US embassy cable - 02DAMASCUS1761

ASAD TELLS NODEL US LACKS VISION

Identifier: 02DAMASCUS1761
Wikileaks: View 02DAMASCUS1761 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 2002-05-09 07:46:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 090746Z MAY 02
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9184
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 001761 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/08/2012 
TAGS: PREL, SY 
SUBJECT: ASAD TELLS NODEL US LACKS VISION 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: AMBASSADOR THEODORE H. KATTOUF, REASON 1.5B/D 
 
1. (U) CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR THEODORE H. KATTOUF, REASON 
1.5 B/D. 
 
2. (C) SUMMARY: IN A TWO-HOUR DISCUSSION WITH CONGRESSMAN 
DAVID PRICE, PRESIDENT AL-ASAD SAID THE US ADMINISTRATION HAS 
NO CLEAR MIDDLE EAST VISION.  THE DISPARATE ADMINISTRATION 
VOICES HURT THE US REGIONALLY.  PROGRESS TOWARDS 
ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE REQUIRES A CLEAR AND CONSISTENT 
VISION, AND IMPARTIAL US MEDIATION.  ASAD COMPLAINED THAT 
THERE IS NO POLITICAL DIALOGUE BETWEEN SYRIA AND THE US, AND 
THAT THE RELATIONSHIP 'ONLY COMES THROUGH ISRAEL.'  ANY 
SYRIAN EXPRESSION OF SUPPORT FOR US POLICY COULD ONLY COME 
AFTER EXTENSIVE BILATERAL DIALOGUE.  THE PROPOSED 
QUARTET-INITIATED CONFERENCE COULD TURN INTO A POINTLESS 
PHOTO OP, SINCE THE PRINCIPLES FOR A NEGOTIATED PEACE WERE 
ALREADY ARTICULATED AND LAUNCHED AT MADRID.  US POLICY 
TOWARDS IRAQ HAS SERVED ONLY TO MAKE SADDAM STRONGER; THE US 
SHOULD HAVE CONSULTED WITH REGIONAL COUNTRIES BEFORE 
THREATENING UNILATERAL MILITARY ACTION.  A FREED ARAFAT CAN 
STILL DO NOTHING, SINCE HE HAS NO RESOURCES AND THE INTIFADA 
IS THE DOMINANT REALITY.  THE JENIN AND NABLUS 'MASSACRES,' 
WHICH 'KILLED OVER SIX HUNDRED PALESTINIANS,' HAVE POSTPONED 
THE POSSIBILITY OF PEACE.   ASAD SAID THAT 'NO ONE WANTS TO 
HEAR' TALK OF PEACE, AND SYRIA WOULD WAIT UNTIL EMOTIONS 
COOLED BEFORE DECIDING WHAT TO DO.  HE CALLED FOR MORE VISITS 
BY CONGRESSMEN AND SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS TO SYRIA, 
SO THEY COULD GET A CLEARER PICTURE OF REGIONAL REALITIES. 
WE TAKE ASAD AT HIS WORD THAT, GIVEN THE ENFLAMED PASSIONS 
AND DYNAMIC REGIONAL SITUATION, SYRIAN POLICY WILL MOVE 
TOWARD ITS TRADITIONAL DEFAULT OF 'WAITING.'  END SUMMARY 
 
3. (C) ON MAY 4, CONGRESSMAN DAVID PRICE (D-NC) MET FOR TWO 
HOURS WITH SYRIAN PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASAD.  AMBASSADOR 
KATTOUF AND POLOFF (NOTETAKER) WERE ALSO PRESENT, AS WAS 
WAYNE OWENS, PRESIDENT OF THE CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE 
AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION; FM SHARA AND INTERPRETER/ADVISOR 
DR. BUTHAYNA SHA'BAN ATTENDED ON THE SYRIAN SIDE. 
 
4. (C) PRESIDENT AL-ASAD TOLD PRICE HE'D MET A LOT OF HIS 
COLLEAGUES RECENTLY (PRICE WAS THE EIGHTH CODEL PRESIDENT 
BASHAR RECEIVED IN RECENT MONTHS), AND WAS HAPPY TO MEET HIM. 
 THE US ADMINISTRATION SEEMED NOT TO BE FULLY 'IN THE 
PICTURE.' CONGRESSMAN PRICE'S VISIT, LIKE THOSE OF HIS 
PREDECESSORS, COULD HELP CONVEY A CLEARER PICTURE OF REGIONAL 
REALITIES TO THE ADMINISTRATION. 
 
