Cablegate: Codel Pelosi Meets Syria's President Asad

DE RUEHDM #0389/01 1150917
P 250917Z APR 07

C o n f i d e n t i a l section 01 of 03 damascus 000389



Paris for waller, london for tsou

E.o. 12958: decl: 04/06/2017
Tags: prel, pgov, sy
Subject: codel pelosi meets syria's president asad

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Michael H. Corbin for reasons 1.4 b/d

1. (C) Summary: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 13 members
of her delegation met April 4 in Damascus with Syrian
President Bashar Al-Asad. They discussed the conflict in
Iraq, Lebanon, possibilities for a renewed Middle East Peace
Process, Iran, and, during the meeting and a follow-on lunch
in the Old City, the lack of free expression in Syria and the
plight of Syrian political prisoners. End Summary.

2. (C) Visiting House Speaker Pelosi and members of her
delegation met for 50 minutes April 4 at the Presidential
Palace with Syrian President Asad. Aside from Pelosi, those
attending the meeting were the following: the Speaker's
spouse, Paul Pelosi; Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA);
Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV); Congressman Tom Lantos
(D-CA); Congressman David Hobson (R-OH); Congresswomen Louise
Slaughter (D-NY); Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN); House
Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood; Mike Sheehy, the Speaker's
Assistant for National Security; Nadeam Elshami, the
Speaker's public affairs assistant; Robert King, from
Congressman Lantos' office; Kenny Kraft, from Congressman
Hobson's office; and Air Force escort COL Lori Robinson.
Also attending was the Charge and an Embassy notetaker at the
Codel's request. Attending on the Syrian side was FM Walid
Mu'allim; MFA head of foreign media Bushra Kanafani; and the
Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Mustapha. Following the
meeting Asad and First Lady Asma Al-Asad hosted a one hour
lunch at a hotel in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City for
the Pelosi delegation, attended by the Syrian FM, the Syrian
Ambassador to the U.S., and Syrian Expatriates Minister
Buthayna Sha'ban.

3. (C) OPENING REMARKS: In the meeting, the President
welcomed the delegation and stressed his desire for a
Syrian-U.S. dialogue on issues of common interest. "Syria
wants a long-term dialogue, not 1,2,3,4," he said. "We are
ready for dialogue about the big picture, not the details of
the painting. We need to start those discussions today."
The Speaker responded that the main goal for the delegation's
visit was combating terrorism, adding, "The pillars of our
foreign policy are to promote democracy and freedom, stop the
spread of weapons of mass destruction, and lead the Global
War on Terrorism." She stressed that the U.S. wants to use
the power of its ideals to convince Syria to cooperate on
issues, noting the following:

-- On Iraq: The U.S. does not want foreign fighters killing
Iraqis and Coalition soldiers in Iraq. "We would appreciate
it if you could tell us how we can work together to stop

-- On prospects for a renewed peace process: In Israel, the
PM said that he was "pleased that our delegation" was coming
to Syria and that he wanted the Speaker to convey to the
Syrian President the PM's desire for peace talks.

-- On Syrian support for terrorist groups: In Lebanon,
Hizbollah is using force to get its way. Palestinian Hamas
does the same. "I have heard that you could have a meeting of
terrorist leaders in Damascus without anyone flying in."

-- On Israeli prisoners: The U.S is concerned about the two
Israeli prisoners being held by Hizbollah and the one being
held by Palestinians.

-- On the lack of freedom of expression in Syria: "We have
heard from people in this country who want to express
themselves freely." (Note: The Speaker met for 10 minutes
on April 3 with a Syrian opposition leader, Riad Seif, during
a reception at the Ambassador's residence. End Note.)

She closed by saying, "Let's begin to go down this path of
peace together. You have options. We have options. We hope
we can further peace together."

