Assad Warned of Retribution in Store for Mocking America

A chilly wind blew through the interview to which US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman summoned Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha on Tuesday 2.3.
It took place after the Iranian and Syrian presidents on Feb. 25 publicly ridiculed the United States and its secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
On Feb. 17, when undersecretary of state William Burns called on Bashar Assad in Damascus and informed him the Obama administration had appointed the first US ambassador to Damascus in five years, Clinton called for "greater [Syrian] cooperation with respect to Iraq, the end to interference in Lebanon and the transport or provision of weapons to Hizballah, a resumption of the Israeli/Syrian track on the peace process which had been proceeding through the offices of the Turks, and generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran which is do deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States."
The following week, in the presence of visiting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Assad commented: "We have met today to sign a separation agreement… We must have misunderstood because of a bad translation or our limited understanding but instead signed an agreement to cancel visas."
The reporters present hooted with laughter at America's expense.
The Syrian ambassador realized how mad the Americans were as soon as he entered Feltman's office at the State Department this Tuesday. The unusual presence of the head of the Pentagon's Syrian desk, Jasmine Gamal, was an especially bad sign.

The punishment meted out to Damascus would be discreet

DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources in Washington report that Feltman started the interview by commenting drily that the administration had been reading reports from Damascus with great interest, and learning the reasons why President Assad had decided to mock Secretary of State Clinton and the Administration. Among other things, he came across an explanation by a confidante of Assad's who explained: “The Syrian reaction to the American request that was brought into the limelight by Hillary Clinton who did not take into consideration the psyche of the Syrian leadership. As a result, the Syrian official was not surprised by the level of sarcasm in Bashar al Assad's reaction.”
The Obama administration would not respond directly to Assad's behavior, said Feltman, but at the same time, Damascus should realize that the Obama administration would not tolerate any head of state mocking the United States. Therefore, he said, President Assad and senior members of his regime will find out pretty soon how the Americans feel about this matter. Washington will not publicize its measures, but Damascus will learn to regret the incident.
The ambassador tried and failed to draw Feltman out on the intended US repercussion; but the presence of a Pentagon official at the interview hinted at possible military steps.
This incident is still developing at a time when Clinton has decided to stay clear of the Middle East and its problems. The most prominent American filling the void of late is John Kerry, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is bent on forging a new model for US Middle East policy – albeit not so far with White House or Secretary Clinton's endorsement.

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