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Viewing cable 08PARIS1703, ELYSEE READOUT OF SARKOZY'S SEPTEMBER 3-4 VISIT TO

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08PARIS1703 2008-09-09 18:06 2010-12-07 21:09 SECRET Embassy Paris
VZCZCXRO9266
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV
DE RUEHFR #1703/01 2531813
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 091813Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4275
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1606
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 001703 

SIPDIS 

NEA/FO FOR DAS HALE AND PDAS FELTMAN 
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/09/2023 
TAGS: FR LE UNSC PREL
SUBJECT: ELYSEE READOUT OF SARKOZY'S SEPTEMBER 3-4 VISIT TO 
DAMASCUS 

REF: POUNDS-HALE E-MAIL OF 9/5 

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathleen H. Allegrone, reas 
ons 1.4 (b) and (d). 

1. (S) Summary: During his September 3-4 visit to Damascus,President Sarkozy told Syrian President Bashar al-Asad that in order to establish a relationship of trust with France, Syria would need to honor its commitments and respect certain principles (e.g., Lebanon's sovereignty and the International Tribunal), according to Elysee Middle East Counselor Boris Boillon. Al-Asad reaffirmed his commitment to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon before the end of the year, and to make progress on reviewing bilateral agreements and demarcating the Lebanese-Syrian border. The French plan to assess Syria's progress against these benchmarks at year's end and adjust their policy accordingly, although Boillon candidly admitted that they have not yet given much thought as to what the next steps in their relationship with Damascus might be if Syria were to demonstrate progress. Boillon stressed that Sarkozy remains "pragmatic" about Damascus: if the Syrians do not perform, then "too bad for them." Boillon reported that al-Asad intervened with Hamas Political Bureau 
leader Khalid Mishal to encourage the latter to deliver a 
letter to captured Franco-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit 
(although al-Asad declined to convey the letter to Mishal 
himself). Boillon distanced Sarkozy from ideas the MFA 
attempted to table at the Sept. 6 Gymnich regarding how the 
EU could play a more active role on the Israeli-Palestinian 
peace process. On a sobering note, Boillon said he met last 
week with a personal envoy from Saudi King Abdallah, who 
detailed a Saudi plan to spend up to $1 billion dollars to 
support Sunni groups in Lebanon in the upcoming parliamentary 
elections and "against Hizballah." End summary. 

Sarkozy Spells it Out for Bashar al-Asad 
---------------------------------------- 

2. (C) President Sarkozy, during his September 3-4 visit to 
Damascus, delivered a frank message to his Syrian counterpart 
Bashar al-Asad, according to Boris Boillon (the Middle East 
Counselor at the Elysee). Per Boillon, Sarkozy told al-Asad 
that in order to build a relationship of trust with France, 
Syria would need to respect its commitments (e.g., 
normalizing relations with Lebanon) and respect certain 
non-negotiable principles (e.g., Lebanon's sovereignty and 
the inviolability of the International Tribunal on the Hariri 
assassination). Moreover, Sarkozy noted that France would be 
watching closely to see whether Syria attained certain 
benchmarks by the end of the year, namely: the exchange of 
ambassadors with Lebanon (the most critical benchmark in 
Boillon's opinion); the modification of the Syria-Lebanon 
High Council; and the restoration of three defunct 
commissions to discuss refugees, borders, and to review 
existing treaties. Al-Asad reaffirmed his previous 
commitment to Sarkozy to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon 
before the end of the year, and to make progress on the other 
issues. Boillon stressed that Sarkozy remained "pragmatic" 
about Damascus and would make a dispassionate decision at 
year's end on whether the Syrians had attained the benchmarks 
and, consequently, where to take the relationship. He would 
not be swayed by pecuniary concerns in dealing with what 
France sees as an unimportant trading partner. ("They are 
nothing for us," scoffed Boillon, who observed that Syria 
froze trading opportunities in 2007 and France was now 61 in 
the ranks of Syrian trading partners. He acknowledged that 
several business leaders, including the CEO of Total and a 
wealthy Syrian-origin entrepreneur, had been on the trip. He 
also confirmed exploratory talks on the sale of 14 Airbus 
aircraft to Syria and said that U.S. components would pose 
problems for such a sale, but added it was a commercial deal 
that the GOF was not actively pushing). Sarkozy's view 
remains that if the Syrians do not perform, then "tant pis" 
(too bad for them) said Boillon, who conceded that the Elysee 
has not yet given much thought as to where it would like to 
take the relationship if the Syrians pass muster. Boillon 
noted that FM Kouchner will likely see FM Muallim in November 
at a follow-on meeting for the Mediterranean Union, which 
will give the French an opportunity to signal to the Syrians 
whether they are on track for a passing grade in December, 
which might result in a second, longer visit by Sarkozy to 
Damascus. 

