Syria is being Set Up to Fail: A Leaked Letter from Washington
Here is a most extraordinary letter from Syria's Ambassador in Washington Imad Mustapha to Congresswoman Sue Kelly, which has come into my possession. It explains how the American Administration has been stonewalling Syrian cooperation on a host of issues. It explains how Syria is being set up to fail so that the US can isolate it and carry out a process of regime-change at the expense of Iraqi stability and the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It explains how the US administration's policy of forcing regime change in Syria is trumping the need to save lives in Iraq.
I also have the letter written by Congresswoman Sue Kelly, and signed by 100 fellow congressmen, which was originally sent to Ambassador Mustapha on Sept. 30, 2005 and which elicited this reply. It is short and reiterates the usual administration complaints about the lack of Syrian cooperation with the war on terror and effort to stabilize Iraq. I have not had the time to type it in - but it is a demonstration of the US government's failure to appreciate how it is being railroaded by the administration into a confrontation with Syria. One must read Imad Mustapha's response, copied here, to appreciate just how the railroading is taking place.
For over a year Syria has been trying to cooperate with the West on the Iraq border, on the issue of terrorism finance, on the issue of stopping Jihadists from getting into Syria, on intelligence sharing, and on stabilizing Iraq.
Washington has consistently refused to take "Yes" as an answer. Why? The only credible reason is because Washington wants regime change in Syria. The US administration is sacrificing American soldiers in Iraq in order to carry out its program of "reforming the Greater Middle East." Two US policies are clashing head to head - the one is stabilizing Iraq and the other is the reform of the greater Middle East. President Bush is placing his democracy policy over his Iraq policy. This is costing American and Iraqi lives.
The world press has failed to get this story, although it has been staring them in the face for months. Human rights activists in Syria have documented for a long time how Syria is arresting Islamists, cracking down on Syrians who go to Iraq to fight by arresting their family members and jailing the fighters when they return from Iraq. Read Razan Zeitouneh's story about Syria's "Preemptive War" against Islamists here. The Syrian secret police have been terrorizing would be terrorists in Syria for many months now. The US has cut off all intelligence sharing with Syria despite repeated Syrian attempts to cooperate on this most important issue. Rumsfeld refused a Syria delegation of top border officials permission to meet with their Iraq and American counterparts just two months ago. Read the story here.
The Letter (I have highlighted several sentences in bold below.)
The Honorable Congresswoman Sue Kelly
2182 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
October 5, 2005
Dear Congresswoman Kelly:
Let me start by expressing my deep appreciation for your letter dated September 30, 2005, co-signed by your colleagues, which I received from your office.
Notwithstanding the disturbing and disappointing content of this letter, I feel grateful for it has given me and my country the chance to engage and respond to the grave issues raised. This is what I would expect from an honorable body of representatives who believe that there is still room for engagement and dialogue. This is something Syria has repeatedly called for and, unfortunately, was repeatedly denied.
Let me start by reiterating my country’s position: Syria has continually and repeatedly called for the Americans and Iraqis to engage with their Syrian counterparts. This is necessary in order to solve the problems in Iraq. And Syria has stated, in no uncertain terms, that our will to assist in this situation illustrates not only our hopes for a unified and free Iraq but also the dire consequences turmoil in Iraq will pose for Syrian interests.
Syria has the political will to engage with the US towards finding a solution to the on-going violence and bloodshed in Iraq. It is a detriment to out national security and interests to see Iraq being further destabilized, and our concern for Iraq’s territorial integrity is paramount. We have asked the US Administration time and again to stop this public media campaign against Syria, and told the Administration that it is both unfair and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, we have spared no means to communicate to this Administration our willingness to mutually address all matters of concern to the US. Needless to say, all our initiatives to engage with the US have failed, and the US Administration seems adamant on following a path of public accusations and no direct engagement.
Before providing you and your honorable colleagues with a detailed reply to all the points raised in your letter let me start by submitting to you the following tow suggestions:
1. The government of Syria is willing to invite a bi-partisan congressional delegation for a working visit to Syria in which the honorable members would explore in depth all matters related to the Iraqi issue. This will allow the members of the delegation to witness for themselves what Syria is and has been doing to address the issues discussed in your letter, as well as provide an opportunity to discuss all possible actions with leading Syrian governmental officials. Syria pledges full cooperation with this delegation. We are willing to hear from you, listen to your suggestions, and upon verifying our willingness to engage we expect your assistance in convincing the US Administration that its current policy towards Syria is neither useful nor constructive. We would like the message reiterated that it is in the best interest of both countries to work together and it is counterproductive to continue creating these conditions of hostility and animosity.
