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Alex Rowell

International relations

Emails show regime interactions with officials from friendly (and less friendly) states, as well as an American Christian group

(Illustration by NOW)

Previous leaks have shone light on some of the early efforts by the Syrian regime’s international allies (or former allies) to avert what was in 2011 still perhaps an avoidable catastrophe, as well as to advise on management of the media and PR fronts. Two notable examples were the vain attempts by the Qatari emir’s daughter, Princess Mayassa al-Thani, to convince the Assads to “leave and re-start a normal life;” and the messages from “Iran and Hezbollah” urging against blaming Al-Qaeda for explosions in the country.

 

Below, NOW, highlights a number of other previously-unseen instances of foreign parties’ interactions with the regime.

 

 

A Christian delegation

 

On 13 August 2011, one of Assad’s key media aides, Sheherazad Jaafari (daughter of Syria’s ambassador to the UN), wrote to the president to debrief him on plans she had drawn up with the late Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archbishop for North America (died 2014), to send a delegation of Christian clerics to Syria to, in Jaafari’s words, “circulate their impression through the churches networks to millions of believers.” In case there were any question about Saliba’s views of the uprisings then engulfing Syria, Jaafari noted the archbishop “stands firm in his support to you.”

 

The delegation’s visit went ahead the following month, after which one of its members, the American Father Patrick Henry Reardon, published a summary on the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese website that, according to a later Jaafari email, was to be sent to President Barack Obama. If Assad’s intention in approving the visit was to win the support of the clerics, it was successful. “I confess that our experience […] disposed us to think favorably of President Assad, right from the start,” wrote Reardon. “Such impressions were difficult to reconcile with the usual image of President Assad on American TV, where he is referred to as a murderer and “butcher” […] Dr. Assad, speaking excellent English, showed himself to be very cordial and personable.  There was not the faintest suggestion of a maniacal dictator like Castro, Noriega, Hussein, or Gaddafi.  This was a man of obvious culture, refinement, modesty, and gentility.”

 

Below are the exchanges, in full, between Jaafari and Assad regarding the delegation.

 

13 August 2011

From: Sheherazad Jaafari

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

Dear—

 

I spoke with his Eminence the Metropolitan Saliba. He is impressed with the idea .He promised to get back to me soon with a list of names of the participants . He suggested the delegation to be 10 people representing many Churtches ( Orthodox-Catholic- Armenian- Syriac ).


 The members will be half Arabs and half Americans . All of them are high ranking clerics and some of them are professional in dealing with similar situations .He sends his regards and stands firm in his support to you.

 

His secretary asked me if we could bear the responsibility of buying the tickets because some of them wouldn't come in case they are asked to pay for their tickets from their own pockets (according to the secretary). I assured them that the accommodation during their staying will be free of charge.

 

 However , we only need to know if it is possible to afford their tickets .He thinks that upon their return from Syria all the clerics will circulate their impression through the churches networks to millions of believers .

 

Thank you

 

*

 

6 October 2011

From: Sheherazad Jaafari

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

Dear,

 

*The delegations' visit has had a huge effect in the churches and different states in the US. They will send this article to President Obama as well. Many interesting points are mentioned. We must use it as much as we can.  

 

* One of them (Father Patrick) wants to bring another delegation. He said the trip to them was a wonderful exposure to the reality of what is going on in Syria and more people need to come and be exposed to the country.

 

The second link is what was sent to President Obama. (extremely important).

 

http://www.antiochian.org/delegation-syria-2011

 

http://www.antiochian.org/reardon-syria-delegation-2011

 

The entire group was thankful and impressed with the trip and what they were able to see as evidenced by the article as well as many personal letter that Metropolitan Philip read afterwards.

 

 

A visitor from the US embassy

 

On 30 September 2011, another aide, Lama Hassan, wrote the below email to Bashar al-Assad. The person referred to as “Mahony” is presumably Haynes Mahoney, deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Damascus. NOW was unable to reach Mahoney, who has since left Damascus, for comment.

 

30 September 2011

From: Lama Hassan

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

Z man I told u about has arrived, his post is as a second person after z ambassador , his Sur name ( mahony)

Sent from my iPhone
Lama

 

 

A message from Saudi

 

On 24 October 2011, Assad received an email from Soulieman Marouf, who is reportedly a Syrian-British businessman and “fixer” for the Assads living in London. In it, Marouf conveys a message from two influential Saudi figures, whom he says are “great supporters” of the president and who encourage him to pay a visit to the late King Abdallah, whom they say “has great personal affection to [sic] you.”

 

In an apparent follow-up email on 26 October 2011, Marouf seems to allude again to the two figures, reiterating that they want the Assad-Abdallah meeting to go ahead, and adding that they believe Riyadh has been led astray on Syria by “the Turks and Qs” (presumably meaning “Qataris”).

 

Below are the two emails in full.

 

24 October 2011

From: Soulieman Marouf

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

HELLO


MY DAD CALLED AND HIS FRIEND HAS BEEN CONTACTED BY THE FOLLOWING:


خالد التويجري - رئيس الديوان الملكي [English: “Khalid al-Tuwayjiri, Head of the Royal Court”]
عبد المحسن التويجري - قائد الحرس [English: “Abd al-Muhsin al-Tuwayjiri, Commander of the National Guard”]


BOTH ARE GREAT SUPPORTERS OF YOURSELF AND SYRIA AND VERY POWERFUL IN THE KINGDOM.


