Viewing cable 10DAMASCUS168, V/FM MIQDAD DENIES SUPPLYING BALLISTIC MISSILES TO
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|10DAMASCUS168||2010-02-25 13:01||2010-12-06 21:09||SECRET||Embassy Damascus|
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S E C R E T DAMASCUS 000168 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA NSC FOR SHAPIRO/MCDERMOTT LONDON FOR LORD PARIS FOR NOBLES EO 12958 DECL: 02/25/2019 TAGS PTER, PREF, PREL, IS, LE, SY SUBJECT: V/FM MIQDAD DENIES SUPPLYING BALLISTIC MISSILES TO HIZBALLAH, DIRECTS U.S. DEMARCHE TO ISRAEL REF: A. STATE 17307 B. TEL AVIV 404 Classified By: CDA Charles Hunter, for reasons 1.4 b,d. ¶1. (S) Summary: Responding to Ref A demarche, Syrian Vice
Foreign Minister (V/FM) Miqdad expressed surprise the U.S.
was sharing such a strong message in the wake of Under Secretary
(U/S) William Burns’ positive February 17 visit. He argued Israel
represented the major threat to stability in the region and that
the U.S. should be directing its message toward Israeli officials.
Syria, he claimed, wanted peace and was working with Turkey and the
U.S. toward that end. Flatly denying any Syrian role in the supply of
weapons to Hizballah, The most sophisticated weapons Damascus
supported Lebanese independence while Israel violated Lebanese
sovereignty on a daily basis. Miqdad argued Syria wanted to
preserve the positive results of U/S Burns’ recent visit and
promised to convey the message. He also pledged to review our
request for assisting the Center for Victims of Torture and
agreed to follow up Charge’s request for official written
notification of the government’s decision to allow the Damascus
Community School (DCS) to reopen. End Summary -------------------------------------- Miqdad: Direct Your Message to Israel -------------------------------------- ¶2. (S) Charge and Pol/Econ Chief delivered Ref A demarche
to Syrian Vice Foreign Minister (V/FM) Faisal al-Miqdad on
February 25. A clearly surprised Miqdad listened attentively
and took detailed notes, interrupting twice to confirm whether
the demarche concerned the transfer of ballistic missiles and
to clarify whether the message represented a U.S. or an Israeli
“warning.” Charge explained the message reflected Washington
concerns that SEMEP Mitchell and U/S Burns had shared previously
with President Asad. Addressing the substance of the demarche,
Miqdad argued that Israel itself could not have sent a stronger
warning. The message, he continued, “shows the U.S. has not come
to a mature position (that would enable it) to differentiate between
its own interests and Israel’s.” Syria was “of course” not in the
mood to increase tensions or escalate, “because we believe in peace.”
Toward that end, Syria was doing its best with Turkey and the U.S.
to achieve peace. Syria was not taking steps to escalate.
Unless Israel had plans to escalate against Syria or Lebanon,
“there’s no need to worry,” said Miqdad. ¶3. (S) Referring to Hizballah Secretary General Hassan
Nasrallah’s February 16 speech, Miqdad emphasized that
Hizballah was responding to Israeli threats and clearly
conveyed Hizballah’s intent to respond only if Israel
attacked first. Syria believed in and supported the role of
UNIFIL, and was using its contacts with the Lebanese Government
to “insist” on Lebanon’s full cooperation with UNIFIL.
Miqdad insisted Israel, not Syria or Lebanon, was issuing
provocative threats and using Hizballah as a pretext.
The Syrian government had been pleased to hear Lebanese
PM Hariri’s remarks expressing concerns about Israeli
provocation, including the violation of Lebanese airspace
and assassinations. The U.S. message, summed up Miqdad,
“should be directed to Israel not to escalate.” ---------------------------------------- Denial of Supply of Weapons to Hizballah ---------------------------------------- ¶4. (S) Charge replied that the U.S. message had come in
the context of improving bilateral relations, which
depended on a frank and candid exchange of assessments
of regional developments. The U.S. was issuing neither
threats nor ultimatums, but rather it sought to convey
what it believed to be a shared interest in avoiding
conflict. Miqdad commented that it was “strange” the U.S.
had chosen to deliver “harsh words while we’re trying to
build better relations.” He promised to convey the message
to his superiors but reiterated Syria’s desire to avoid escalation.
“You may hear about weapons going to Hizballah,” he claimed,
“but they are absolutely not coming through Syria.” The real
threat to stability was coming from Israeli officials who had
threatened recently to attack Damascus and to change the Syrian
regime. “Please convey to Washington, while we take note of your
demarche, this message should be directed at Israel,” he said. ¶5. (S) Charge replied that, as U/S Burns had conveyed to President
Asad, the U.S. was urging all parties in the region, including
Israel, to exercise restraint and support Lebanese independence.