2. In recognition of the efforts you might undertake in visiting Syria and helping both countries move forward toward cooperation and joint action, Syria is willing to immediately resume its intelligence and security cooperation with the relevant US agencies. This cooperation was initiated in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, and was suspended early this year. Wee expect the US Administration to acknowledge Syria’s cooperation and halt its campaign of accusations and rhetoric in return for our security and intelligence cooperation.
As for the points mentioned in your letter, allow me to address each point in detail to clarify our position and provide the honorable members with a different perspective on these important issues.
1. On Syria’s role as a source of support for terrorism and other activities aimed at destabilizing efforts to build a peaceful and democratic Iraq
A peaceful and stable Iraq holds as much, if not more significance for Syria as any other nation in the region or across the Atlantic. The Syrian mosaic of citizens, in which a wide variety of ethnicities and religious groups live side by side, closely resembles Iraqi society and in fact, may be even more divers. Consequently, the sectarian strife arising in Iraq could spread across the border and result in fatality tearing at the fabric of Syrian society. This situation causes the Syrian government great concern ad compels us to work diligently to help bring peace and stability back to Iraq for the future of its citizens as well as our own.
Syria has always supported the e political process in Iraq. One example of this was during the Iraqi elections when we encouraged the large Iraqi expatriate community in Syria to vote, and proved them with all means necessary to enable them to successfully participate in the Iraqi political process. This is just one example among many others that went unnoticed here in the US, and wee completely ignored by US officials.
Syria does not support the terrorism in Iraq; we have very little influence on the political developments that are taking place there. However, if the US Administration has evidence to the contrary, Syria is willing to work with the Administration and investigate these allegations. This is the only way to put an end to the alleged Syrian support of the insurgency in Iraq.
2. On Border Control
The argument that the Syrian government allows infiltrators into Iraq holds no truth in any regard whatsoever. The facts on the ground along the Syrian-Iraqi border illustrate how diligently Syria has worked to control its side of the border with Iraq. We have increased our border troops from a few hundred to 10,000 in the past two years; built sand barriers, which Syria has recently raised to 12 feet along more than 210 kilometers of the border, installed barbed wires, some of which are double-layered: and erected many Syrian military outposts, numbering in total approximately 540, deployed approximately every 400 meters or 3 kilometers depending on the sensitivity of the area. As a result of these efforts, Syria has captured over 1,500 individuals trying to cross the border and handed them over to the authorities of their country of origin or placed them in prison.
If infiltration continues, it is done despite all our efforts to stop this illegal movement of people occurring without our consent. Moreover, Syria has continually and repeatedly called for the Americans and Iraqis to engage with their Syrian counterparts on this issue because Syria cannot seal this border alone and needs cooperation from the American and Iraqi side. False allegations against Syria will not solve this problem but rather only cooperation, from both sides, can achieve the important goal of sealing this border.
To illustrate my point with specifics, General Abizaid, on April 14, 2005, said, “We’ve got, oh, roughly 10,600 – give or take – prisoners. I think there are like 357, 358, something like that, third-country national, some of whom have been in Iraq for many, many years… I mean, it’s like – the last time I checked, 50 (from Saudi Arabia) and 52 (from Syria)… and 49 (from Iran).” Moreover, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has said that the insurgency numbers about 30,000 individuals with a foreign component of 4-10%. This means that the foreign element in the insurgency numbers from about 1,500-3,000 individuals. Putting these numbers together and after some simple mathematical calculations we find that the total number of individuals which have come from Syria amounts to about 144, equaling 0.5% of the insurgency. With these facts in mind, I would like to remind you that Syria has imprisoned about 1,500individuals trying to infiltrate the Syrian-Iraqi border, amounting to 10 times the number of those that reached Iraq, which illustrates how diligently we are working to seal this border.
In addition, thee US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report about “Saudi Militants” in Iraq stating that the Syrians have “been too forceful in their crackdown on Saudis” entering Syria some of which are en route to Iraq, while others come as tourists. We argue that we have been forceful on all those using Syria as a transit to Iraq, including Saudis.
3. ON the Visa policy for Arab citizens
The allegations concerning the Visa policies in Syria are a classic example of how the US Administration merely looks for pretexts to criticize Syria with a lack of substantial evidence. The fact that Syria has arrested and handed over hundreds of suspects arriving at Syrian entry points is always ignored by the US officials. The Saudi and Jordanian press have been very critical of the Syrian authorities for their stern approach in dealing with their citizens arriving in Syria, being arrested and extradited for merely suspecting that these citizens might have extremist tendencies.
The question that should be addressed to the US Administration is the following: Did you once try to communicate any sort of intelligence about suspected Jihadists planning to arrive in Syria, which the Syrian authorities failed to act on? Did this happen at least once? Our records do not show that such communication has ever occurred.