5. (C) CONGRESSMAN PRICE THANKED ASAD FOR SYRIA'S EFFECTIVE 
COUNTER-TERRORISM COOPERATION, AND TOLD HIM THAT HE WAS 
ENCOURAGED NOW THAT THE ADMINISTRATION WAS FULLY ENGAGED IN 
THE REGION.  ALTHOUGH THE RECENT VISIT OF SECRETARY POWELL 
DIDN'T SOLVE ALL PROBLEMS, THE SYRIAN AND LEBANESE LEG OF THE 
TRIP WAS SUCCESSFUL, FOR WHICH HE ALSO THANKED ASAD. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
US: NO CLEAR VISION, NO REAL DIALOGUE WITH SYRIA 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
6. (C) ASAD SAID SYRIA AND OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES HAVE DONE ALL 
THEY COULD TO KEEP THE US FULLY ENGAGED.  THROUGH MEETINGS 
AND POLITICAL DISCOURSE, SYRIA HAS REPROACHED THE US FOR ITS 
REGIONAL ABSENCE AND ENCOURAGED IT TOWARDS GREATER 
ENGAGEMENT.  ONE OF THE CAUSES OF JENIN WAS THIS US ABSENCE. 
ADDITIONALLY, THE US HAS ALSO MADE MANY MISTAKES.  FOR 
EXAMPLE, PRESIDENT BUSH ERRED IN CALLING SHARON A 'MAN OF 
PEACE' WHILE THE LATTER WAS KILLING PALESTINIANS.  SUCH 
STATEMENTS OBSTRUCT ANY POSITIVE US ROLE. 
 
7. (C) REPEATING EARLIER CRITICISM THAT THE US SPEAKS WITH A 
MULTIPLICITY OF VOICES, ASAD ASSERTED THAT 'THE 
ADMINISTRATION HAS NO CLEAR VISION ABOUT WHAT TO DO.'  ASAD 
ALSO COMPLAINED THAT THAT SYRIA DOESN'T SEE US OFFICIALS 
UNLESS THERE IS AN 'ISRAELI PROBLEM,' AND THAT CURRENTLY 
SYRIA HAS NO REAL DIALOGUE WITH THE ADMINISTRATION.  'I'VE 
MET WITH SECRETARY POWELL TWICE, AND ONE OF THESE VISITS (THE 
MORE RECENT) WAS NOT EVEN PLANNED BEFOREHAND.'  HE HAD ASKED 
THE SECRETARY HOW COULD ANYTHING BE DISCUSSED IN ONE HOUR, 
LET ALONE THE GOLAN AND THE MEPP, WHEN THEY'D NOT MET IN 
EIGHTEEN MONTHS. 
 
--------------------------- 
SYRIAN STATEMENT OF SUPPORT 
--------------------------- 
 
8. (C) PRICE TOLD ASAD THAT IT WOULD BE CONSTRUCTIVE FOR HIM 
TO PUBLICLY EXPRESS HIS AND HIS COUNTRY'S SUPPORT FOR AN 
ACTIVE US REGIONAL ROLE, OR TO DO SO PRIVATELY IF A PUBLIC 
EXPRESSION WERE NOT POSSIBLE.  ASAD SAID THAT WHATEVER STAND 
SYRIA TOOK WOULD BE A PUBLIC ONE.  IN ANY CASE, SYRIA 
SUPPORTED POLICIES, NOT OFFICIALS.  SYRIA WOULD SUPPORT AN 
APPROPRIATE US ROLE.  BUT SYRIA HAS ITS DIFFERENCES WITH THE 
ADMINISTRATION, THE ISSUES ARE VERY COMPLEX, SYRIA WOULD NOT 
BE ABLE TO PUBLICLY SUPPORT PRESIDENT BUSH UNTIL AFTER 
EXTENDED BILATERAL DIALOGUE.  FOR THIS REASON, THE SYRIAN 
PRESIDENT STATED, HE HAD CALLED FOR A BROADER BILATERAL 
DIALOGUE WITH THE US. 
 
