http://digital-intifada.blogspot.com/2012/04/digital-intifada-exclusive-interview.html

Sunday, 8 September 2013

U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/world/wikileaks-syria/cable1.html
id:204465
date/time:4/28/2009 13:24
refid:09DAMASCUS306
origin:Embassy Damascus
classification:SECRET
destination:09DAMASCUS129|09DAMASCUS185|09DAMASCUS272
header:
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OO RUEHWEB
DE RUEHDM #0306/01 1181324
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 281324Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6293
INFO RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0537
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0506
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
------------------- header ends -------------------
S E C R E T DAMASCUS 000306
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, DRL/NESCA
PARIS FOR WALLER, LONDON FOR TSOU
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/28/2019
TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, PREL, SY
SUBJECT: BEHAVIOR REFORM: NEXT STEPS FOR A HUMAN RIGHTS
STRATEGY
REF: A. DAMASCUS 00129
B. DAMASCUS 00185
C. DAMASCUS 00272
Classified By: CDA Maura Connelly for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: This cable represents a follow-up to
"Re-engaging Syria: Human Rights" (ref A) and outlines
ongoing civil society programming in the country, primarily
under the auspices of the Bureau of Human Rights and Labor
(DRL) and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
Both MEPI and DRL fund projects on which Post has varying
degrees of visibility. Some programs may be perceived, were
they made public, as an attempt to undermine the Asad regime,
as opposed to encouraging behavior reform. In an effort to
assist any Department level discussions on the SARG’s
attitude toward human rights, this cable describes a possible
strategy for framing the human rights discussion as an area
of "mutual concern" for Syria and the U.S. END SUMMARY.
--------------------
The New Policy Front
--------------------
2. (C) As the Syria policy review moves apace, and with the
apparent collapse of the primary Syrian external opposition
organization, one thing appears increasingly clear: U.S.
policy may aim less at fostering "regime change" and more
toward encouraging "behavior reform." If this assumption
holds, then a reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored
programming that supports anti-SARG factions, both inside and
outside Syria, may prove productive as well.
3. (C) The U.S. attempt to politically isolate the SARG
raised stumbling blocks to direct Embassy involvement in
civil society programming. As a result, the Middle East
Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Bureau of Human Rights
and Labor (DRL) took the lead in identifying and funding
civil society and human rights projects. Though the Embassy
has had direct input on a few of these efforts, especially
with DRL, most of the programming has proceeded without
direct Embassy involvement.
---
DRL
---
4. (C) DRL funded four major Syria-specific programs in the
previous fiscal year. The grant recipients were (1) Freedom
House, which conducted multiple workshops for a select group
of Syrian activists on "strategic non-violence and civic
mobilization;" (2) the American Bar Association, which held a
conference in Damascus in July and then continued outreach
with the goal of implementing legal education programs in
Syria through local partners; (3) American University, which
has conducted research on Syrian tribal and civil society by
inviting shaykhs from six tribes to Beirut for interviews and
training; and (4) Internews, which has coordinated with the
Arab Women Media Center to support media youth camps for
university-aged Syrians in both Amman and Damascus. In
addition to these programs, the Embassy provided input on DRL
grants awarded to Center for International Private Enterprise
(CIPE), International War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), and The
International Research and Exchange Board (IREX). Though
Post does not directly monitor any of these programs, we have
appreciated the opportunity to meet with representatives of
CIPE and IWPR.
----
MEPI
----
5. (C) In addition to smaller local grants, MEPI sponsors
eight major Syria-specific initiatives, some dating back to
2005, that will have received approximately USD 12 million by
September 2010. A summary of MEPI produced material on these
programs follows:
-Aspen Strategic Initiative Institute, "Supporting Democratic
Reform" (USD 2,085,044, December 1, 2005 - December 31,
2009). The institute, situated in Berlin, works with
indigenous and expatriate reform-oriented activists and has
sponsored conferences in international locations that brought
together NGO representatives, media, and human rights
activists from the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S.,
XXXXXXXXXXXX. MEPI noted that "while this program has offered
little intrinsic value and will not likely be continued beyond
the terms of the grant, XXXXXXXXXXXX.
-Democracy Council of California, "Civil Society
Strengthening Initiative (CSSI)" (USD 6,300,562, September 1,
2006 - September 30, 2010). "CSSI is a discrete
collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local
partners" that has produced XXXXXXXXXXXX "various broadcast concepts"
set to air in April.
-Regents of the University of New Mexico, "The Cooperative
Monitoring Center-Amman: Web Access for Civil Society
Initiatives" (USD 949,920, September 30, 2006 - September 30,
