US embassy cable - 94DAMASCUS6308

ASAD INSIDER SEES BASHAR COMING TO HELP, WANTS TO SELL U.S. AIRPLANES

Identifier: 94DAMASCUS6308
Wikileaks: View 94DAMASCUS6308 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 1994-12-19 14:42:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL ETRD BEXP US SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 191442Z DEC 94
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5689
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DAMASCUS 006308 
 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL:OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, PREL, ETRD, BEXP, US, SY 
SUBJECT:  ASAD INSIDER SEES BASHAR COMING TO HELP, 
          WANTS TO SELL U.S. AIRPLANES 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  MUHAMMAD MAKHLUF TOLD US HIS NEPHEW 
BASHAR AL-ASAD IS RETURNING TO DAMASCUS SOON (AFTER 
MILITARY TRAINING IN HIMS) TO TAKE UP FULL TIME HIS 
LATE BROTHER BASIL'S FORMER PORTFOLIO IN DOMESTIC 
AFFAIRS.  HE DOES NOT, HOWEVER, SEE MUCH OF A ROLE 
FOR BASHAR IN LEBANON.  MAKHLUF SAID THAT, AFTER 
PEACE, SYRIA WOULD WITHDRAW FROM LEBANON, OR REMAIN 
ONLY AT LEBANESE INSISTENCE.  ACCORDING TO MAKHLUF, 
SYRIA WILL CONTINUE TO REJECT SECRET TALKS WITH THE 
ISRAELIS, AND WILL INSIST ON A CONTINUED U.S. ROLE, 
WHICH IT SEES AS ESSENTIAL THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS. 
HE ADDED THAT THE U.S. WAS NAIVE TO PROMOTE DIRECT 
ISRAELI/ARAB CONTACTS BECAUSE THEY WOULD PROMOTE 
ONLY ISRAELI, NOT U.S. INTERESTS.  ON AFFAIRS 
CLOSER TO HIS POCKETBOOK, MAKHLUF SAID THAT HE 
WOULD BE THE ONLY EFFECTIVE AGENT FOR BOEING. 
MAKHLUF'S WORDS REFLECT BOTH THE TYPE OF VIEWS THAT 
ASAD HEARS AND HIS CURRENT POLICY LINE.    END 
SUMMARY 
 
3.  IN A DECEMBER 15 CONVERSATION WITH THE DCM AND 
ECONOFF, PRESIDENT ASAD'S BROTHER-IN-LAW, MUHAMMAD 
MAKHLUF, SAID THAT THE PRESIDENT'S OLDEST LIVING 
SON, BASHAR WOULD SOON TAKE UP FULLY HIS DECEASED 
OLDER BROTHER BASIL'S FORMER ROLE AS THE 
PRESIDENT'S EYES AND EARS IN SYRIAN SOCIETY. 
BASHAR RECENTLY GRADUATED FROM AN ARMOR SCHOOL IN 
HIMS AND WILL RETURN TO DAMASCUS ON DECEMBER 20. 
ACCORDING TO MAKHLUF, BASHAR WILL BE PRIMARILY 
RESPONSIBLE FOR ENSURING THE PROPER OPERATION OF 
SYRIAN GOVERNMENT AGENCIES, MANY OF WHICH, SAID 
MAKHLUF, ARE RIVEN WITH INCOMPETENCE AND 
CORRUPTION.  PRESIDENT ASAD, MAKHLUF NOTED, HAD HAD 
TO CARRY TOO LARGE A BURDEN SINCE BASIL'S DEATH, 
AND BASHAR SHOULD NOW BE IN A POSITION TO SHOULDER 
SOME OF THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF RULING. 
 
4.  IN RESPONSE TO THE DCM'S QUESTION, MAKHLUF 
INDICATED THAT, UNLIKE BASIL, BASHAR WOULD NOT HAVE 
A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN LEBANON (SEE REPORTING IN 
OTHER CHANNELS POINTING TO HIS AND LEBANESE 
LEADERS' EFFORTS TG BUILD TIES TO ONE ANOTHER), AND 
WOULD FOCUS ON THE SYRIAN INTERNAL SCENE.  MAKHLUF 
SAID THAT THE PRESS OF FOREIGN POLICY, INCLUDING 
THE PEACE PROCESS AND INTENSIFIED RELATIONS WITH 
EGYPT, LEFT LITTLE TIME FOR ASAD TO DEAL WITH 
DOMESTIC ISSUES, THUS CREATING A VACUUM, WHICH 
BASHAR WOULD NOW BE EXPECTED TO FILL.  MAKHLUF 
EMPHASIZED BASHAR'S FITNESS FOR HIS NEW ROLE, 
CLAIMING THAT A FEW MONTHS OF TRAINING HAD MADE HIM 
A "REAL MILITARY MAN."  (COMMENT:  SINCE MOST 
POLITICAL FIGURES OF ANY CONSEQUENCE IN SYRIA HAVE 
MILITARY BACKGROUNDS, BASHAR'S HAVING THEORETICALLY 
BECOME A SOLDIER LENDS HIM AT LEAST A FACADE OF 
CREDIBILITY.  END COMMENT) 
 
