C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 005448
NSC FOR MARCHESE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/21/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, SY
SUBJECT: SENATORS DODD AND KERRY DISCUSS REGIONAL ISSUES
WITH FM MU'ALLIM
Classified By: CDA William Roebuck for reasons 1.4 b/d
(C) Summary. Senators Kerry and Dodd told FM Walid
Mu'allim that the time was ripe for strong unilateral action
by the SARG if it truly wanted to be part of the solution for
regional crisis in Lebanon, Iraq, and among the Palestinians.
Mu'allim commented that the SARG would pursue security and
economic cooperation with Iraq, as well support Iraq's
political process because it was in Syria,s national
interest to do so. Mu'allim asked that the U.S. work to
bring Hamas into the peace process instead of pushing it
away. On Lebanon, Mu'allim affirmed that the SARG would
support work towards a compromise to the current crisis but
that the SARG would continue to guard its prerogatives there
jealously. End Summary.
(C) On December 21, Senator Christopher Dodd and Senator
John Kerry met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mu'allim,
following the Senators, much longer meeting with President
Asad (septel). The Senators' 50-minute conversation with
Mu'allim focused primarily on Iraq, although both Lebanon and
the Palestinian ) Israeli conflict were also discussed.
Mu'allim was warm, welcoming, and obviously desirous of
establishing a rapport with his guests. Mu'allim listed
Syria,s foreign policy priorities as: concluding a peace
agreement with Israel that returns the Golan completely to
Syria; stability ) implying both internal and regional
stability; and economic prosperity. Mu'allim claimed that
Syria,s objectives were not opposed to U.S. goals in the
region. He also insisted, however, that the U.S.
Administration believed pressure and isolation worked with
the SARG, while in reality it only freed the hand of the most
hard-line elements within the regime.
(C) Mu'allim commented that his recent trip to Iraq
(November 19-21) succeeded in initiating security
cooperation. A joint security agreement was subsequently
signed during the visit to Damascus of Iraq's Interior
Minister, which Mu'allim said would now be implemented. The
Syrian FM commented that economic cooperation would begin in
earnest in the coming weeks. Mu'allim said opening an
embassy in Iraq was important since it would put Syria in a
position to support the Iraqi political process and allow it
to act as a counter weight to Iran's 100-diplomat embassy
there. He commented that the SARG supports the "one million"
Iraqi Baathists, viewing them as fellow secular, Pan-Arabists
and that it regards the successful integration of the
Baathists into the political process as critical to any
negotiated solution to stop the escalating violence.
(C) Mu'allim said that the SARG has had a long dialogue
with the Iranians on Iraq. In the beginning, the Iranians
were intent on dismantling Iraq and still would like to keep
the country weak, according to Mu'allim. He admitted to
being somewhat "nervous" about Iran's goals in Iraq, but
commented that Iran could play a very important role in
stabilizing the situation in Iraq if Iran's security concerns
could be satisfactorily answered. As an example, Mu'allim
said Abdel Aziz Hakim has strong relations with Iran and the
largest militia, which he cannot finance on his own. Moqtada
Al-Sadr on the other hand, has no relations with Iran,
according to Mu'allim. (Note: People linked to the Asad
regime have told us privately that the SARG's influence with
Sadr is one of the ways the Syrian regime could help in Iraq.
How much of this is posturing is uncertain, but we do know
Sadr has a liaison office in Damascus and came to the Syrian
capital for an extended visit earlier this year. End note.)
(C) Mu'allim said the USG must make a public commitment
to withdraw from Iraq for the situation there to improve.
The timetable was not important-)five even ten years--and
should be decided between the USG and the GOI, commented
Mu'allim. A public commitment to withdrawal would deprive
the insurgency of its key rallying cry--combating the
"occupation"-)and allow the moderate Islamists to enter the
political process, according to Mu'allim. As it is, Mu'allim
said, al-Qaida's presence in Iraq has spread and is more
dangerous now than ever before.
(C) Turning to Lebanon, Mu'allim commented that if the
U.S. wants stability in Lebanon it must not destabilize
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Syria. Mu'allim said the essential issue in Lebanon is the
Hariri tribunal and whether the process would be political or
criminal, commenting that the SARG believes there are those
that want to use the tribunal as a tool against Syria.
Mu'allim asserted that the SARG would be willing to help with
stability--he had personally assured Amr Moussa that the SARG
would support the Arab League's effort to find a compromise
to the current crisis, adding that Syria would not
"interfere." He commented that Syria was happy its troops
were out of Lebanon, and the regime would be unwilling to
return military forces to the country.
(C) Mu'allim denied media reports that Syria had deployed
troops and missiles along its border with Israel, but
commented that the SARG takes very seriously the potential
for direct conflict with Israel. Mu'allim said that any time
there is a weak government in Israel, as he judged Olmert's
government to be, the chances of war increased as a result of
Israeli insecurities that sometimes provoked rash military
initiatives. Mu'allim advised against &cornering8 the
Hamas leadership, instead urging that co-opting Hamas holds
much more promise. Mu'allim commented that Hamas had already
made significant progress in moderating its stance since
taking political power: agreeing to a cease fire,
demonstrating willingness to pursue a national unity
government, and publicizing Khalid Misha,al,s statement
recognizing the ,67 borders, thus implicitly accepting
Israel's right to exist. For its part, Mu'allim said, the
SARG had worked with Qatar for the last two months to try to
encourage the formation of a Palestinian national unity
government and had pushed Hamas to make concessions in that
regard. Mu'allim added that he had called Khalid Misha'al
himself from Moscow on December 18 to warn against allowing
any further street violence.
(U) The CODEL cleared this cable.