3. (C) Noting that Sarkozy also pressed al-Asad on Israel, 
Iran, and human rights, Boillon assessed that Bashar has been 
weakened by the assassination of Mohammed Suleiman and would 

PARIS 00001703 002 OF 003 


himself be "finished" if he were to publicly acknowledge 
Israel's successful attack on Syria's nuclear research 
facility, an attack to which the Syrians made no effective 
riposte. Al-Asad professed to be concerned by the delay in 
the next round of indirect Syrian-Israeli peace talks and, in 
response to a query from Sarkozy, claimed to have no 
objection to indirect peace talks between Lebanon and Israel 
that might proceed in tandem with the Syrian-Israeli track. 
However, al-Asad claimed that the Lebanese themselves were 
not prepared to take such a step. Boillon claimed that 
Sarkozy had made some progress in shaping al-Asad's thinking 
on the Iran nuclear question by asking how the latter could 
be confident that Tehran's nuclear program is for civilian 
use in the absence of international inspection. 
(Unfortunately, Sarkozy did not use this moment of epiphany 
to suggest that al-Asad also re-think Syria's candidacy for a 
seat on the IAEA Board of Governors.) 
Human Rights 
------------ 

4. (C) The Syrians, clearly anticipating Sarkozy's talking 
points on human rights, adroitly deflected the brunt of his 
message by suggesting that France channel future human rights 
demands (e.g., lists of prisoners to be released) through 
Qatar so as "to avoid the optic of Syria caving into Western 
pressure." The French seem to have swallowed this specious 
argument, although Boillon claimed that there was a 
"favorable evolution" in al-Asad's position on the case of 
kidnapped Franco-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit: Bashar, 
although he declined to deliver a letter from Shalit's father 
to Hamas Political Bureau chief Khalid Mishal, agreed to 
speak to Mishal and encourage him to see that the letter is 
delivered on humanitarian grounds. The French believe that 
al-Asad fulfilled this commitment. 

5. (S) Boillon dismissed the September 4 quad meeting of 
Sarkozy, al-Asad, Turkish PM Erdogan, and Qatari Emir 
al-Thani as a largely academic exchange of views, with little 
meaningful discussion (although he observed that al-Asad and 
Erdogan were each surprisingly well-informed about Darfur). 
He also reported that on the margins of the visit, Syrian FM 
Muallim had told the French delegation that Syria could do 
without an EU association agreement if the alternative was 
the conditionality outlined in the letter he received a few 
weeks ago from his Spanish, German and Italian counterparts. 
The significance of Muallim's statement, in Boillon's view, 
is that the Israelis have yet to realize that the prospect of 
an EU association agreement is not a significant incentive 
for Damascus. 

MEPP/Saudi Initiative for Lebanon 
--------------------------------- 

6. (S) Turning to other regional issues, Boillon distanced 
Sarkozy from a set of ideas that the MFA had hoped to present 
at the September 6 Gymnich working lunch on how the EU could 
play a more active role in supporting the Middle East peace 
process; Boillon acknowledged that they reflect ideas Sarkozy 
has supported, but characterized them as "reflections" that 
did not represent a new initiative on the part of France. On 
Lebanon, Boillon said that notwithstanding the somewhat 
gloomy reporting from the French embassy in Beirut, he 
believed the overall situation in the country was relatively 
good at the moment. He described President Sleiman as "very, 
very cautious -- and that's putting it diplomatically," 
whereas he saw Michel Aoun as "an enigma who nevertheless 
represents many Lebanese Christians -- we don't have much 
contact with him, perhaps wrongly." Boillon expressed 
concern about funding from the Gulf states for Salafist 
groups in and around Tripoli, noting that a former Lebanese 
Prime Minister had recently walked him through the reason the 
Salafists abrogated an agreement with Hizballah the day after 
signing it (the reason, said Boillon, is that one branch of 
the Salafist clan funded by Kuwaitis had been over-ruled by 
another branch funded by Saudis). On a related note, Boillon 
confided that last week he met with a "personal envoy" (NFI) 
from Saudi King Abdallah, who outlined an initiative to 
provide up to USD $1 billion dollars in support to Lebanese 
Sunni groups for use in the upcoming parliamentary elections 
and for defense "against Hizballah." "If that is the Saudi 
vision for Lebanon, that is truly worrisome," said Boillon, 
who was simultaneously arranging a meeting for visiting Saudi 
Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who was in France on 
September 9 on an unannounced visit to his Parisian residence. 

Comment 

PARIS 00001703 003 OF 003 

------- 

7. (S) Comment: Boillon is an engaging and enthusiastic 
interlocutor whose personal loyalty to Sarkozy is palpable. 
We believe his readout to be largely accurate, although we 
are somewhat skeptical of Bashar's alleged epiphany on the 
Iranian nuclear program, and somewhat dismayed that the 
Syrians seem to have so easily deflected the French president 
on the question of human rights. As for the benchmarks, we believe the Elysee is sincere in its desire to hold the Syrians to objective performance benchmarks, yet we remain concerned that even if Syria's performance falls short, Sarkozy may find it politically difficult to shelve one of his self-proclaimed foreign policy successes. This suggests 
that rather than trying to derail France's rapprochement with 
Syria -- a train that has already left the station -- our goal should be to maintain a continual, candid dialogue with the Elysee on Syria's behavior with an eye towards informing their year-end policy review. Finally, we defer to our  colleagues at Embassy Riyadh on the question of Saudi financial support for Lebanon's Sunni community; we report Boillon's comments here merely to register the Elysee's concern on that score. STAPLETON