SYRIA WANTS OUT OF LEBANON, UNLESS... 
------------------------------------- 
 
5.  ON THE SUBJECT OF SYRIA'S PRESENCE IN LEBANON, 
MAKHLUF COMPLAINED ABOUT THE COSTS, BOTH FINANCIAL 
AND IN LOSS OF READINESS, FOR THE SYRIAN MILITARY. 
HE SAID THAT, WITH PEACE, SYRIA WOULD WITHDRAW FROM 
LEBANON.  MAKHLUF FOLLOWED THIS SEEMINGLY EMPHATIC 
STATEMENT WITH THE QUALIFIER THAT THIS POLICY WAS 
FIRM, UNLESS, OF COURSE, THE GOL "INSISTED" THAT 
SOME SYRIAN FORCES REMAIN. HE ADDED THAT, WITH 
PEACE, HIZBALLAH WOULD BE "ELIMINATED" (AS A 
MILITARY ENTITY) BY THE LEBANESE ARMED FORCES, 
WITH SYRIAN SUPPORT. 
 
6.  AS EVIDENCE OF THE BENEFITS TO LEBANON OF 
SYRIA'S PRESENCE IN LEBANON, MAKHLUF CITED ACTIVITY 
AGAINST THE "POISON" OF NARCOTICS, SAYING THAT 
SYRIA HAD SUCCEEDED IN ELIMINATING NARCOTICS 
CULTIVATION IN ITS NEIGHBOR'S LAND, WHERE THE U.S. 
HAD FAILED IN SIMILAR ATTEMPTS. 
 
7.  IN REPONSE TO THE DCM'S STATEMENT THAT WE 
ACKNOWLEDGE SYRIA'S AND LEBANON'S EFFECTIVE ACTIONS 
AGAINST CULTIVATORS, BUT WANT MORE DONE AGAINST THE 
UBIQUITOUS PROCESSING LABS, MAKHLUF CLAIMED THAT 
SYRIA DID NOT WANT TO INTERFERE WITH LEBANON'S 
DAILY OPERATIONS BECAUSE SUCH ACTIVITIES INEVITABLY 
LED TO CRITICISM OF SYRIA FOR DEROGATING LEBANESE 
SOVEREIGNTY, A FACTOR WHICH HE ALSO CLAIMED KEPT 
SYRIAN TROOPS FROM CONDUCTING LARGE, VISIBLE 
TRAINING OPERATIONS IN LEBANON.  INSTEAD, SYRIA 
PREFERRED TO KEEP ITS TROOPS LARGELY IN THEIR 
GARRISONS AND RESPOND ONLY TO LEBANESE REQUESTS FOR 
ASSISTANCE.  MAKHLUF LAMENTED SYRIA'S INABILITY TO 
PUBLICIZE ITS "GOOD DEEDS" IN LEBANON, SUCH AS 
RECONCILING ITS LEADERS OR COMBATTING DRUGS BECAUSE 
SUCH WORDS WOULD BE EXPLOITED TO CRITICIZE SYRIA'S 
BENEFICENT ROLE. 
 
LATEST LINE ON THE PEACE PROCESS 
-------------------------------- 
 
8.  MAKHLUF LARGELY STUCK TO THE CURRENT SYRIAN 
PUBLIC LINE ON THE PEACE PROCESS.  THE PRESIDENT, 
INDEED, HAD MADE A STRATEGIC DECISION FOR PEACE, 
BUT HE WOULD INSIST THAT IT BE WITH DIGNITY AND 
HONOR.  HE EMPHASIZED THAT SYRIA INSISTS ON A 
CONTINUED U.S. ROLE AND THAT SECRET, DIRECT TALKS 
WITH ISRAEL WERE UNACCEPTABLE.  MAKHLUF REITERATED 
ASAD'S COMMITMENT TO THE PEACE PROCESS UNDER U.S. 
AUSPICES, BUT CONSTANTLY EXPRESSED SUSPICIONS ABOUT 
ISRAEL'S ULTIMATE INTENTIONS.  CHARACTERISTICALLY, 
HE DERIDED THE ISRAELI AGREEMENTS WITH THE PLO AND 
JORDAN.  MAKHLUF SAID THAT ASAD WOULD ONLY LOOK FOR 
A STRATEGY OTHER THAN U.S. MEDIATION IF HE FELT 
THAT SUCH MEDIATION ABSOLUTELY WOULD NOT WORK. 
(COMMENT:  THIS LAST EXPRESSION WAS AMBIGUOUS, BUT 
IT SEEMS MORE LIKELY TO BE AN IMPLICIT THREAT OF 
RENEWED PROXY VIOLENCE, THAN CONSIDERATION OF 
DIRECT TALKS.  END COMMENT) 
 
9.  MAKHLUF SAID THAT A FRIEND OF HIS VISITING THE 
U.S. HAD BEEN APPROACHED BY A "SENIOR AMERICAN JEW" 
WHO SAID THAT SYRIA COULD DO FAR BETTER DEALING 
DIRECTLY WITH ISRAEL THAN THROUGH THE U.S., AND 
OFFERED TO BROKER SUCH CONTACTS.   MAKHLUF SAID HE 
HAD SENT HIS FRIEND TO TELL HIS STORY TO THE 
FONMIN, BUT THAT THERE HAD BEEN NO CHANGE IN ASAD'S 
POLICY ON THE BASIS OF THIS OR ANY OTHER ISRAELI 
APPROACH.  MAKHLUF SAID THAT SYRIA WANTS A REAL 
PEACE, NOT A FAKE OR A FANTASY PEACE, AS EXISTS 
BETWEEN ISRAEL AND SOME OF THE OTHER ARABS. 
 