Our embassies throughout the whole world offer Visas within an hour of the Visa application. We do not have the means of verifying the information submitted in the Visa application form, and our diplomatic missions are incapable of investigating all individuals who request an entry Visa to Syria. However, our intelligence agencies have a wealth of information about fundamentalist extremists. When such individuals arrive in Syria, they are immediately handled by the Syrian authorities. You can verify this with other Arab countries to whom we have extradited hundreds of their citizens upon arrest at Syrian border checkpoints.
Once again, this would not have been an issue had the US Administration been willing to cooperate and engage with Syria. Unfortunately, while the lack of engagement continues to be the norm, the US Administration uses such pretexts to criticize Syria, capitalizing on the fact that few individuals have any knowledge of Syrians policies and positions.
4. On the repatriation of Iraqi assets
Syria has transferred a sum of $262 million to the Iraqi Government, which is the total amount of the Iraqi frozen assets in the Commercial Bank of Syria. In regards to the $580 million mentioned in your letter, this amount was paid to the Syrian private businesses to honor contracts and deals between Iraqi and Syrian parties prior to the war. All these contracts are documented at the Syrian Ministry of Finance and the Federation of Syrian Iraqi officials to visit, investigate and check these documents with full transparency. If the Iraqi officials conclude with doubts about the authenticity of these contracts and financial obligations, Syria will take immediate action to the satisfaction of the Iraqi government.
5. On the claim that former Iraqi regime elements funds are in Syria
Syria received a team of US Treasury inspectors to visit the Commercial Bank of Syria for as long as they deemed fit, and had access to whatever information they required. We thought that this openness and transparency would put an end to these unsubstantiated accusations. On the one hand, thee team left Syria satisfied that our banks were fully cooperating with the US on this particular issue. ON the other hand, the US Treasury Department never acknowledged our cooperation, and continued to repeat the same allegations. Once more we invite the US treasury officials to talk to Syria, not talk past Syria about these accusations. If US officials have acquired new information regarding these funds, Syria welcomes the opportunity to re-examine the issue and fully investigate it in cooperation with the US officials.
6. On Financing Terrorism
Syria has repeatedly informed the US Treasury Department officials that wee are keen on closely cooperating with the US Treasury Department on issues of money laundering and terrorism financing. Syria, has modified all its by-laws and regulations in accordance with recommendations Syria has received fro the US Treasury Department officials. Syria not only did this, but also informed the US Treasury Department that we are willing to do whatever action may be required in the future, if the need arises. This was never publicly acknowledged by the US Treasury Department; on the contrary, we continue to hear the same accusations about cash flow through the borders.
Actually, based on the recommendations of the US Treasury Department, Syria has joined a number of groups including MENA-FATF (Middle East & North Africa Financial Action Task Force), as well as establishing special units of the Syrian Customs on all international borders to combat terrorism financing and money laundering.
It might surprise you to know that Syria’s efforts to curb cash flows into Iraq and elsewhere were faced by obstacles created by the US Administration. Our efforts to eliminate cash dealings and substitute the cas-based system with a credit card system where all financial transactions can be electronically monitored and traced were stalled by the US imposed sanctions on Syria that continue to prevent us from modernizing our banking infrastructure. I hope you will use your good office to convince the US Treasury Department that helping Syria modernize its banking system will actually help the US win its global war against terrorism.
7. Lebanon (Don’t want to copy it all out. It is outdated anyway.)
8. On Sanctions against Syria
When you contemplate imposing new sanctions against the Syrian banking system, I hope you will keep in mind that the suffocation and eventual crash of this system will only benefit illegal transactions, black marketers and money traffickers. Syria has diligently worked hard on bringing its banking systems to world class standards, and to ensure transparency and the security of all financial transactions. Threats of further sanctions will have a negative impact on Syria’s efforts to achieve what the US Administration has repeatedly asked Syria to do, and what we have been working hard on achieving.
In addition, I hope that the honorable members would recall that ten years of economic sanctions on Iraq only led to the impoverishment of the Iraqi people, and the destruction of Iraq’s national infrastructure. Syria invites you to use diplomacy and engagement, no threats and sanctions to try and find solutions for our already troubled region. Please do remember, that if you are being told by the US Administration that they have “credible evidence” that Syria is doing this or not doing that; the same sort of credible intelligence was used in thee past as a pretext to launch war on another Arab country. We hope that this kind of mistake will not be repeated for the same of Syria, the Middle East and the entire world.
We firmly believe that you can play a great role in helping bring the US and Syria to a better understanding and a higher level of cooperation. On our behalf, this is what we are looking for, and this is what we hope the future will hold for both our countries,
Imad Moustapha, PhD.
Ambassador of the Syria to the United States