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Cablegate: Iip Speaker Derek Shearer Engages Syrian Audiences On U.S.

VZCZCXYZ0002
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0510 1980440
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 160440Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5190
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 7368
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 4964

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000510

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/PPD, IIP/SDIS, IIP/NEA-SCA, R
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO SY XF OEXC SCUL
SUBJECT: IIP SPEAKER DEREK SHEARER ENGAGES SYRIAN AUDIENCES ON U.S.
ELECTIONS

1. (U)SUMMARY. IIP speaker and former U.S. Ambassador Derek
Shearer engaged diverse sectors of Syrians including university
students, human rights, business, and media audiences during his May
26-29 visit. Shearer shared an political insider's view of how the
U.S. elections process works and provided various audiences with
capitivating vignettes about all three candidates, their inner
circles, and their key policy positions. Shearer underscored that a
new administration would assess its policies vis-`-vis Syria based
on Syria's actions now, not on what the SARG might do after the new
president was innaugurated. Shearer's briefings were well-received
and attracted wide media interest from new venues that exposed even
more Syrians to Sheerer's explantion of American democracy and his
assessment of the key factors that will likely determine this year's
election winner END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs at
Senator Barak Obama's alma mater Occidental College in Los Angeles,
Derek Shearer also serves as Occidental's Director of Global
Affairs. A former U.S. Ambassador to Finland in the Clinton
Administration, Shearer ably drew upon his extensive knowledge--as a
university professor, former diplomat, and expert in party
politics--to explain the U.S. elections process to Syrians.

3. (U) For the first time in three years, the Dean of Damascus
University's Faculty of Political Sciences agreed to host an ACC
speaker in a lecture to more than fifty graduate students and
faculty in the Political Science Department of Damascus University,
perhaps one of the last bastions of Baathist ideology. Student
questions were sophisticated and focused on how a new administration
would change U.S. Middle East policy. Shearer skillfully addressed
comments regarding U.S. policy bias toward Israel and highlighted a
report prepared by his Oxy students, which gave detailed
recommendations for the next administration on how best to restore
America's image abroad. The report left the Syrian students with a
model of pro-active, American-style academic collaboration.

4. (SBU) A quiet lunch at the Charge's residence offered a chance
for human rights and democracy activists to discuss American
politics with Shearer. Many of the activists underscored their
support of Bush Administration policies favoring democratic change
in the region. Overwhelmingly, the attendees wanted the next
president to continue the Bush Administration's strong stance on
human rights and democracy in Syria. Shearer was able to put the
issues of promoting democracy and human rights into the broader
context of campaign politics, which he distinguished from the more
complicated arena of Executive-Congressional-Judicial process of
governmening after the elections. Participants benifitted from
Shearer's insights into long-standing trends favoring democracy
promotion, regardless of campaign rhetoric.

5. (U) PAS Damascus also used Shearer's visit to shore up
relationships with traditional contacts like the Syrian Young
Entrepreneurs Association and the Orient Center, Damascus' lone
think tank. Inquiries focused on whether a new Democratic
administration would favor engagement over isolation of Syria.
Calibrating his analysis to these well-informed audiences, Shearer
explained the intricacies of policy formation that would likely
impact upon future executive branch decisions regarding relations
with Syria. Armed with these insights, some of the participants
have since used their positions to recommend positive steps prior to
the elections to lay the groundwork for better relations with the
next adminstration.

6. (U) MEDIA COVERAGE: Shearer addressed the editorial board at
al-Watan, the only semi-independent and privately owned daily in
Syria. The on-the-record session was lively and amicable and
resulted in front page coverage of the U.S. elections process:
"Former U.S. Ambassador Derek Shearer Visits Al-Watan Newspaper:
Syrian-Israeli Peace Negotiations Must be Boosted." The article
focused on comments Shearer made about the current U.S.
Administration supporting Syrian-Israeli peace talks so as to reach
a settlement before the expiration of the Bush Administration.

8. (U) The "Sada Soria" website published on May 27, 2008, an
article about Shearer's lecture at the Syrian Public Relations
Association in which he reiterated the importance of public
relations in international relations. An interview with private
al-Donia TV has not yet been not aired.

9. (U) COMMENT. Whether meeting journalists or lecturing in a
public venue, Shearer fed and expanded the Syrian interest in the
upcoming U.S. election. He exploited opportunities to urge Syrians
to highlight positive aspects of the bilateral relationship in the
run-up to the election and after. Embassy Damascus will continue to
use this interest as a platform to engage Syrians on elections and
democracy in a free and open society. END COMMENT.

CORBIN

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