10.  MAKHLUF ADDED THAT HIS READING OF HISTORY 
CONVINCED HIM THAT THE ISRAELIS/JEWS ONLY PROTECTED 
THEIR OWN INTERESTS AND THAT THE U.S. WAS 
DISPLAYING "NAIVETE" IN PROMOTING ISRAELI/GULF 
CONTACTS.  (COMMENT:  THIS REMARK ALLUDES TO AN 
EARLIER CONVERSATION MAKHLUF HAD WITH US IN WHICH 
HE WARNED THAT ISRAEL SOUGHT TO DOMINATE TRADE IN 
THE REGION'S OIL TO THE DETRIMENT OF U.S. STRATEGIC 
AND COMMERCIAL INTERESTS.)  MAKHLUF EXPRESSED 
MYSTIFICATION AS TO WHY THE ISRAELIS WOULD WANT 
DIRECT NEGOTIATIONS WITH SYRIA, SINCE WITHOUT U.S. 
SUPPORT, THERE WOULD BE NO ISRAEL. 
 
MAKHLUF WANTS "TO HELP" BOEING 
---------------------------- 
 
11.  AFTER A GENERAL DISCUSSION OF THE DESIRABILITY 
OF INCREASED U.S. PARTICIPATION IN THE SYRIAN 
ECONOMY, MAKHLUF QUICKLY TURNED THE DISCUSSION TO 
BOEING'S INTEREST IN SELLING CIVILIAN AIRCRAFT TO 
SYRIAN ARAB AIRLINES (SAA).  AFTER STATING THAT 
BOEING'S CURRENT LOCAL AGENT WAS HIS "FRIEND," 
MAKHLUF WENT ON TO SAY THAT HE WAS NOT COMPETENT TO 
MAKE THIS DEAL.  AIRBUS, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAD 
MADE SIGNIFICANT CONCESSIONS IN ITS PROPOSED DEAL 
WITH SAA AND WAS NEARLY READY TO SIGN.  IN ANSWER 
TO ECONOFF'S QUESTION ABOUT THE UTILITY OF ANY 
AGENT SINCE THE PRESIDENT WOULD DECIDE PERSONALLY 
ABOUT THIS PURCHASE, MAKHLUF SAID THAT EVEN THE 
PRESIDENT COULD NOT DECIDE ON BOEING IF AIRBUS 
OFFERED A MUCH BETTER DEAL, AND THE RIGHT AGENT 
COULD ENSURE THAT SUCH WAS NOT THE CASE.  NOT 
SURPRISINGLY, MAKHLUF THEN SAID THAT HE AND HIS SON 
WANTED VERY MUCH TO MEET WITH BOEING.  ECONOFF SAID 
HE WOULD CONVEY THIS INFORMATION TO BOEING. 
 
12.  COMMENT:  MAKHLUF, WHO IS NOT WITHOUT A 
CERTAIN ROGUISH CHARM, NEVERTHELESS WEARS HIS 
BIGOTRY AND AVARICE ON HIS WELL-TAILORED SLEEVE. 
WE CONVEY HIS VIEWS AS AN INDICATION OF WHAT ASAD 
IS LIKELY TELLING TO AND HEARING FROM THOSE AROUND 
HIM.  HIS COMMENTS ON THE NEED FOR BASHAR TO BECOME 
MORE ACTIVE ON THE DOMESTIC SCENE ARE CONSISTENT 
WITH ALL OTHER REPORTING AVAILABLE TO US.  HOWEVER, 
DESPITE MAKHLUF'S COMMENTS TO THE CONTRARY 
PRESIDENT ASAD SEEMS TO BE USING BASHAR AND GID 
OPERATIVE NASSIF AS COUNTERWEIGHTS TO KHADDAM AND 
SHIHABI IN LEBANON.  AS FOR THE PEACE PROCESS, 
MAKHLUF'S BLUNT COMMENTS ACCURATELY REFLECT THE 
SUSPICIONS WITH WHICH ASAD AND HIS INNER CIRCLE 
VIEW ISRAELI INTENTIONS, AND THEIR CONCERNS ABOUT 
THE WEAKNESS OF THEIR OWN MILITARY/DIPLOMATIC 
POSITION VIS A VIS ISRAEL.  FOR THEM, THE U.S. ROLE 
IS ESSENTIAL AND THE DEALS CONCLUDED BETWEEN ISRAEL 
ON THE ONE HAND AND JORDAN AND THE PLO ON THE OTHER 
HAVE ONLY REINFORCED THIS CONVICTION. 
 
 
ROSS 

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