Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DAMASCUS:Viewing cable 09DAMASCUS195,

DE RUEHDM #0195/01 0740419
O 150419Z MAR 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/12/2029 TAGS: PREL PTER IR IS SY

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Classified By: CDA Maura Connelly for reasons 1.4 b, d. 

¶1. (S/NF) Summary: Providing a lengthy review of Syria's 30-year relations with Iran, Muallim denied Syria,s dependence on Iran and said Damascus maintained relations with Tehran because it promoted Syrian interests in resisting Israeli occupation, among other objectives. Syria had decided to attend Annapolis and conduct indirect peace talks with Israel based on its own interests, despite Iranian objections. 

On Iran's nuclear program, Muallim said he had advised FM Solana to drop the Five-plus-One group's three-tier demands on Iran to suspend enrichment activities. Instead, the West needed to recognize Iran,s rights under the NPT to conduct civilian nuclear activities. Feltman and Shapiro argued there was a lack of trust about Iran,s intentions. The U.S. policy review on Iran was ongoing, but the U.S. had offered to invite Iran to an Afghanistan security conference. Muallim replied this was a positive step and hoped the U.S. would engage Iran directly. Muallim recapped his meetings with Saudi King Abdullah and Saudi FM Saud al-Faisal, noting Syria had agreed it was best for Qatar not to invite an Iranian representative to this year's Arab League Summit. End Summary

 ¶2. (S/NF) Acting NEA A/S Jeffrey Feltman and NSC Senior Director for the Near East and North Africa Dan Shapiro met for three-and-a-half hours on March 7 with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallim, Vice FM Faisal Miqdad, and Presidential Advisor for Political and Media Affairs Bouthaina Shaaban. Feltman's delegation was accompanied by Charge and Pol/Econ Chief (notetaker.) Feltman and Shapiro's central message was that the U.S. administration was pursuing sustained and principled engagement with Syria and other countries as a matter of policy. The President and Secretary did not view engagement as a reward, but rather as a tool for achieving concrete objectives. This cable reports on the parts of the discussion that dealt with Syria's relationship with Iran. It should be read in conjunction with septels on discussions regarding Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestinian issues, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace issues, and Embassy Damascus operations.

Syrian Interests in Relations with Iran 

¶3. (S/NF) Summing up a lengthy presentation on Syria's 30-year relationship with Iran, Muallim asserted Syria's position was motivated by Israel's occupation of Arab land. He denied Syria,s dependence on Iran and said Damascus maintained relations with Tehran because it promoted Syrian interests that included economic ties, a large number of Iranian tourists traveling to Syria, and cultural ties. As proof of Syria's free hand, Muallim argued Syria had decided to attend Annapolis and conduct indirect peace talks with Israel based on its own interests, despite Iranian objections. "Syria is not in the pocket of anybody, even the U.S.," Muallim stated. 

Engaging Iran: Syrian and U.S. Perspectives -------------------------------------------- 

¶4. (S/NF) At the request of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Syria had discussed Iran's nuclear program with Tehran, according to Muallim. Muallim stipulated Syria opposed nuclear weapons by any country in the region, as evinced by Syria's 2003 nuclear free zone proposal to the UN Security Council. However, as President Asad and Muallim had told EU Commissioner Solana during his February 25 visit to Damascus, Syria viewed the Five-plus-One approach to Iran's nuclear file as fundamentally flawed. Iran lacked confidence in the good will of Western nations and saw the process as deeply politicized against it. Syria's advice was that the West needed to recognize Iran's right as an NPT signatory to pursue a civilian nuclear program; calling on Iran to suspend its enrichment activities as a precondition to negotiating with it violated that principle. If Western countries were willing to drop this pre-condition and recognize Iran's NPT rights, then Iran might be persuaded to address concerns 

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about the need for greater transparency. This discussion needed to take place under the auspices of the IAEA, rather than in the UN Security Council under the threat of sanctions, Muallim argued. 

¶5. (S/NF) Feltman replied there was a lack of confidence among various countries concerning Iran's intentions and Iran had a long way to go before it could rebuild the trust it had lost. The IAEA had issued a number of damning reports pointing out inconsistencies in Iran's nuclear program. Iranian leaders continued to disseminate inflammatory rhetoric against Israel and even other Arab nations. Feltman explained the U.S. was currently conducting a comprehensive review of its Iran policy and whether and under what conditions engaging Tehran might be possible. The U.S. had recently decided to invite the Iranians to participate in an Afghanistan security conference, for example, but it was unclear how Iranians would react to U.S. efforts to engage. It would be necessary for Iran to take positive steps, as well, argued Feltman. Iran's failure to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions, such as UNSCR 1747 in the case of the Monchegorsk, did not portend well for Iran's behavior. 

¶6. (S/NF) Muallim said that a U.S. decision to engage Iran was a positive sign, while noting Tehran's reaction thus far had been negative. He encouraged the U.S. to continue these efforts nevertheless. Regarding the Monchegorsk, Muallim claimed the issue had been clouded because of differences in interpretation regarding whether UNSCR 1747 applied to all Iranian shipments or only to nuclear-related ones. As of that moment, the Monchegorsk was a Russian ship under a Cypriot flag carrying small arms. It had been unloaded and its contents were now in storage under Cypriot custody. Launching into one of the few tirades of the morning session, Muallim argued the ship would not arrive in Syria. Why, Muallim asked, unable to contain himself, did the U.S. want Syria to negotiate with Israel from a state of "perpetual weakness." "What about the illegal (sic) weapons the U.S. supplied to Israel" he charged, referring to white phosphorus "Who attacked whom three times last year?" Muallim asked. This level of concern about a single ship seemed steeply disproportionate to the fact it was delivering small arms to Syria. What about U.S. shipments to Israel, some of which may be been used to commit crimes against humanity? he asked. 

Arab Concerns about Iranian Intentions 

¶7. (S/NF) Feltman replied that he was not using this meeting to make any accusations against Syria, but the broader issue was how to deal with Iran. Shapiro added that Iran was the only country that could violate UNSCR 1747. Muallim argued that U.S. policy to isolate Iran had actually increased Iran's regional influence. Syria recognized Iran's legitimate interests and influence that extended between southwest Asia to the Arabian/Persian Gulf. At the same, Syria had sought to assure Arab countries of Iranian good will and vice versa. Muallim recounted how former Syrian President Hafez al-Asad had intervened diplomatically when Iranian troops threatened to occupy Basra during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s. Likewise, when Tehran recently issued provocative rhetoric against Bahrain (claiming the country was a province of Iran), President Asad had called Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa to reassure him of Arab support against any threats against Bahraini sovereignty. Syria's influence had helped to convince Iran to retract its statement. 

¶8. (S/NF) Currently, Syria was working to assure Arab regimes of Iran,s desire for cooperation and to convince Iran of Arab good will and vice versa, Muallim said. He discounted Arab fear of Iran as "irrational" and ascribed it to the previous U.S. administration's policies. Muallim replied he had heard UAE concerns about Iranian plots to invade and sought to assure Gulf and other Arab states that Syria wanted the upcoming AL Summit to succeed. Muallim 

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said he had talked to his Saudi and Egyptian counterparts as well and had agreed to exclude any Iranian presence at the Doha conference. 9. (SBU) Acting NEA A/S Feltman and NSC NENA Senior Director Shapiro cleared this cable. CONNELLY