9. (C) PRICE ASKED ASAD FOR HIS REACTION TO THE SUMMER 
CONFERENCE PROPOSED BY THE QUARTET TO ADVANCE THE MEPP.  ASAD 
SAID HE HAD NOT BEEN BRIEFED, AND ASKED WHAT WOULD BE THE 
POINT OF THE CONFERENCE.  WHAT CAN THIS CONFERENCE ADD TO THE 
MADRID LAND FOR PEACE FRAMEWORK?  ANSWERING HIS OWN QUESTION, 
ASAD SAID THAT A CONFERENCE COULDN'T ACHIEVE PEACE; ONLY 
NEGOTIATIONS COULD.  THIS CONFERENCE WOULD BE CEREMONIAL. 
 
10. (C) AMBASSADOR KATTOUF SUGGESTED THE CONFERENCE COULD 
GIVE THE MEPP A NEW IMPETUS BY ALLOWING THE QUARTET, AND 
OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES TO RECOMMIT THEMSELVES TO A NEGOTIATED 
SETTLEMENT BASED ON THE MADRID PRINCIPLES.  ASAD RESPONDED 
THAT IT COULD BECOME A MEDIA EVENT.  THE EU AND THE UN WANT 
TO PLAY A CONSTRUCTIVE ROLE, AND THE ARAB COUNTRIES HAVE 
ALWAYS EXPRESSED THEIR DESIRE TO DO LIKEWISE.  REGARDLESS OF 
A CONFERENCE, EVERYBODY WAS READY FOR PEACE.  BUT THE RECENT 
ISRAELI 'MASSACRES' HAVE DELAYED THE PEACE PROCESS LONGER 
THAN MERELY THE TIME THAT SHARON REMAINED IN OFFICE.  ASAD 
SAID HE SAW NO BENEFIT IN THE CONFERENCE, BUT IT WAS UP TO 
THOSE PROPOSING IT TO STATE ITS PURPOSE. 
 
11. (C) PRICE AGREED THERE WAS NOTHING NEW ABOUT THE THREE 
PRIORITIES STATED BY SECRETARY POWELL, BUT IT WAS ALSO TRUE 
THAT THE MEPP WAS IN SHAMBLES.  THE HOPE WAS THAT THE CYCLE 
OF VIOLENCE COULD BE BROKEN.  PRICE ASKED ASAD HOW COULD WE 
GET A FRESH START?  WHAT WERE VIABLE ALTERNATIVES TO THIS 
CONFERENCE?  WHAT ELSE SHOULD THE US DO BESIDES SEEKING TO 
CONTAIN THE VIOLENCE? 
 
12. (C) ANSWERING, ASAD SAID DURING THE PAST PERIOD THERE 
HAVE BEEN MANY FAILED INITIATIVES.  HE EXPECTED THESE 
FAILURES AND TOLD THE US SO (READ: TENET-MITCHELL).  WHY DOES 
THE US ALWAYS THINK IN TERMS OF 'LAUNCHING INITIATIVES?'  IF 
THERE IS NO INITIAL CLARITY, THE CONCERNED PARTIES WILL 'WALK 
A DISTANCE AND THEN BE LOST AND AT JEOPARDY.'  SWITCHING 
ANALOGIES, ASAD SAID THAT SOME MEDICINES ARE ONLY TEMPORARY 
AND DON'T TREAT THE CAUSE OF THE DISEASE.  WE MUST GO BACK TO 
THE 'RIGHT INITIATIVE' - MADRID, WHICH WILL LEAD US TO PEACE. 
 
------------------------------------- 
FORGET NEW CONFERENCE; ENFORCE MADRID 
------------------------------------- 
 
13. (C) ASAD SAID THAT THE STARTING POINT FOR THE BUSH 
ADMINISTRATION SEEMS TO BE SUPPORTING PM SHARON WHILE HE 
KILLS PALESTINIANS.  THESE MASSACRES HAVE HAD A HUGE REGIONAL 
IMPACT AND HAVE HURT THE US, WHICH HAS LOST A LOT OF ITS 
ARAB-WORLD, SEPTEMBER 11TH SYMPATHY.  BUT THE PEOPLE CAN BE 
LED BEYOND ANTI-US FEELINGS, NOT BY FORCE, BUT BY POLITICAL 
DISCUSSION, AND THIS IS WHERE A BILATERAL US-SYRIAN DIALOGUE 
CAN BE VERY HELPFUL.  WHEN THE US ADMINISTRATION IS 'IN THE 
PICTURE,' IT CAN ACT CORRECTLY AND WILL GET REGIONAL SUPPORT. 
 THEREFORE, BILATERAL US-SYRIAN DIALOGUE IS MORE IMPORTANT 
THAN ANY CONFERENCE INITIATIVE.  ASAD SAID HE KNEW OF THE 
INFLUENCE OF DOMESTIC LOBBIES, AND THAT THE ARABS WERE NOT 
DOING THEIR JOB IN LOBBYING OR PRESENTING A TRUE PICTURE TO 
CONGRESS. 
 
