OLMERT TELLS CODEL SPECTER HE IS SKEPTICAL ABOUT SYRIA ABSENT CREDIBLE SIGNALS


id: 91272
date: 12/29/2006 14:22
refid: 06TELAVIV5004
origin: Embassy Tel Aviv
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 06TELAVIV5004
header:
VZCZCXRO6685
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #5004/01 3631422
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 291422Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8505
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0313
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 0287

----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 005004

SIPDIS

CODEL
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/29/2011
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PTER, IS, KPAL, SY, ECON, IR, IZ, GE
SUBJECT: OLMERT TELLS CODEL SPECTER HE IS SKEPTICAL ABOUT
SYRIA ABSENT CREDIBLE SIGNALS

Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones. Reason 1.4 (B/D)

1. (C) Summary: Senator Arlen Specter (PA) briefed Prime
Minister Olmert on President Asad's willingness to negotiate
with Israel. Specter noted that Asad had expressed a
willingness to exert Syrian influence over Hamas, and pledged
to cooperate with the Hariri assassination investigation and
UNSCR 1701 implementation. Olmert indicated that he expects
a credible signal of seriousness from the Syrian leader
before he would consider negotiations. Olmert stressed that
his first priority is the Palestinian track, but he also
indicated that he does wish to make peace with Syria. End
Summary.

-----
SYRIA
-----

2. (C) On the evening of December 27, Senator Specter and
the Ambassador met with PM Olmert and his staff to discuss
Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad. Senator Specter described
what Asad had said to him regarding the Golan, Lebanon and
the terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hizballah. Senator
Specter reported that Asad offered to negotiate with Israel,
"without preconditions." According to the Senator, Asad has
something to offer vis a vis Hamas and Hizballah. Specter
noted that one of Asad's objectives is the return of the
Golan Heights. Specter shared his assessment that the Syria
track was worth pursuing.

3. (C) PM Olmert responded that other international visitors
to Syria had been "very unhappy" with Asad. For example,
German FM Steinmeier reportedly told Olmert that Asad had
claimed that Lebanon was "part of Syria." Olmert asked
rhetorically why the GOI should work with a party that
cooperates with terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, the
PFLP and the PIJ. Wouldn't this violate the principle upon
which the USG denies support for the Hamas-led PA? Olmert
asked what Asad has to offer regarding Hizballah or Hamas?
If, however, Bashar has something to offer, it may pave the
way for something, Olmert conceded. Specter recounted
asking Asad about Hamas, an organization whose aim is the
destruction of Israel. Asad replied that "we can work on
that," according to Specter, who understood this to mean that
Asad has influence over the organization.

4. (C) PM Olmert expressed concern that if he should talk
with Asad, Syria will get a stream of foreign visitors --
before he brings about any change to his policies regarding
Lebanon, Hamas, Iraq or Iran. Specter said that Asad "talks
a positive game," and agreed it would be important for Olmert
to be able to see concrete action regarding what he intends
to do. Acknowledging that Asad has a "terrible record,"
Specter cited the case of Libyan leader Qadhafi as an example
of how it is possible to obtain a "change of heart" in an
adversary. He also highlighted the signing by Iraqi and
Syrian ministers of interior of a memorandum of understanding
on joint security cooperation as possible progress. In any
event, Specter commented, "Asad is what you have to work
with. Although it may not work, there is no other key to the
door." Specter stressed the importance of the GOI making its
own sovereign decision regarding the pursuit of negotiations
with Syria based on what is good for Israel. Olmert
concluded that "if I get the slightest, credible signal (from
Asad), I will take it very seriously. I am not saying no."

----------------------------------
HARIRI ASSASSINATION INVESTIGATION
----------------------------------

5. (C) Senator Specter reported that Asad had denied
involvement in the Hariri assassination, and that Asad had
told him he will cooperate with the UN tribunal. Specter
added that UNIIIC had recently indicated that the SARG was
cooperating with its work on the investigation of the Hariri
assassination. Specter clarified that while he did not take
Asad's claims at face value, they should be examined. Olmert
asked his Military Secretary to provide Senator Specter with
intelligence that Israel had obtained "proving that (Syria)
was plotting the removal of Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora
so as to prevent Siniora from approving the international
tribunal regarding the assassination of former PM Hariri."

-------------------------
UNSCR 1701 IMPLEMENTATION
-------------------------

6. (C) Senator Specter indicated that Syrian FM Walid
Mu'allim had assessed the current cease-fire between Israel

TEL AVIV 00005004 002 OF 002

and Lebanon as "fragile" and in need of a "political
solution." He and Asad had pledged to live up to UNSCR 1701,
according to Specter, who said he warned the Syrian
leadership that the USG would be watching Syria closely on
the arms embargo issue. Specter added that Asad had denied
shipping arms to Lebanon, colorfully insisting that only
drugs, not arms, could be smuggled into Lebanon via donkeys.
Olmert insisted that Asad violates the arms embargo "every
day." "He's arming them on a daily basis. This is one area
where I need a signal from him." In response to a question
about evidence of such exchanges, Olmert claimed that Syrian
arms reach Lebanon in containers shipped by train from Iran
via Turkey. Olmert noted that Israel had conclusive
physical evidence that Russian anti-tank missiles provided to
Syria had been used in Lebanon during the summer war.

------------------------
Missing Israeli Soldiers
------------------------

7. (C) Senator Specter informed Olmert that he had asked
Asad about the fate of two Israeli soldiers abducted by
Hizballah in July. Asad reportedly responded that
(Hizballah) are prepared to give them back, but are "waiting
on the mediator." Olmert said progress on such humanitarian
matters would be a signal the Syrians could send to Israel:
"I hope he (Asad) is not lying."

---------------------------
Palestinian Peace Prospects
---------------------------

8. (C) PM Olmert highlighted recent actions by his
government aimed at improving the quality of life of the
Palestinians. He pledged to create a "new atmosphere" by
improving movement and access. He noted Israeli forbearance
in upholding the Gaza cease-fire for over a month, despite
repeated Qassam rocket firings. Olmert informed the Codel of
his plans to travel to Egypt on January 4 and his recent
positive discussions with the King of Jordan.

----
Iran
----

9. (C) Senator Specter asked Olmert for his assessment of
Iran, sharing his own impression from meetings in India that
the Indians are allies. Olmert stressed that Iran was a
"moral issue of the highest priority." Olmert said the UN
measures were "very important," but he thought that other
measures could be taken as well, even if they are not all
taken by the UN Security Council. For example, Olmert noted
that certain financial measures could have a serious impact.
Senator Specter agreed that we can do more on this front.

----------------
Israel's Economy
----------------

10. (U) PM Olmert described the economic situation as
Israel's most successful year ever -- despite the Lebanon
war. He cited foreign direct investment of twenty billion
USD, growth figures nearing five percent and nonexistent
inflation as indicators of this success.

11. (U) The Codel did not have an opportunity to review this
message before its departure.

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