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Cablegate: Why France Claims Syria Helped Convince Iran To

VZCZCXRO0670
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL
DE RUEHFR #1162/01 2371540
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 251540Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7029
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 001162

SIPDIS
NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL FR
SUBJECT: WHY FRANCE CLAIMS SYRIA HELPED CONVINCE IRAN TO
FREE FRENCH PRISONER

REF: A. PARIS POINT AUGUST 18 2009
B. PARIS 1097

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathleen H. Allegrone, for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Despite their proactive media blitz
proclaiming Syria's "important" role in persuading Iran to
release French citizen Clotilde Reiss from prison, French
officials admit in private they do not know what Syrian
President Assad, or his government, actually did. The French
have deliberately publicized Assad's role in order to
encourage Assad to play a more constructive intermediary role
in the region, and to sew seeds of discord between Syria and
Iran. This French media effort also aims to validate
Sarkozy's policy of early engagement with Syria. In
addition, French officials provided a few more words of
advice on handling the American hostages in Iran, and
described the compromises they made to secure Reiss's
release. END SUMMARY.

SYRIAN ROLE: THE SPIN
---------------------

2. (SBU) Since August 11, when a French Presidency press
release first singled out Syria for appreciation, French
government officials, journalists, and academics have
pondered the "important" and "influential" role Syria played
as "mediator" between France and Iran in the conflict
surrounding the July 1 arrest by Iranian security officers of
French citizen Clotilde Reiss (see ref 1). U.S. mainstream
media have followed suit. Time magazine published a story on
August 17 that quoted a French diplomat (who wished to remain
anonymous) describing Syrian President Assad's advocacy as
vindication of President Sarkozy's 2008 outreach to Syria,
viewed at the time as premature and unmerited by many critics
at home and abroad. "There's some genuine (Syrian) gratitude
at work right now," proclaimed the unnamed diplomat.

SYRIAN ACTIONS: THE JURY IS STILL OUT
-------------------------------------

3. (S/NF) How did Assad's purported gratitude manifest
itself in this sensitive issue? Despite their laudatory
pronouncements, French officials claim to have only a vague
notion of what the Syrians actually did. President Sarkozy's
Strategic Affairs Advisor Franois Richier told Political
Minister Counselor on August 11, and again on August 19, that
when the French released their statement, thanking the
Syrians, they did not know what message the Syrians might
have sent to Iran, nor by what channels. MFA Syria Desk
Officer Patrick Durel on August 18 confirmed that President
Sarkozy called Syrian President Assad August 5 to ask for his
assistance in persuading the Iranians to release Clotilde
Reiss from prison. Assad agreed to raise the matter with the
Iranians, and shortly thereafter he told Sarkozy that he had
placed a call to Tehran. Assad did not, however, name his
interlocutor or interlocutors. "I'm doing what I can to
help" was the message he sent to Paris, Durel explained.

NEW PUBLIC POSTURE FROM ASSAD?
------------------------------

4. (S/NF) Richier and Durel suggested that the GOF has
sought to exaggerate the Syrian role deliberately, in order
to demonstrate to Syria the praise they might win for playing
a constructive role in the region, and in order to create
tension between Syria and Iran. And the French believe they
have succeeded on both fronts. As a sign that Syrians
welcomed the praise they received for playing a helpful part
in Reiss's release, Durel cited the absence of a public
denial by Assad. In the past, Assad disavowed such activity.
Durel explained, for instance, that Assad had agreed in
private during July of 2008 to pass a message from Paris to
Tehran about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program, but
he publicly denied having done so, declaring he did not want
to play the role of intermediary. Moreover, according to
Richier, the French believe their reference to Syrian
intervention has sewn some discomfort among the Iranians,
whom the French hear from various sources want them to "stop
this stupid Syria business." In advance of Assad's August 19
visit to Tehran, the French continued to tout Syria's role
and encouraged him to raise the issue of Clotilde Reiss's
still-pending court case.

ADVICE ON U.S. HOSTAGES IN IRAN
-------------------------------

5. (S/NF) Both Richier and MFA Middle East DAS Ludovic

PARIS 00001162 002 OF 002


Pouille told us that other countries also sent messages to
and applied pressure on the Iranians -- most notably, EU
member states, Qatar and Turkey. It is unclear if Reiss
would have been freed without such interventions, Pouille
commented. Richier made the same point, noting that public
and private messages helped shame and embarrass the Iranian
regime. He also argued that the French success in painting
Reiss as simply a young student/teacher with a keen interest
in and love of Iran proved a key to their success.

FRENCH MAKE COMPROMISES TO SECURE RELEASE OF REISS
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (S/NF) Now that Reiss is at the French Embassy in Tehran,
the GOF plans to decrease their public pronouncements about
her, according to Richier. In the discussions with the
Iranians on her release, the French made some concessions to
Iranian demands, but stayed firm on certain principles.
Richier said they agreed to pay of bail and to comply with an
anticipated court order for Reiss to appear at subsequent
judicial hearings. They also elected not to contest Reiss's
court-appointed lawyer, but rather to accept him and use him
to carry messages. On the other hand, they rejected all
attempts at blackmail or negotiation. Richier confirmed that
the Iranians did at one point raise the issue of Iranian
national, Majid Kakavan, to suggest a trade, but the French
refused. (NOTE: Majid Kakavand is an Iranian national whom
the French arrested March 20 at Charles de Gaulle airport on
the behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice on proliferation
issues (see reftel 2). END NOTE.)
RIVKIN

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