14. (C) CONGRESSMAN PRICE SAID THAT BILATERAL DISCUSSIONS AND 
THIS CONFERENCE WERE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.  HE KNEW THE 
APPARENT DIFFERENCES WITHIN THE US ADMINISTRATION WERE 
CAUSING PROBLEMS GLOBALLY.  BUT SEPTEMBER 11TH HAD BEEN A 
'WAKE-UP CALL' FOR PRESIDENT BUSH, AND NOW HE SHOULD BE TAKEN 
AT HIS WORD CONCERNING HIS DESIRE FOR A LASTING PEACE. 
SECRETARY POWELL IS THE PRESIDENT'S EMISSARY AND SPEAKS 
AUTHORITATIVELY ON HIS BEHALF.  THEY BOTH NEED SYRIA'S HELP. 
 
---- 
IRAQ 
---- 
 
15. (C) RESPONDING TO WAYNE OWENS' QUESTION ON HIS VIEWS 
CONCERNING US ACTION AGAINST IRAQ, ASAD REPEATED HIS STANDARD 
LINE THAT THE ONLY ACTION ACCEPTABLE WAS IMPLEMENTING UN 
RESOLUTIONS.  WHAT THE US WAS CONTEMPLATING WOULD NOT WORK, 
AND THE US NEEDED TO SERIOUSLY RECONSIDER ITS PLANS.  THE US 
SHOULD CONSULT WITH COUNTRIES IN THE REGION; OTHERWISE, THE 
US LOSES.  THE US ERROR LAY IN THINKING THAT MILITARY POWER 
COULD SOLVE EVERY PROBLEM. 
 
16. (C) PRICE AGREED THAT VP CHENEY SHOULD HAVE COME TO 
SYRIA.  HE ALSO AGREED THAT US MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ 
WAS LIKELY.  HE TOLD ASAD THAT, WHILE HE STRONGLY BELIEVED 
THAT THIS SHOULD BE A LAST RESORT, IRAQ POSED A REAL WMD 
THREAT.  PRICE EXPRESSED THE VIEW THAT THERE WERE 
INTERMEDIATE STEPS TO TAKE BEFORE MILITARY ACTION.  ALTHOUGH 
THIS WAS HIS OWN VIEW, MANY IN THE CONGRESS SHARED IT. 
 
----------------------- 
ASAD'S LETTER TO BUSH 
----------------------- 
 
17. (C) COMMENTING THAT ASAD'S LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH 
FOLLOWING 9/11 HAD BEEN IMPORTANT, OWENS SUGGESTED THAT 
ANOTHER SUCH LETTER, COMMENTING ON THE GOOD THINGS THE 
ADMINISTRATION HAS DONE THUS FAR, WOULD ALSO BE USEFUL.  ASAD 
SAID THAT HE WAS SURE THAT WHAT HE HAD SAID TODAY WOULD 
SIMILARLY BE RELAYED UPWARDS, SO THAT THE INFORMATION WOULD 
REACH THE PRESIDENT IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. (COMMENT: DESPITE 
REPEATED PROBING, ASAD GAVE NO INDICATION THAT THAT HE WOULD 
BE WILLING TO ISSUE A STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR REGIONAL US 
POLICY, EITHER PUBLICLY OR PRIVATELY). 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
ARAFAT TOOTHLESS, REGION INFLAMED, SYRIA WILL WAIT 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
18. (C) IN RESPONSE TO PRICE'S OBSERVATION THAT NEWLY-FREED 
ARAFAT FACED A MAJOR TEST IN STEMMING PALESTINIAN VIOLENCE, 
ASAD ASKED RHETORICALY WHAT MEANS WERE LEFT FOR ARAFAT TO DO 
ANYTHING?  PRICE REPLIED THAT ASAD HAD A POINT.  HOWEVER, HE 
WAS CONCERNED - THE COMING DAYS AND WEEKS WERE CRITICAL, BUT 
HE WAS HOPEFUL THAT SYRIA COULD BE OF MAXIMUM ASSISTANCE. 
POWELL HAD TOLD ARAFAT THAT HE WAS DOWN TO HIS LAST CHANCE; 
THERE WAS A DESPERATE QUALITY IN THE AIR.  WHAT DID PRESIDENT 
ASAD THINK FRIENDS OF THE PALESTINIANS SHOULD DO? 
 
