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Cablegate: Sarg Request's Obo Visit to Identify Location For

VZCZCXYZ0044
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0432 1291357
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091357Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3436

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000432

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NEA/ELA
OBO/REMP/ACQ FOR MIKE LASH
NEA/EX

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ABLD AMGT SY
SUBJECT: SARG REQUEST'S OBO VISIT TO IDENTIFY LOCATION FOR
A NEW EMBASSY COMPOUND

REF: DAMASCUS 396

1. (U) This is an action request. Please see paragraph four.

2. (SBU) In a May 6 meeting with MFA director of protocol
Dr. Amir Smadi, our SARG designated interlocutor, and a SARG
consultant for the new diplomatic zone (DZ), Walid Serawan,
the Charge followed up on his previous discussions requesting
early SARG action to allow construction of a new embassy
compound (NEC) and SARG progress on the new DZ (reftel).
Serawan presented an approved master plan for the new DZ and
commented that the prices for property within the zone would
be available within six months. (Note. The SARG has been
promising to finalize this plan for five years so Charge
asked Smadi and Serawan three separate times whether the plan
had received final approval and they asserted it had. End
note.) Serawan said that a committee had been established by
the MFA and the local municipality to factor in all of the
costs and variables to determine final prices. Serawan had a
copy of the topographic map with the four areas of interest
OBO had designated during the last team's visit here five
years ago. Serawan asserted that all four areas fell within
the area designated for development by the master plan.
Charge requested the MFA provide us with a sense of final
costs and a copy of the master plan. Smadi said he would
have to consult with FM Walid Muallem before he could
respond, but invited the USG to send a team of building
experts to Damascus to review all available information on
the DZ and to settle on a location for an NEC.

3. (SBU) Smadi reiterated that the SARG was ready to move
forward with an NEC and that if a team were to visit from the
U.S. for that purpose, he would ensure the visas were
expeditiously processed. Charge commented that progress on a
DZ, new information on the land offered, and access to the
master plan would all be important considerations for the USG
when discussing whether to dispatch a team to Damascus.
Serawan said all necessary information, technical and
otherwise, on the new DZ would be made available to any team
visiting from the U.S. and asked that the USG pick between
the four designated areas so the area could be excluded from
other's consideration. Serawan asserted this was necessary
because other embassies were expressing interest in reserving
specific plots of land. Charge reminded Smadi and Serawan
that President Asad had told visiting Codels that the DZ
would be ready before the end of the year, a point Smadi
acknowledged and seemed anxious to respond to.

4. (SBU) Action request: Post asks that OBO send a team to
Damascus to review the SARG's master plan for the diplomatic
zone and identify the building site for our NEC. Although we
can't promise results, we see much more upside to a visit now
than potential downside. The SARG asserts it has now
finalized the master plan that has been holding up progress
for five years. The four plots OBO designated as potential
building sites all appear to fall within the area designated
for development by the master plan. Because of Serawan's
insistence that an additional six months is needed to settle
on final prices for individual plots within the DZ, there is
room for skepticism of the SARG's commitment to making real
progress. Still, a visit now by an OBO team could identify a
parcel for purchase and help to clarify additional items
requiring SARG action. Also, once we identify a parcel, we
would have greater leverage with getting the SARG to speed up
the process of designating a price.
CORBIN

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