2009). This project established "a web portal" and training
in how to use it for NGOs. MEPI noted, "this program has
been of minimal utility and is unlikely to be continued
beyond the term of the grant."
XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX
-International Republican Institute (IRI), "Supporting
Democratic Reform" (USD 1,250,000, September 30, 2006 -
August 31, 2009). "The project supports grassroots public
awareness campaigns and the conduct and dissemination of
public opinion polling research. XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX
-MEPI has also proposed continued programming for IRI and the
CIPE, as well as supporting independent journalists through
joint efforts with NEA/PI.
-------------------------------------
Challenge Ahead: Programming In Syria
-------------------------------------
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
7. (S) Regarding the most sensitive MEPI-sponsored programs
in Syria, Post has had limited visibility on specific
projects, due in no small measure to SARG-imposed
constraints. XXXXXXXXXXXX Through the intermediary operations of
the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD) (ref B), a
London-based moderate Islamist group, MEPI routes money XXXXXXXXXXXX.
Our understanding is that the aforementioned Democracy Council
grant is used for this purpose and passes the MEPI grant money
on to the MJD.
8. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX
9. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX The SARG would undoubtedly
view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as
tantamount to supporting regime change. This would
inevitably include the various expatriate reform
organizations operating in Europe and the U.S., most of which
have little to no effect on civil society or human rights in
Syria.
------------------------------
Strategic Thinking: Next Steps
------------------------------
10. (S) The current review of policy toward Syria offers the
USG an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to human rights
through the strategic and incremental opening of dialogue
between the two countries. The core issues facing a human
rights strategy for Syria are (1) how best to advise the SARG
that its tolerating dissent will be a key issue as our
bilateral relationship moves forward; and (2) how to bring
our U.S.-sponsored civil society and human rights programming
into line a less confrontational bilateral relationship.
11. (S) Conversations between U.S. and SARG officials have
examined the parameters of what might constitute a "common
interest" between the two countries, "shared concerns" upon
which to center future bilateral discourse and achieve
concrete results. This strategy might prove equally
effective in raising human rights with the SARG by clearly
articulating how recognizable and sustained behavior change
in relation to human rights would enhance SARG’s image, which
currently represents a stumbling block to advancing bilateral
relations. In the past, both the Department and the White
House have made public statements condemning the SARG for its
human rights record; these statements have not,
unfortunately, produced positive results. Visiting
Congressional delegations have also made public statements
that have not been met with the desired action by the SARG.
The SARG reacts defensively to public announcements, so more
private channels of communication might reinforce a "common
interest" theme, allowing the SARG to act without being
perceived as bending under U.S. pressure.
12. (S) Should the current administration wish to send such a
message, action on any one of the following five concerns
might shift the SARG’s image into a more positive light. (1)
The release of specific imprisoned high-profile civil society
and human rights activists; (2) credible movement to resolve
the citizenship status of stateless Kurds; (3) loosening
media restrictions, including Internet censorship; (4)
lifting travel bans on Syrian citizens; and (5) following up
on promises to establish a "Senate" that would create a
legislative space for opposition politicians to work in.
13. (S) The perennial challenge is how to build programming
in Syria without drawing SARG scrutiny to Syrian contacts and
Embassy personnel. XXXXXXXXXXXX If our dialogue with Syria on
human rights is to succeed, we need to express the desire to work
in Syria to strengthen civil society in a non-threatening manner.
We also need to ensure that programming here is fully
coordinated, that the Embassy has the resources it needs to
administer the programs, and that the programs are compliant
with U.S. economic sanctions against Syria.
14. (S) While DRL- and MEPI-funded programs have explored new
areas where we can achieve results, some of our time-honored
programs may also prove to be extremely effective. The
attractiveness of U.S. culture is still a powerful engine for
change in Syria. It is revealing that when the SARG sought
to punish the U.S. for its alleged role in the October 26,
2008 attack in Abu Kamal, they avoided political targets and
instead shut down the three main sources of American culture
in Damascus: the American Culture Center (ACC), the ALC, and
the Damascus Community School. Countering with more cultural
programming, more speaker programs, and the IV exchange
program remain our best tools for having a direct effect on
civil society. To this end, VIPs coming to Syria might be
uniquely positioned to request and receive opportunities for
addressing public audiences.
CONNELLY

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