19. (C) ASAD REPEATED THAT ARAFAT COULD DO NOTHING.  HE HAS 
NO POLICE, NO PRISON, AND THE ISRAELIS HAD EVEN KILLED HIS 
COOK.  BUT EVEN BEFORE THESE WERE STRIPPED FROM HIM, HE WAS 
POWERLESS.  THE INTIFADA WAS THE DE FACTO REALITY THAT ALL 
HAD TO DEAL WITH.  ALTHOUGH ARAFAT HAD EMERGED FROM HIS 
LATEST ORDEAL WITH A HEROIC AURA, IN THE LAST THREE DAYS HE 
HAS REVEALED HIMSELF TO BE AN ACTOR.  SYRIA HAS KNOWN FOR 
THIRTY YEARS THAT HE IS A LIAR.  HE HASN'T CHANGED; THE US 
DISCOVERED HIS NATURE TOO LATE.  HE HAD MISLED THE US 
CONCERNING HIS ABILITIES AT A TIME WHEN 'NINETY PERCENT' OF 
THE SITUATION WAS OUTSIDE HIS CONTROL.  EVEN HIS IMMEDIATE 
CIRCLE HAS REBELLED AGAINST HIM.  ALTHOUGH SYRIA EXPECTS 
NOTHING FROM HIM, THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE.  WHO IS THERE IF 
ARAFAT FALLS? - NOBODY. 
 
20. (C) AS FOR THE FUTURE, ASAD DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. 
'WHAT CAN BE EXPECTED WHEN THE ISRAELIS KILL THE MOTHER AND 
BROTHER OF A PERSON WHO THEN HAS TO STAY IN THE SAME ROOM 
WITH THE DEAD BODIES FOR TWELVE HOURS?'  ISRAEL HAD KILLED 
'SIX HUNDRED PEOPLE' IN JENIN AND NABLUS, AND HAS NOW PRIMED 
THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE TO EXPLODE. 
 
21. (C) CONTINUING, ASAD SAID 'WE CAN ALL EXPECT THE WORST, 
AND WE ALL WILL PAY FOR SHARON, WHO HAS DELAYED THE PEACE 
PROCESS UNTIL PEOPLE FORGET THESE ATROCITIES.'  MUCH AS THE 
HORROR OF SEPTEMBER 11 WILL LONG REMAIN FRESH IN AMERICA'S 
MIND, SO TOO WILL THESE RECENTLY INFLICTED HORRORS LONG 
REMAIN IN PALESTINIAN AND ALL ARAB MINDS. 
 
22. (C) THE US WAS PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE, BECAUSE IT DID NOT 
STAND AGAINST SHARON AND THE PRO-ISRAELI LOBBY, ASAD 
MAINTAINED.  THE ADMINISTRATION'S PERFORMANCE WAS SO WEAK 
WITH REGARDS TO ISRAEL THAT MANY PALESTINIANS CAME TO BELIEVE 
THAT FIGHTING WAS THE ONLY SOLUTION.  THE PROBLEM WITH THE US 
WAS THAT IT ONLY LOOKED FOR A SOLUTION AFTER THE PROBLEM HAD 
GOTTEN OUT OF HAND.  THE PICTURE WAS BLACK, AND FOR NOW, 
SYRIA WOULD WAIT. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
ASAD: "OFF THE RECORD, I CAN SAY I WANT PEACE... 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
23. (C) ASAD SAID THAT 'OFF THE RECORD, I CAN SAY I WANT 
PEACE, BUT I CAN'T TELL THAT TO THE MEDIA, BECAUSE 'NO ONE 
WANTS TO HEAR IT.'  HE REPEATED THAT THE SITUATION WAS STILL 
VERY EMOTIONAL, AND THAT SYRIA WOULD WAIT FOR EMOTIONS TO 
COOL, AT WHICH TIME IT COULD DISCERN THE UNDERLYING 
REALITIES.  THE PRESENT TIME WAS ONE OF PARALYSIS, EVEN IN 
THOUGHT, 'BECAUSE THE ELEMENTS WERE NOT STABLE, AND THEREFORE 
THE RESULTS NOT ACCURATE.'  THIS HOWEVER WAS NOT A CALL FOR 
PESSIMISM.  ALTHOUGH THERE WILL BE DELAY, THE PEACE PROCESS 
EVENTUALLY WILL HAVE TO RESUME. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
ISRAEL KILLS SYRIAN CROWN PRINCE INITIATIVE 
------------------------------------------- 
 
