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Cablegate: Worried at the Iranian Embassy? Diplomats Report

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0100/01 0340935
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 030935Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7310
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 000100

SIPDIS

LONDON FOR MILLER, PARIS FOR NOBLES

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/2020
TAGS: PTER PREL PGOV SY IR
SUBJECT: WORRIED AT THE IRANIAN EMBASSY? DIPLOMATS REPORT
CONCERN OVER SARG-US ENGAGEMENT

REF: A. 09 DAMASCUS 880
B. 09 DAMASCUS 884
C. DAMASCUS 41

Classified By: CDA Charles Hunter For Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Syria-based diplomats report that the Iranian
Embassy in Damascus is concerned about the SARG's increased
engagement with the United States and moderate regional
states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. After three American
delegations met with President Bashar al-Asad and visiting
American delegations, our contacts said generally
tight-lipped diplomats stationed at the Iranian Embassy had
expressed displeasure over the increasing frequency of USG
visits to Damascus while warning their diplomatic
counterparts the U.S. was attempting to divide Iran from its
Syrian allies. Arab diplomats also provided us additional
details regarding conversations between Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and SARG officials during his
January 11 visit to Syria that highlight potential policy
differences between Tehran and Damascus. END SUMMARY.

IRANIAN CONCERN ABOUT AMERICAN ENGAGEMENT

2. (C) Following a string of visits by Iranian officials to
Damascus the past two months, Arab diplomats told us the
Iranian visits reflected growing insecurity in Tehran over
whether Syria's engagement with moderate states like Turkey
and Saudi Arabia would reduce Iran's influence with the SARG
(reftels). Diplomats at a range of regional embassies agreed
that continued U.S.-SARG engagement threatened Iranian
interests in Syria, and the Tehran regime was reacting with
displeasure. "The Iranians are watching closely to see if
America is making a move on its relations with Syria,"
Algerian DCM Amor Fritah said.

3. (C) After three meetings took place in three weeks between
American delegations (Codel Gregg, Codel Hastings, and SEMEP
Mitchell) and President Asad from late December to
mid-January, Iranian diplomats stationed in Damascus have
expressed concern over the increasing frequency of USG visits
to Damascus, according to our contacts. Turkish First
Secretary Ali Bozcaliskan said the Iranian ambassador visited
the Turkish Embassy on January 24 and complained that "the
Americans are trying to divide us in the region - the
Iranians, Syrians, and Turks." The Iranian ambassador
reportedly urged a joint Turkish-Iranian-Syrian position on
regional issues, which the Turkish ambassador politely
declined. "We are not interested in regional groupings right
now; we are interested more in developing better bilateral
relations between different countries," Bozcaliskan explained.

4. (C) Calling the Iranian reaction a logical response to
SARG engagement with the U.S., Arab diplomats at several
missions subsequently confirmed reports that working-level
Iranian diplomats in Damascus were unhappy with the prospects
of better SARG-U.S. relations. Emirati and Kuwaiti diplomats
related that while their embassies do not maintain close
contact with the Iranian embassy, Syrian friends of Iranian
diplomats had repeated statements reportedly made by the
Iranians warning of "American intervention" in the
Syrian-Iranian relationship.

5. (C) Emirati DCM Khalifa Abdul Rahman al-Marzouqi said Arab
diplomats had been asked by their Iranian counterparts
whether American visitors raised the Iranian-Syrian
relationship during their meetings with Syrian officials.
Abdul Rahman noted, however, that the Iranian embassy is
"closed and difficult to communicate with." Arab diplomats
said they hoped to use the large celebration next week
commemorating the anniversary of the Iranian revolution to
learn more about Iranians' views on the current state of
Syrian-Iranian relations.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS REGARDING MOTTAKI VISIT

6. (C) Jordanian First Secretary Hisham Saadoun and Second
Secretary Sinaan al-Majali told us February 3 that Syrian
contacts reported tension between Iranian Foreign Minister
Mottaki's delegation and their Syrian hosts during Mottaki's
January 11 visit to Damascus (ref. C). The Jordanian
diplomats said the Syrians had "frankly" raised concerns they
had with Tehran's policies in the Arab world. "There is a
bit of a gulf between them these days," Majali opined.

7. (C) The Syrians reportedly complained about Tehran's
support for dissident Shi'a groups in the eastern province of
Saudi Arabia, stating that such actions made it difficult for
Damascus to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran. The Syrians
also allegedly objected directly to Tehran's stance on the

Houthi rebellion in Yemen and reiterated Damascus' support
for the Yemeni government. Finally, Syrian contacts told
their Jordanian counterparts SARG officials expressed concern
to Mottaki about Iran's agenda in Iraq. "They complained
about Iran's lack of transparency about what they are doing
in Iraq," Majali related. The Jordanian diplomats concluded
the reports provide more evidence that there are potential
cracks developing in the Damascus-Tehran alliance.

8. (C) COMMENT: It is not surprising that Iranian diplomats
would react negatively to increased U.S. engagement with the
SARG or interpret it as an American effort to divide Iran
from its main ally in the region. In light of these
perceptions and the reported disagreements between Tehran and
Damascus on issues such as Yemen and Iraq, Iran may be warily
monitoring Syria's engagement with moderate players in the
region for any further evidence to bear out its suspicions.
After more than 30 years of close relations between the two
regimes, it remains unlikely in the near term Syria will
forsake its relations with Iran. But as Damascus seeks
additional strategic options through warming relations with
neighbors like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, U.S.-Syrian
engagement may only add to Iranian concerns that additional
options for Damascus may mean a lessening of the latter's
reliance on Tehran. END COMMENT.

HUNTER

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