4. (C) SYRIAN PRESIDENT'S RESPONSE: Asad responded by
reiterating a desire for dialogue. He noted Syria's 80-year
history of bad relations with Turkey, then pointed to the
upturn in the Turkish-Syrian relationship, as seen by the
April 3 visit of Turkish PM Erdogan to Syria. With the U.S.,
Syria is looking for strategic--not tactical--cooperation, on
the issues of common interest where both sides were 60 to 70
percent in agreement, he said. The Syrian President noted
the following:

Damascus 00000389 002 of 003

-- On Iraq: Syria has no interest in a border that permits
the entry of drugs and terrorists. "There are sleeper cells
in Syria. And we are acting against terrorists everday, but
we don't acknowledge it to prevent a fall in public morale
and a threat to tourism and foreign investment." The
President urged a timetable for the withdrawal of Coalition
forces from Iraq and the strengthening of the Iraqi political
process. He reiterated that when the U.S. forces left Iraq
was not the key. The key was the political process in Iraq.
"The biggest problem in Iraq is the Constitution. We have
started in Syria to discuss this; when we have a clearer
vision of common goals, we can all sit together and have a
new Constitution." Syria was not interested in helping the
U.S. Administration, but it would work with Iraqis and "help
America that way."

-- On Lebanon/Hizbollah and Hamas: Syria has interests in
Lebanon as "it spent a lot of money there." Lebanese
sectarianism required a National Unity Government that could
reach consensus on all issues. The solution for Lebanese
political problems is constitutional, which "we have been
working on lately with Hizbollah." Syria's main goal was to
prevent "foreigners intervening in Lebanon," he said,
particularly the way French President Chirac was intervening.
He said he had raised Lebanon with with Turkish PM Erdogan,
when Erdogan visited Syria the previous day.

-- On the peace process: Asad said he had always talked
positively about prospects for a renewed peace process, but
Israel had failed to respond positively. For the first time
in history, the U.S. Administration has failed to push Israel
toward the Arabs, saying that such a move would make the
Syrian President stronger. "This is not true. Israeli PM
Olmert has a 3-percent support rating in Israel, while the
Syrian President had the full support of his people." The
Syrian President had talked to Erdogan about making contacts
with the Israelis to further show his seriousness about peace.

-- On Israeli prisoners: Egypt was taking the lead on
mediating with the Palestinians for the release of Israeli
solider Gilad Shalit, and Syrians did not want to interfere,
"although some people falsely say that Syria was putting
obstacles in front of his release." On the two soldiers held
by Hizbollah, Syria was waiting for the designation of an
international mediator, like the role Germany had saught to
play. (Note: Here the Syrian FM intervened and noted that
in his previous appointment with the Speaker, he had
suggested she appoint a Israeli-authorized member of the U.S.
Congress to mediate between Israel and Hizbollah. The
Speaker called the proposal an "official overture" that she
would raise to the U.S. President and Israeli officials. End
Note.) Asad asserted there were 19 Syrian prisoners in
Israel; the twentieth prisoner had died of leukemia in 2006
after the Israelis failed to treat him.

5. (C) Congressman Waxman pursued the issue of the Israeli
prisoners, pushing for Syrian humanitarian cooperation in
returning the remains of executed Israeli spy Eli Cohen,
Israeli soldier Guy Hever who disappeared on the Golan in the
late 1990s, and Israeli Ron Arad missing since the 1980s.
The Syrian President responded that Arad had gone missing in
Lebanon, that there was no information about Hever, and that,
having been a spy, Cohen's case was a national issue he could
not simply act on without preparing the way. "The Syrian
people would not accept this." All the Israeli cases could
be discussed during peace negotiations. Waxman noted that a
Syrian humanitarian gesture on Israeli prisoners would be a
positive signal to the Israelis of the Syrian regime's
peaceful intentions. "The Israeli PM is not sure of your
sincerity," Waxman said to the Syrian President. Asad
responded that now was not the time for gestures but for
action. Asad said Syria proved its desire for peace with the
negotiations in the 1990s. Peace was in Syria's interest,
said Asad, noting: "I have a lot of poor people. Middle
East peace would make them richer. It would also undermine
extremism. It is logical that I am for peace."