24. (C) PRICE ASKED IF CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH'S PEACE 
INITIATIVE WERE A WAY FORWARD.  ASAD ANSWERED THAT SYRIA HAD 
SUPPORTED IT, WHICH HAD GIVEN IT LEGITIMACY.  WITHIN THE ARAB 
WORLD IT WAS SEEN AS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY.  BUT TWO DAYS AFTER 
THE ARAB SUMMIT, SHARON STARTED HIS MASSACRES.  SYRIA HAD 
GIVEN LIFE TO THE CROWN PRINCE'S INITIATIVE; SHARON HAD 
KILLED IT TWO DAYS LATER. 
 
-------------------------------- 
ASAD: WE ARE THE PEACE PROCESS 
-------------------------------- 
 
25. (C) ASAD AGREED THAT SYRIA'S ROLE IN THE PEACE PROCESS 
WAS KEY, SINCE 'IF SYRIA IS NOT A PARTY TO THE PEACE PROCESS, 
WHO IS?'  EGYPT AND JORDAN HAVE ALREADY SIGNED AGREEMENTS: 
SYRIA IS THE WHOLE PARTY, AND OTHERS SHOULD PLAY A SUPPORTING 
ROLE.  ASAD IN TURN ASKED PRICE HOW THE US ADMINISTRATION 
COULD ANNOUNCE THAT THEY WERE SENDING PEOPLE TO THE REGION TO 
DISCUSS PEACE, AND HAVE THESE PEOPLE AVOID SYRIA. 
 
26. (C) IN CLOSING, ASAD SAID HE WAS PLEASED WITH THIS 
DIALOGUE AND WITH CONGRESSMAN PRICE'S COMMENTS.  HE ASKED 
CONGRESSMAN PRICE TO SEND HIS BEST REGARDS TO PRESIDENT BUSH. 
 
27. (U) THIS CABLE WAS NOT CLEARED WITH CONGRESSMAN PRICE. 
 
28. (C) COMMENTS: ASAD SEEMED RELAXED AND A BIT MORE 
REFLECTIVE THAN IN SOME OTHER MEETINGS.  FOR ONCE, HE DID 
IMPLICITLY CLAIM TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.  MUCH OF WHAT HE 
SAID WE'VE ALREADY HEARD: CHASTISING THE US FOR ITS PERCEIVED 
ABSENCE; CALLING FOR GREATER BILATERAL ENGAGEMENT WITH THE 
ADMINISTRATION; DECRYING SHARON'S TOXIC EFFECT ON THE PEACE 
PROCESS; AND CRITICIZING US PLANS TO 'BRING DOWN' SADDAM. 
NEW, ALTHOUGH EXPECTED, WAS HIS SKEPTICISM TOWARDS A PROPOSED 
SUMMER PEACE CONFERENCE AND HIS RELUCTANCE TO CONSIDER A 
LETTER OF SUPPORT TO PRESIDENT BUSH.  CONCERNING THE 
SHARON-ARAFAT STRUGGLE, HE SEEMED AT A GENUINE LOSS AS TO 
WHAT MIGHT COME NEXT, ALTHOUGH RELATIVELY SURE THAT, GIVEN 
ARAFAT'S IMPOTENCE AND POPULAR PALESTINIAN RAGE, IT WOULD NOT 
BE GOOD.  WE TAKE ASAD AT HIS WORD THAT GIVEN THE ENFLAMED 
AND DYNAMIC REGIONAL SITUATION, SYRIAN POLICY WILL MOVE 
TOWARD ITS TRADITIONAL DEFAULT OF 'WAITING,' WHILE PLAYING TO 
THE ARAB STREET.  END COMMENT. 
 
 
KATTOUF 

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