THEY WOULD LOVE IF YOU COULD MAKE A TRIP THERE TO PAY YOUR CONDOLENCES TO THE KING ASWELL AS WISHING HIM WELL AFTER HIS LATEST OPERATION.


THEY BELIVE THAT THIS GESTURE WILL CHANGE MANY THINGS AND IN THEIR WORDS:


ضرب كل المتصيدين في الماء العكرة [English: “Strike all those fishing in troubled waters”]


THEY SAY THIS TRIP SHOULD NOT BE DONE TOMORROW BUT SOMETIME EARLY NEXT WEEK (FRI, SAT OR SUN).


THEY SAY THE KING HAS GREAT PERSONAL AFFECTION TO YOU.


BYEZ

 

*

26 October 2011

From: Soulieman Marouf

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

HELLO

THE FEEDBACK WAS VERY POSITIVE.  THEY BELIEVE THAT BOTH FAMILIES ARE AS ONE FAMILY AND THE HOLD THE HIGHEST REGARDS FOR YOU.  THEY ALSO BELIVE THAT THE TURKS AND Qs LED THEM WRONG.  THEY WANT THIS MEETING TO HAPPEN AND BELIEVE IT IS VERY VERY IMPORTANT AND WILL CHANGE SO MANY THINGS.

BYEZ

 

 

Delegations from Russia and India

 

On 29 October 2011, the Syrian Minister of Presidential Affairs, Mansour Azzam, sent Assad a Microsoft Word document outlining, in Arabic, a plan to revitalize the Syrian tourism sector by inviting delegations from “friendly states supportive of Syria” to the country to “highlight the civilizations and religions and the security by which Syria is distinguished.”

 

The document goes on to say that delegations had in fact already been received from Russia and India. Below are translated extracts from the document pertaining to each delegation in turn.

 

Russia:

 

We received a large Russian delegation, and sent a group from the Ministry of Tourism accompanied by a delegation from the private sector to St Petersburg, where an exhibition was held about Syria and several other events took place, including a moment of solidarity with Syria undertaken on behalf of a number of authorities (private sector and the tourism ministry), and the printing and publication of road signs and television and other adverts. An invite was also extended to the Patriarch of Russia in cooperation with the Russian-Syrian Business Council, and the Patriarch pledged to accept the invite before the end of the year. And we are currently preparing touristic events including road signs and television adverts in Moscow, in coordination with the Syrians present in Moscow and the Syrian embassy and the Russian-Syrian Business Council.

 

India:

 

Approximately 28 people from India were received, among them academics and those from research centers, and the media, and tourism and travel offices. The selection of the delegation was undertaken in cooperation with our ambassador in India, and main goal was for them to write about Syria based on the facts of their field visit, and that they arrive at the conclusion that what is promoted in the media is a distorted and misleading image. They visited Damascus, Aleppo, and Lattakia, and met everyone from the foreign minister and the media chancellor Dr. Bouthania Shaaban to His Excellence the Mufti of the Republic, and they heard the story of the martyrdom of his son at the hands of the terrorist gangs. Then they went to Homs upon their request where they visited the national hospital and spoke to the injured and saw the people in the streets and spoke to the people who informed them about their fear of the terrorist gangs and said they need the army for their protection. At the same time the owners of the tourist and travel offices met with their Syrian counterparts for agreement on the exchange of tourism between Syria and India under the patronage of the tourism ministry and they [discussed] the ways of stimulating touristic exchange and they expressed their astonishment because the reality does not resemble at all what the media conveys about Syria.

 

The document then adds that plans are underway for similar delegations from China, Malaysia, and South Africa.

 

 

Aid workers celebrate Bashar’s speech

 

On 12 January 2012, an email was forwarded to Bashar al-Assad by his wife, Asma, which originated from a man named Ghimar Deeb, who, according to LinkedIn and previous leaks, was Democratic Governance & Crisis Prevention Team Leader at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Damascus at the time. Remarking that he found a recent speech by Assad “excellent,” he also appends a note sent by one Marc Gschwend, a “dear friend” and then-head of the Damascus office of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (a branch of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs), who described the speech as “very good news.” Below is the message from Gschwend to Deeb in full.

 

Hey Ghimar! I come with what I believe is a very good news!
Bashar just made a surprise appearance during a pro-regime demonstration on Omayad Square. He addressed the people directly and, beyond them the poeple of Syria. 
This surprise confirms my analysis of the speach he made yesterday (and, beyond his words, his attitude): he seems to have managed to make a "soft coup d'état" within his circles over the past few months and to be now in a position to set his own agenda. 
Unless I am very wrong: the game has changed in Syria now. We can look ahead (though there will be hurdles).
We can discuss when you are back. For now enjoy your holidays, but you will be coming back to a different country ;-)

Best

(Illustraion by NOW)

’I confess that our experience […] disposed us to think favorably of President Assad, right from the start,’ wrote Father Patrick Reardon.”