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Cablegate: French Consider Their Damascus Visit a Success

VZCZCXRO0539
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHDM #0427/01 1681625
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161625Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5083
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 2169
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0426

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

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