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE COUNTRY, BUT HE HAS 
NO RIGHT TO UNDERMINE THE INTEREST OF HIS COUNTRY.  I 
THINK THAT SOCIETIES HAVE DIFFERENT CONCEPTS OF THESE 
RIGHTS ACCORDING TO THEIR CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL 
DEVELOPMENTS.  THEREFORE, THE POLITICAL PRISONERS YOU 
HAVE TALKED ABOUT WERE IMPRISONED BECAUSE THERE WERE 
CIRCUMSTANCES THAT WERE DIFFICULT AND THEY HARMED THE 
REAL INTEREST OF THEIR OWN COUNTRY.  THE LARGE NUMBER 
OF POLITICAL PRISONERS THAT WERE LET FREE WAS DURING 
THE TIME OF THE LATE PRESIDENT HAFIZ AL-ASAD, BECAUSE 
THE CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE CHANGED." 
 
------------------------------- 
ACHIEVEMENTS OF HIS PRESIDENCY? 
------------------------------- 
 
16.  (U) "WE HAVE ISSUED LAWS IN MANY DOMAINS.  WE 
STARTED LARGE SCALE TRAINING OF PEOPLE IN COOPERATION 
WITH THE EU IN DIFFERENT FIELDS.  WE STARTED A GREATER 
PARTICIPATION OF ORDINARY PEOPLE TO HELP IN THE 
GOVERNMENT AND THE STATE DOING THEIR WORK.  WE 
ACTIVATED A REAL DIALOGUE AMONG THE SYRIAN PEOPLE 
ABOUT THE SYRIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE. ...WE PERMITTED 
PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES IN SYRIA AND WE ALLOWED FREE 
PRESS IN SYRIA!  A FEW WEEKS AGO WE STARTED 
INDEPENDENT BROADCASTING STATIONS." 
 
------------------ 
PERSONAL QUESTIONS 
------------------ 
 
17.  (U) [ASKED WHETHER BEING A PRESIDENT WAS 
RESTRICTIVE, SINCE HE COULDN'T GO TO THE CINEMA LIKE 
ORDINARY FOLKS.]  "I DON'T HAVE THE HOBBY OF GOING TO 
THE CINEMA, BUT I LIKE TO MEET PEOPLE A LOT.  AND I DO 
THAT, I MIX WITH PEOPLE JUST AS I USED TO DO BEFORE I 
BECAME A PRESIDENT, BUT LESS OFTEN BECAUSE I HAVE LESS 
TIME." [INTERVIEWER: AND WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY?] "I 
EXERCISE A LOT AND I READ A LOT."  [ABOUT WHAT?] 
"MOSTLY HISTORY.  AND I LOVE TO GET TO KNOW NEW 
INVENTIONS, ESPECIALLY ABOUT THE COMPUTER AND NEW 
TECHNOLOGY, EVERYTHING DIGITAL."  [ARE YOU FOND OF 
FOOTBALL CLUBS?]  "NO." [NOT EVEN WHEN YOU WERE IN 
LONDON?]  "NO." 
 
18.  (C) COMMENT:  NOW APPARENTLY A STANDARD PRACTICE 
IN ADVANCE OF VISITS ABROAD, ASAD'S INTERVIEW WAS 
NOTEWORTHY FOR THE WIDE RANGE OF SUBJECTS DISCUSSED, 
HIS EVIDENT SELF-CONFIDENCE, AND THE EVOLUTION OF A 
PROFESSORIAL STYLE THAT RESULTS IN LENGTHY (AND 
SOMETIMES UNWISE) EXPLANATIONS OF SYRIAN POSITIONS. 
HIS ACCOUNT OF WHY SYRIA'S ILLICIT OIL IMPORTS FROM 
IRAQ ARE NOT VIOLATING UNSCRS IS UNINFORMED OR 
DISINGENUOUS.  HIS TALLYING OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS, IF 
LESS OUT OF SYNC WITH REALITY THAN BA'THI PROPAGANDA, 
STILL STRAINS THE CREDULITY OF OBJECTIVE OBSERVERS. 
WE WERE STRUCK BY HIS WILLINGNESS TO DISCUSS PURELY 
PERSONAL TOPICS.  HIS PREFERENCES (A COMPLETE LACK OF 
INTEREST IN FOOTBALL; INTEREST IN EXERCISE AND A 
PASSION FOR TECHNOLOGY) SET HIM FAR APART FROM THE OLD 
GUARD OBSERVERS ON WHOM HE STILL DEPENDS.  HE REMAINS, 
IN OUR VIEW, VERY MUCH A WORK IN PROGRESS, BUT ONE 
WHOSE PROFESSED INTEREST IN ENGAGING THE WEST IS WORTH 
TESTING.  END COMMENT. 
 
DIBBLE 

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