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Cablegate: Seeking a Programming Surge in Syria

VZCZCXYZ0005
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0825/01 3291428
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADX0E09D81 MSI5715 611)
P 251428Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7067
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN PRIORITY 7704
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT PRIORITY 5221
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0798
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0754
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV PRIORITY 2469
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM PRIORITY 1752

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000825

SIPDIS
SENSATIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/PPD, R, ECA, IIP
LONDON FOR LORD, PARIS FOR NOBLES

*************C O R R E C T E D COPY***************

CLASSIFICATION CHANGE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OEXC SOCI PREL PGOV SCUL SY
SUBJECT: SEEKING A PROGRAMMING SURGE IN SYRIA

1. SUMMARY: After nearly five years of significantly
constrained public outreach options, Embassy Damascus is
focused on exploiting new opportunities to engage in more
sustained public diplomacy programmatic activity. With a
finite number of tools at our disposal, we hope to expand our
ability to reach average Syrians. Post proposes a series of
public diplomacy initiatives centering on the critical themes
that the Secretary identified in her November 2 speech in
Marrakesh: job creation/employment; technology and scientific
research and education and exchanges. We will need both
policy guidance and program/budget support from the
Department to make our vision materialize. End Summary.

--------------------
Opportunity Knocks
--------------------

2. (SBU) Since the White House's June 23, 2009 announcement
of its decision to return an ambassador to Damascus, Syrian
organizations have approached Embassy Damascus to express
interest in partnering with the Embassy. This interest has
come from a variety of organizations including those
previously resistant to our efforts to cultivate contacts
over the last half decade. This interest provides a new
opportunity to work with government-approved institutions
with which we have had little contact in five years, and to
present an alternative images of the U.S. promulgated by the
Syrian media. Recent openings include: cooperating with the
Ministry of Higher Education and private universities;
cooperating with AAMAL, the First Lady's premier organization
for disabled children; working with SHEBAB, a quasi-NGO that
seeks to prepare young Syrians for private sector employment;
supporting Massar, which is creating a network of interactive
children's museums all over Syria; and working with BESMA,
the children's cancer organization which is training a new
generation of nurses and doctors in this critical field. In
addition to these organizations, there is a steady drumbeat
for more American culture in Syria. 60 percent of Syria's
population is under 25 and over 57 percent of that population
is believed to be unemployed or underemployed, with few
prospects or options for entertainment or employment. In
light of these staggering statistics, the recently concluded
OIG inspection recommended a cultural surge for Damascus. To
fulfill this recommendation, we will depend on the Department
to share as many youth-focused cultural programs with us as
possible -- even if they are only for short periods.

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Embassy Damascus Answers
-----------------------------

3. (SBU) Fulbright programs remain the most responsive tool
currently at our disposal. There is now a strong desire from
Damascus University and other private universities to
cooperate with Fulbright, especially in critical fields like
higher education management, business, marketing and
management. We are already utilizing the Fulbright Visiting
Specialist program as a way to bring American expertise to
organizations that desperately need and want it. AAMAL is
chaired personally by the First Lady, and she has issued a
clear mandate to develop a relationship with the U.S. Embassy
to improve the quality and methods of teaching and training
the disabled. AAMAL's board approved cooperation with the
Fulbright Specialist program and would like as many as five
during FY10 (post is limited to five specialists per FY);
AAMAL is anxious to affiliate a Fulbright Scholar, as well.
We are also looking for ways to use the Fulbright Specialist
Program and the IVLP to support SHEBAB, Massar and BESMA.
Each of these "private" organizations represents real
opportunities for the U.S. to influence key institutions in
critical fields of education and entrepreneurship.

Other projects planned for FY10 include:

-- Hosting an information technology delegation organized by
S/P to Damascus to probe interest in explaining the loosening
of U.S. restrictions on telecoms and perhaps to explore the
possiblity of private-sector investment to establish a
computer training center in Syria. IT sanctions are a major
source of frustration inside Syria, and it would help our
policy and PD outreach efforts to demonstrate a tangible
benefit of Washington's decision to ease restrictions in the
IT area.
-- In the cultural exchanges domain, Embassy Damascus plans
to build on its previous support for two major programs:
raising awareness on environmental issues and sustainable
urban development. We hope to organize a conference around
these and other issues in the spring of 2010. Given that
more than 25% of Syria's economy is based on agriculture and
a severe drought has caused massive rural to urban
outmigration we believe there is an important nexus between
agriculture, agri-business, the environment and sustainable
urban development.

-- Post will again silently fund the Tanenbaum Foundation's
participation in an interfaith dialogue forum in the second
quarter of this year.

-- Embassy participation in the 2010 DOX BOX film festival to
be held in March, 2010. We hope to contribute by bringing
Jewish-American filmaker Frederick Wiseman (per the
conference organizer's request) to screen several of his
films, participate in Q&A sessions, and conduct master
classes with Syrian filmakers. We would also like to obtain
the screening rights to the Wiseman films that will be shown,
donate the Wiseman DVDs and rights to DOX BOX, and pay for
the translation and subtitling of the films. We also want to
screen Harlan County, USA and other American films.

-- For the first time ever, the organizers of the Saint Elian
Cultural Festival in Homs requested Embassy participation in
their March 2010 festival. Post will request an American
classical musician for performances and master classes at the
university in Homs.

-- Post would also like to bring a break dancing troupe to
Syria for a series of youth-specific engagements all over the
country.

-- Post would like to undertake a series of SCPs during FY10
to support several of the above organizations in creating
long-term institutional linkages in the U.S.

---------
Helping Us Over the Hurdles
--------

4. (SBU) Post needs Washington's help in overcoming several
challenges to translating our vision into reality:

-- Sanctions policy: Multiple layers of U.S. sanctions apply
to U.S activities. In particular, we need explicit guidance
on whether a waiver will be required for post to fully
support the DOX BOX film festival.

-- Limitations of current program options: Universities and
other organizations are anxious to see us bring U.S. experts
to Syria, but we do not have a program into which we can tap
now to provide long-term academic/professional expertise in
several of the critical fields detailed above. We are
coordinating closely with ECA on changes to the Fulbright
solicitation for FY11, and we are drawing heavily upon the
Fulbright Specialist program. But we remain limited to five
specialists per FY. Post must underwrite the cost of their
per diem and accommodations here, and the time frame is often
not long enough for some organizations to build meaningful
partnerships. Post would be extremely grateful if the
Department could identify a stop-gap program to help us meet
the needs of local institutions until Fulbright can re-take
center stage in Syria.

-- Funding: As noted above, post would like to create SCPs -
at least three - for key partner institutions. We request
additional IVLP funding to do so and we may also require
budget support for other elements of our initiatives.


5. (SBU) COMMENT: Post is eager to implement the priorities
outlined by the Secretary in her November 2 speech in
Marrakesh. The thawing of bilateral relations is enabling
the Embassy to rebuild relations after a five year freeze.
We have a rare opportunity to re-connect with some 20 million
Syrians and have a number of different ways in which we can
do so. Post appreciates Department support for its
activities, and hopes assistance and guidance will be
forthcoming to launch a programming surge in Syria.
HUNTER

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