6. (C) Congressman Hobson further pursued the need for
Syrian actions on the Israeli prisoners. PM Olmert is weak,
Hobson said, but a peace deal would make him stronger. He
added to Asad, "If you could talk to Hamas (about the Israeli
prisoner) and say 'Let's get a deal.' Then Egypt could be
successful." Asad responded that the peace process was like
marriage and that Syria as the suitor had the impression that

Damascus 00000389 003 of 003

Israel was not interested in a match. "Olmert has never
publicly said he is ready for dialogue," Asad said. Hobson
retorted that sometimes the suitor must be persistent. Asad
responded, "That's humiliating." The Speaker asked whether
her delegation could say publicly that Syria was ready for
peace. Asad responded, "When Olmert says he is ready
publicly, I will tell my people in my next public statement
that we are also ready."

7. (C) SYRIA WITH IRAN OR THE WEST?: Congressman Lantos
noted his previous meetings in Damascus with the late Syrian
President Hafez al-Asad and with Bashar al-Asad. He
questioned the Syrian President's ties to Iran, asking, "Do
you want to be viewed as a partner of Iranian President
Ahmadinejad? I can't see you denying that the Holocaust ever
occurred. I can't see you saying that you want to wipe
Israel off the map with nuclear weapons." Syria now has an
opportunity to develop a relationship with the U.S., said
Lantos, who then asked the Syrian President about his vision
for U.S.-Syrian relations over the next five to ten years.

8. (C) Asad responded that the SARG had the will to engage
with the U.S., but "did not have the means and the tools."
If the U.S. was open-minded about its partnership with Syria,
each country could go its different way and meet at the end,
Asad said. "Or you can say to us, 'If you don't go our way,
then you are against us.'" Asad said that his goals for
renewed U.S.-Syrian ties spanned one to two generations and
focused on the need for the U.S. to serve as a broker for
Middle East Peace, as well as increasing development
including information technology in Syria.

9. (C) LEBANON: Congressman Rahall noted his Lebanese
origin and stressed the need for improved Syrian-Lebanese
relations, including embassies between the two countries. He
asked Asad for a readout on his recent meetings with Saudi
King concerning Lebanon and the peace process. Asad
responded by first noting strong Syrian-Lebanese ties--not
through any Syrian intelligence presence in Lebanon but
rather through "Lebanese friends who come to Syria every
day." The Syrian President responded to the second point by
saying that his Lebanon-related discussions with the Saudi
King were limited to the King's comments that if there were a
Sunni-Shiite conflict there it would destroy the whole
region. Asad commented that many official foreign visitors
to Syria alternately ask Syria to stay out of Lebanon and
then ask for Syrian help. "We can help if Lebanon wants. To
close the border and isolate the country would be dangerous,"
he said. Asad returned to an earlier theme, noting that the
solution to Lebanon's problems were constitutional and
required Lebanese consensus. He said Syria was seeking to
build its influence on Lebanon by improving its relations
first with Saudi Arabia and then with post-Chirac France.

10. (C) POLITICAL PRISONERS: At the lunch, the Speaker, who
was seated next to the President raised the issue of Syrian
political prisoners Kamal Labwani, Anwar al-Bunni, Michel
Kilo, Mahmoud Issa and Aref Dalila. The Speaker, who had
briefly met with Mrs. Labwani at a pull aside on the margins
of an April 3 reception hosted by the Embassy, noted that
Labwani had recently been placed in solitary confinement in
difficult conditions. The President responded that he would
look into Labwani's case. He added that Bunni, Kilo and Issa
cases were out of his hands and with the court.

11.(C) Also at the lunch Representative Ellison pressed Asad
on Iraq and Iran's negative role in the region.
Representative Slaughter raised Lebanon and Representative
Lantos explained his international "Nuclear Fuel Bank"
legislation asking Asad to press Iran to accept this
alternative if Iran was truly seeking peaceful nuclear power.
Asad said he would be interested to see the legislation and
"would raise it" with the Iranian President. FM Muallim,
noting that Lantos had said that any country could be
included, asked rhetorically whether the "U.S. would give
uranium to Syria if it was not even willing to give spare
parts for civilian aircraft to Syria."

12.(U) The delegation conducted a press conference at the
airport prior to departure.

13.(U) This cable was cleared by CODEL Pelosi after the
CODEL's departure from Syria.

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