Viewing cable 08DAMASCUS427, FRENCH CONSIDER THEIR DAMASCUS VISIT A SUCCESS
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|08DAMASCUS427||2008-06-16 16:04||2010-12-07 21:09||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Damascus|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 000427 SIPDIS NEA/ELA E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/15/2018 TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL PTER SY SUBJECT: FRENCH CONSIDER THEIR DAMASCUS VISIT A SUCCESS Classified By: CDA Todd C. Holmstrom for reasons 1.5 b/d ¶1. (C) Summary. The SARG worked to portray the June 15 visit by two French presidential envoys as a vindication of Syria's hard-line policy of "resistance." The French themselves say the visit was successful as it furthered the GOF's priority of ensuring President Asad participate in the Mediterranean Union summit in Paris on July 13. According to our French colleagues in Damascus, Asad told them that he was optomistic a new cabinet would be formed in the next week or two in Beirut; the SARG supported both the Egyptian effort to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and would soon host Abu Mazen in an effort to heal the Fatah - Hamas rupture. Asad declined to be engaged on human rights and detained political prisoners. And he stated flatly that the SARG would make no effort to engage the USG until after the election in November. End summary. ¶2. (U) The June 15 one-day visit of secretary general of President Sarkozy,s office, Claude Gueant, and Sarkozy,s chief diplomatic advisor, Jean-David Levitte, was front page news in Syria,s state-owned papers. The lead editorial in Al-Thawra commented that the visit showed that the SARG,s policy &of resistance8 had succeeded and France was therefore compelled to reengage Syria on the SARG,s terms. The reporting of the quasi-independent Al-Watan, which coordinates its political commentary closely with the security services, implied the visit highlighted a fracture in U.S. ) French policy towards Syria. ¶3. (C) In contrast, Nicolas Suran, DCM at the French embassy, categorized the visit as a success and offered us the following readout. The two presidential advisors had a one and a half hour meeting with President Bashar Al-Asad followed by a meeting and then lunch with FM Walid Muallem. Both meetings were focused on Syria,s participation in the upcoming July 13 Mediterranean Union summit in Paris. According to Suran, Levitte and Gueant were able to answer Asad and Muallem,s concerns regarding the proposed Mediterranean Union making Asad,s participation more likely. Suran said, baring unfavorable regional developments, Asad would attend the summit next month in Paris. It was agreed that FM Muallem will visit Paris in early July to prepare for Asad,s visit later the same month. Suran qualified the SARG commitment as &progress8 given the fact that just a month and a half ago Asad was not planning to attend and was echoing others, criticisms of both the summit and the proposed Union. ¶4. (C) Suran said discussions covered the full range of regional issues as well. On Lebanon, Asad said the SARG had very little ability to influence the political process at this point and that a failure would be a result of internal maneuvering by Lebanese politicians. Nonetheless, both Asad and Muallem were optimistic that a new cabinet would be formed in the next week or two. Asad said Syria would remain committed to the Turkey brokered talks with Israel. Asad reportedly told the French that Syria was actively supporting Egypt,s attempt to conclude a cease fire between Hamas and Israel. Syria was also working at Palestinian reconciliation and would host Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the next four or five days in an attempt to further the process, according to Suran. ¶5. (C) Suran said Gueant and Levitte raised human rights and detained political prisoners with Asad. Following his now standard practice, Asad demurred and asserted that both issues were &internal affairs8 and not to be discussed with visitors. Suran commented that, nonetheless, neither Gueant nor Levitte were put-off by Asad,s answer but were instead encouraged that Asad,s manner seemed to allow the issue to remain on the table. Suran reminded us that when then President Chirac visited Damascus in 2000 Asad did release Riad Turk from jail in answer to Chirac,s direct appeal. Suran commented that a similar result would be possible if Asad,s July 13 visit to Paris were to be successful. ¶6. (C) Suran said the only area the Syrians were not responsive on was a request to stop arms shipments to Hezbollah, and to take more positive actions to improve Iraq,s security. According to Suran, Asad linked the requests to the USG and asserted the SARG felt no need to provide concessions to the current Administration. According to Suran, both Asad and Muallem were adamant that they had DAMASCUS 00000427 002 OF 002 written off the Bush Administration and would make no gesture or concession towards the U.S. until a new administration was in the White House. ¶7. (C) Comment. Based on both their public and private statements, it is apparent that the Syrians believe they are dealing from a position of strength not only with the French but also the western world writ large. Still the Syrians are ready for their isolation to end. As Suran commented, Asad has not visited a western capitol in years and so is obviously anxious to be received in Paris for the PR value if nothing else. HOLMSTROM