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Cablegate: Iip Speaker On Environment Makes Connections in Syria

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0508/01 1971446
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151446Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5187
INFO RUCNNAF/NORTH AF NEA AND SOUTH ASIAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000508

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/PPD, IIP/SEG, IIP/NEA-SCA, R

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO SY XF OEXC OIIP SCUL KIRC SENV PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: IIP SPEAKER ON ENVIRONMENT MAKES CONNECTIONS IN SYRIA

1. SBU SUMMARY: IIP Speaker and climate scientist Dr. Brenda
Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists visited Syria April
21-25, 2008. Audiences in Damascus and Aleppo, from middle school
students to leading scientists, responded positively and
enthusiastically to her message of individual and societal
environmental responsibility. Press coverage of her visit was
uniformly positive. With concern for the environment a cause celeb
in Syria, Dr. Ekwurzel's visit enabled Post to connect with a
significant segment of Syrian civil society - environmentalists;
these groups can be difficult to engage due to government pressure.
Sustaining these connections and forging new ones is a Post
priority. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------
Connecting with the Public
--------------------------

2. [U] Visiting IIP Speaker Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel began her Damascus
program with a public lecture on April 21 at the American Cultural
Center entitled, "How Our Activities Today Influence the Environment
of Tomorrow." A capacity crowd of 100-120 people flocked to the
Cultural Center to hear her talk about global warming its effects on
the environment, the climate, water resources, demography, and
agriculture. She highlighted the role of education, the role of
NGOs, and the role of the individual in the effort to protect the
planet and its valuable natural resources.

-----------------------------
Connecting with Civil Society
-----------------------------

3. [SBU] To celebrate Earth Day on April 22, the PAO hosted an
Earth Day reception in honor of Dr. Ekwurzel. With nearly 70
attendees PD Damascus highlighted American concern for the
environment, as well as environmental conservation to a receptive
audience. The event provided the Embassy with an important platform
to mingle with contacts from both the private and public sectors,
and to make new connections with key civil society institutions,
universities, and students.

-------------------------------------------
Connecting with Students and Future Leaders
-------------------------------------------

4. [U] Dr. Ekwurzel spoke with two school groups during her time in
Syria: 115 middle school students and teachers at the Damascus
Community School (the "American School" in Damascus) on April 22 and
120 high school students at the ICARDA International School of
Aleppo on April 23.

5. [U] Following on this youth theme, Dr. Ekwurzel enjoyed a lunch
in Damascus on April 22 and a dinner in Aleppo on April 23 with
young USG exchange grantees, both alumni from the YES and PLUS
programs and upcoming participants in Fulbright programs.

--------------------------
Connecting with Scientists
--------------------------

6. [SBU] In Damascus, Dr. Ekwurzel participated in two informal
roundtable discussions. The first on April 21 took place at the
Orient Center for Studies, the only quasi-independent think tank in
Syria. The debate among the 12 participants focused on the
environment and ways in which new technologies and human behaviors
could positively impact the environment. The second took place on
April 22 in partnership with the Netherlands Institute for Academic
Studies in Damascus (NIASD) and included water resource experts
working in academia and civil society. (Note: due to the nature of
U.S.-Syrian relations, professors were more willing to attend an
event at NIASD than the American Cultural Center. End Note.)

7. [SBU] Dr. Ekwurzel spent all of April 24 at the research
facility run by the International Center for Agricultural Research
in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) near Aleppo. She toured the research
center and spoke both formally and informally with ICARDA scientists
-- Syrians and foreigners. Dr. Ekwurzel's formal seminar on "Water
and Food Resources: Coping with Climate Change in Arid Lands" drew
an audience of 30 scientists from ICARDA and nearby Aleppo
University. Dr. Ekwurzel's day at ICARDA contributed to and
sustained the positive, cooperative relationship between the U.S.
Embassy and ICARDA, which is the only international organization
headquartered in Syria. ICARDA is a vehicle by which PD Damascus
can engage with university professors who otherwise shy away from
contact with the American Embassy.

-------------------------
Connecting with the Press
-------------------------

8. [U] On April 20, Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel spoke to a press roundtable
with representatives from private weekly and monthly magazines
focused on economic and environmental issues. Ekwurzel's engagement
with the press resulted in excellent coverage of environmental
issues in Syria, as well as U.S. efforts to support the environment
here. Privately owned Suria al-Ghad FM radio station aired an
interview with her on April 29. The widely-read economic journal
"Boursat w'Aswak" ran a full-page story on Dr. Ekwurzel's visit in
its April 27 edition. A short article entitled "Caring about
Drinking Water Starts from the Sanctuary of Wells" was published in
the private, semi-independent daily Al-Watan on April 22. It quoted
Dr. Ekwurzel on the need for governmental and non-governmental
organizations to cooperate with each other and with the private
sector to reduce pollution. "Al-Baladiyaat wal Bii'a" ran a story
on Dr. Erkwurzel's visit in its July 1 issue, entitled "We Are all
Concerned".

9. [SBU] COMMENT: Despite real obstacles to working with civil
society, youth, and academia in Syria, Post used Dr. Ekwurzel's
visit and common concern for the environment to forge connections
with all three groups. Environmentalism will continue to be a theme
for PD programming and Post hopes to invite Dr. Ekwurzel back to
Syria to celebrate Earth Day 2009.

CORBIN

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