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Cablegate: Country Clearance for Codel Issa, April 5-6.2007

VZCZCXYZ0008
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0323/01 0911501
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 011501Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3249
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN PRIORITY 6691
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 0239

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000323

SIPDIS

CODEL
SIPDIS

NEA/ELA; H FOR BUTTE DAHL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP AMGT ASECAFIN SY
SUBJECT: COUNTRY CLEARANCE FOR CODEL ISSA, APRIL 5-6.2007

REF: SEC STATE 40702

1. (U) Embassy Damascus welcomes and grants country clearance
for the visit of Congressman Darrel Issa, and the other
members of the delegation: David Abruzzino and Jeremy Bash.

2. (U) Control officer and point of contact for this visit is
Econ Officer Stacey Jones, who can be reached at work:
(963)-(11) 3391-4444; cell: (963) 093-302-143; home: (963)-
11) 371-3279; or embassy fax number: (963)-(11) 3391-3999.

3. (U) Fiscal Information: Post has received fiscal data to
hold rooms and charge official expenses. Costs include, but
are not limited to, American and FSN overtime, border
crossing fees, field travel by Embassy employees,
transportation costs for official vehicles, long distance
telephone calls, equipment rentals, representational events,
and other costs directly attributable to the visit.

4. (U) Visa Requirement: Every traveler must have a valid
Syrian visa prior to departure for Damascus. The Syrian
government will not normally grant airport or border visas.
Travelers should apply for visas well in advance, as
processing time is often slow.

5. (U) Security Requirements: Please forward security
clearance information for the delegation via cable or email.

6. (U) Transportation: Embassy officers will meet
Congressman Issa and the other members of his delegation on
April 5 at the Syrian/Jordanian border. Post will also
arrange for transportation to and from official meetings.
Embassy officers will see Congressman Issa and his delegation
off at the Syrian/Jordanian border on April 5 or at the
Damascus airport on April 6 as needed.

7. (U) Accommodation: Reservations were made for the
delegation at the Sheraton Hotel for April 5. Hotel telephone
number is 963 (11) 373-4630 or 222-9300, fax: 963 (11)
224-3604. The daily room rate is USD 125, plus 11 percent
tax. It is within per diem and breakfast is included. The
maximum time granted for free cancellation is 24 hours prior
to the day of arrival.

8. (U) Communications Support: Post will provide Congressman
Issa and other members of his delegation with an
international cell phone for official use while in-country.
Long-distance telephone calls can also be placed from the
Embassy. The internet can be accessed through a stand-alone
PC in the Embassy. There is no charge for this service. The
internet can also be accessed from hotels in Damascus by
dialing to one of three different ISP's in Syria.

9. (U) Currency Exchange: Post will disburse per diem to the
delegation for April 5. During normal Embassy business
hours, the Embassy Class B Cashier provides accommodation
exchange from dollars to Syrian pounds at the current rate
for institutions, against cash, traveler's checks, and, with
the authorization of the financial management officer,
personal checks. Cashier hours are Sunday - Thursday, 10:00
- 13:00, closed Tuesday. Travelers should minimize the
amount of Syrian pounds exchanged because reverse
accommodation exchange is not authorized on the local
economy. Reverse accommodation exchange is available at the
embassy cashier for official visitors. Travelers may also
purchase pounds at hotels, private banks and branches of the
Commercial Bank of Syria. Most purchases in the Old City can
be made in USD.

10. (U) Photography: Photography of individuals in uniform
(including police), government buildings, and military
installations is strictly forbidden.

11. (U) Departure Tax: Syria charges a departure tax of
SP200 (approximately $4), payable in SP cash only. Travelers
with diplomatic passports are exempt, but those with official
passports must pay.

12. (U) Health: Health facilities in Damascus are not up to
U.S. or European standards, and facilities outside Damascus
are extremely limited. Only personnel covered under the
State Department's medical program and with a valid medical
clearance for Syria are eligible for medevac at USG cost. It
is recommended that all other travelers have medical
evacuation insurance sufficient to cover evacuation by
chartered air ambulance, or ensure that their agency will
cover the cost.

13. (U) Threat Assessment: Political developments and
security in the Middle East sometimes change quickly. The
Embassy was attacked, without warning, in September 2006, by
a small group of terrorists using automatic gunfire and
grenades. They attempted, unsuccessfully, to detonate a
vehicle-borne improvised explosive device at the rear gate.
One local guard was seriously injured and there was at least
one Syrian fatality in addition to the killing of the four
attackers. Since the attack, the Embassy has taken
additional measures to improve its security posture.

In February 2005, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon was
assassinated in Beirut, prompting the U.S. to recall its
Ambassador to Syria for consultations. There are no plans to
assign a replacement, reflecting the ongoing difficulties in
U.S.-Syrian relations. Government-sanctioned demonstrations
have occasionally included expressions of anti-American or
anti-Western sentiment. Violent mobs attacked three
Scandinavian embassies in February 2006.

In general, Americans in Syria should vary their schedules,
avoid large crowds and gatherings, and report suspicious
incidents to the Regional Security Officer. They should also
avoid electronic financial transactions and should not carry
valuables or large amounts of cash in crowded shopping
districts. Visitors should also read and follow the guidance
in the latest public announcements and State Department
travel advisories for Syria.


CORBIN

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