“This is our commitment,” Miqdad responded, “we shall not
interfere (in Lebanon).” The Lebanese should be allowed to decide
for themselves on how to resolve their own issues; those who
would interfere want to disturb the peace after Lebanon
successfully conducted national elections and formed a
consensus government. “We’re confident the Lebanese can
deal with their own situation,” he said. Charge rejoined that
the military capabilities of a non-state actor like Hizballah
represented a major concern because Hizballah responded only
to its own leadership and not to government authorities. ¶6. (S) Miqdad said this issue should be discussed in the
overall framework of the situation. He then contended the
provision of U.S. weapons to the region represented a
destabilizing factor. “The most sophisticated weapons are
coming to Israel, to be used against whom?” he asked. When
the U.S. pressed Israel to stop threatening its neighbors,
the situation would stabilize. “We want peace. It’s the only
solution. We are the ones who are threatened,” he declared.
Charge replied the whole region was threatened. Miqdad said
the U.S. and Syria needed to worked toward peace. “You should
address your message to the people who don’t want peace,” he
added, noting the results of U/S Burns’ visit should be
preserved and continued to improve relations. Syria had
responded positively to U/S Burns’ message because it felt
more confident of Washington’s desire to move forward. --------------------- CVT and DCS Follow-Up --------------------- ¶7. (C) Charge affirmed the U.S. shared this intent and
wanted to maximize the opportunity by staying in close
contact. In that context, he raised PRM’s pending request
to Miqdad to assist the Center for the Victims of Torture
to receive approval to begin a proposed project in Syria;
Miqdad agreed to look at the matter and requested Embassy
follow-up. Likewise, on the issue of visas for the next
group of DHS circuit riders, Miqdad asked that the circuit
riders not apply for visas until he had had a chance to intervene.
(Note: Embassy will provide Miqdad with a list of the circuit riders.) ¶8. (C) Charge also asked Miqdad for advice on how to proceed
regarding Damascus Community School (DCS). FM Muallim had
instructed the Embassy to “start hiring teachers,” but the
MFA had not yet provided any written notification of President
Asad’s decision to allow the school to re-open. There also
remained the issue of whether Syrian students would be allowed
to enroll. Miqdad agreed that this matter required a response
and advised the Charge to follow up with him in the coming week.
(Note: Miqdad reported he would be traveling to Libya for
two days to discuss bilateral relations.) ------- Comment ------- ¶9. (S) In the midst of hosting a quick-notice visit by Iranian
President Ahmedinejad (who openly criticized the Secretary’s
Congressional testimony expressing concern about Syria and
Hizballah), the SARG might interpret our demarche as an attempt
to divert the spotlight from the show of mutual support between
Tehran and Damascus. Miqdad’s surprise that we would raise this
issue so forcefully on the heels of U/S Burns’ visit may have
been genuine, but the abject denial of any Syrian role in
supplying arms to Hizballah and the verbal counter-attack against
Israeli provocation were standard (if disingenuous) responses.
Yet even a seasoned diplomat like Miqdad could not restrain a
raised eyebrow at our mention of the transfer of ballistic
missiles to Hizballah. We expect the specificity of this
concern could well prompt further discussions among Syrian
officials, Hizballah, and the visiting Iranian delegation. ¶10. (S) Miqdad notably did not respond to our concern about
a possible Hizballah revenge operation for the assassination
of Imad Mughniyeh. While Miqdad and Syrian officials migh
t take some comfort in UNIFIL’s role in preventing the spillover
of recent tensions in south Lebanon, a Hizballah operation
against Israeli targets could easily result in a situation
in which UNIFIL found itself unable to contain rising escalation.
One point we might stress in the future: Syria’s desire for
a deterrent against Israeli military action -- presumably a
motivation for the transfer of ballistic missiles to Hizballah
-- will not increase stability because there are no mechanisms
or rules of the road to prevent and/or manage unanticipated
escalation. Not having control over Hizballah’s missiles or
influence over Hizballah’s military plans to avenge Mughniyeh
increases this danger. Our demarche might resonate more fully
here if we can persuade other key countries, such as Turkey,
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, France, and others, to
underscore their concerns about regional instability, to
which Syria’s supply of ballistic missiles to Hizballah
is directly contributing. ¶11. (S) Leaving aside the substance of Miqdad’s response
to the demarche, his agreement to meet us on two hours’
notice on a Syrian holiday (the Prophet’s birthday) and
during the Ahmedinejad visit is worth noting. Miqdad’s
Chief of Staff is typically the recipient of Embassy
demarches; CDA’s only other meeting with Miqdad apart
from appointments involving Washington visitors was to
discuss the Vice Minister’s trip to the U.S. last September.
His future willingness to meet directly with us --
which FM Muallim instructed him to do to follow up on
DCS issues -- will serve as one more barometer of the
SARG commitment to engagement in the weeks and months ahead.