INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Syria's Damascus Declaration Group Plans to Go More Public

Published: Wed 11 Oct 2006 04:12 PM
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RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 004877
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PARIS FOR WALLER, LONDON FOR TSOU
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2016
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SY
SUBJECT: SYRIA'S DAMASCUS DECLARATION GROUP PLANS TO GO MORE PUBLIC
REF: A. DAMASCUS 4482
B. DAMASCUS 4797
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Michael H. Corbin for reasons 1.4 b/d
1. (C) Summary: Damascus Declaration leader XXXXXXXXXXXX said
in an October 3 meeting with A/DCM that the Damascus
Declaration group turns a year old this month and plans to
expand its activities from internal group organizing to
public outreach. The group is still waiting for a response
about expanded Kurdish participation, and it is planning to
discuss an offer for a possible coalition with the exiled
National Salvation Front, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. EU re-engagement
efforts could represent a positive development, if, as the
Germans are proposing, each step in the re-engagement process
is conditioned to a SARG response, such as expanded rights to
free speech and the release of political prisoners. XXXXXXXXXXXX
expressed a belief voiced by other Syrian government critics
that the UNIIIC investigation represents the best chance for
change in the Syrian regime, and expressed wishful thinking
about the possibility of an internal coup if the next report
provides evidence of SARG complicity in the assassination of
former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. XXXXXXXXXXXX's comments are
optimistic, particularly about the group's public profile in
Syria, but to his credit, he is still functioning after a
year. End Summary.
2. (C) DAMASCUS DECLARATION TO START OUTREACH: A/DCM and
Poloff met October 3 with Damascus Declaration (DD) leader
XXXXXXXXXXXX, who said the DD will celebrate its first
anniversary on October 16 and will turn more of its attention
from self-organizational activities to public outreach. All
22 members of the group's executive committee met secretly
for a day in late September in Aleppo, where they agreed on
next steps, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. Up until now, the group has
established a weak but decentralized network in Syrian cities
such as Aleppo, Homs and Hamas, which could be mobilized and
expanded, he said. Starting this month, the group plans to
publicize its activities via its yet-to-be unveiled website
and through regional media.
3. (C) COURTING MORE KURDS, DISCUSSING THE MB: The DD group
is still waiting to hear whether the Kurdish Future Movement
and Azadi and Yekiti parties will join the organization
(reftel A), XXXXXXXXXXXX said. Such an alliance would require the DD
group to include in its manifesto a sentence about "the need
to find a democratic solution for the Kurdish problem within
the Syrian state," XXXXXXXXXXXX said. (Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX would clearly
like to have the Future Movement and Yekiti and Azadi parties
join the DD, as demonstrated by XXXXXXXXXXXX's participation in an
October 5 protest jointly organized by the three groups,
reported in reftel B.) Separately, the DD executive
committee members still needed to discuss a September 25
letter from Syria Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Bayanouni, in
the name of the National Salvation Front, offering to start a
coalition, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. "I don't think we'll agree, but we
probably won't saying anything against the NSF publicly
either," said XXXXXXXXXXXX, noting general opposition to Islamist
participation by the current Kurdish members and DD spokesman
Hassan Abdulazeem, who also heads the Socialist Union Party.
4. (C) TO ENGAGE OR NOT TO ENGAGE: XXXXXXXXXXXX responded to a
question about EU re-enagement efforts by saying, "If
engagement means that the regime will stay, this is the worst
option." He said that he would, however, support a
re-engagement process envisioned by Germany in which each
step was linked to a precise condition, such as expanding
free speech or releasing political prisoners. XXXXXXXXXXXX, who
meets regularly with German officials, said that he has not
had contact with Italians, Greeks or Spaniards here but noted
that their lenient approach was "spoiling the regime."
5. (C) VALUE OF PUBLIC USG STATEMENT: XXXXXXXXXXXX recommended
against a USG statement on the situation in Syria, stating
that "American credibility in the region is at ground zero."
If the U.S. Administration said that it supports democracy in
the region, people here will react by opposing the idea of
democracy, said XXXXXXXXXXXX, citing a widespread belief here that
the U.S. made fatal mistakes in Iraq and has failed to take
needed action on a comprehensive Middle East settlement that
would grant Palestinians just resolution of their claims.
(Note: In previous conversations, he has also emphasized the
need to resolve the issue of the occupied Golan Heights.)
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6. (C) UNIIIC investigation: XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed a belief voiced
by other Syrian government critics that the UNIIIC
investigation represents the best possible hope for change in
the Syrian regime. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is
seriously worried about the investigation, as seen by ongoing
regime efforts, primarily through meddling in Lebanon, to
prevent the establishment of an international tribunal, XXXXXXXXXXXX
said. If the next UNIIIC report points to more evidence of
high-level SARG complicity in the assassination of the former
Lebanese PM, elements in the Syrian military might launch a
coup, paving the way for a transitional government, XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated.
7. (C) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX seemed overly optimistic, both about
the DD group's ability to reach out to the Syria public,
which is largely unaware of the organization, as well as
about the prospects of a military coup, post-Brammertz
report. So far, the reality on the ground gives no sign that
the regime is loosening its grip on unsanctioned activities
here or growing any weaker. Despite his optimism, XXXXXXXXXXXX and
his opposition group have succeeded at meeting and organizing
for a full year, which is in and of itself a rare
accomplishment in Syria.
CORBIN
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