Perfectly Coordinated for Clobbering Syria

Every day of the week, two senior diplomats are on the phone to each other without fail – even when they are outside their regular offices in the White House, Washington and the Elysee Palace, Paris. US national security adviser Stephen Hadley and the French president’s diplomatic adviser, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, have developed this daily dialogue for coordinating US-French steps in Lebanon and Syria.

Seasoned diplomats in Washington and Paris say there is no precedent for a relationship this intimate between the US government and any European power since the Cold War.

The arrangement derives from a personal pact forged last winter by Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac to combine their policies for Lebanon and Syria. The pact was triggered by the assassination of former Lebanese Rafiq Hariri in Beirut in February, 2005.

By working together the two leaders believed they could achieve their goals in the Levant. This collaboration, they decided, would be totally divorced from all other issues including matters, like the Iranian nuclear threat, on which Washington and Paris are at loggerheads.

Their close teamwork forced Syria to quit Lebanon and set the scene for an election and a new Lebanese government independent of Damascus, but failed so far to bring to book the Syrian president Bashar Assad, his relatives and high officials of his regime for complicity in the murder.

Friday, Dec. 30, the collaboration, personified by the daily telephone conversations between the two presidential advisers, reaped dramatic action. Syrian ex-vice president Khalim Haddam caused a sensation in the Arab world by an interview with the Arabic TV station al Arabiya in which he accused Assad of threatening Hariri and complicity in his assassination. General Rustum Ghazaleh, former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, he named as the central figure in the murder plot.


Saudi passports for the Haddam family


Three days later, when Arab capitals were still buzzing over the unprecedented charges hurled against an Arab ruler, the UN investigators of the Hariri murder demanded access to President Assad, foreign minister Farouq a-Shara, and General Ghazaleh, for questioning on their role in the crime. Two days later, Jan. 4, the State Department spokesman in Washington called for an investigation of Haddam’s charges against the Syrian president.

It would not have been easy to wangle the Haddam interview with any television network, least of all one owned by Saudi Arabia, for the purpose of attacking an Arab ruler. Hadley and Gourdault-Montagne both brought their connections in Riyadh into play for two concessions, the interview and Saudi passports for Haddam and his entire family.

To swing permission for the interview, Saad Hariri, son of the murdered Lebanese leader, was approached – both as an interested party and a shareholder in the al Arabiya TV station. The Saudi royal court held back at first; allowing charges against a fellow-Arab ruler of engineering the murder to be broadcast over a Saudi station might be construed as an act of war. Riyadh would at least be deemed to have washed its hands of the Syrian ruler.

In the end, a positive response to both requests was granted.

Forty-eight hours before the interview, Saudi passports were handed over to Haddam at his villa on the Avenue Foch in Paris, for himself and family. The ex-vice president is living there under French intelligence protection on the orders of President Chirac. But the Saudi papers assured him and his family of their safety.

This foresight was not misplaced. Immediately after the shock interview was broadcast, the repercussions from a shocked Damascus came thick and fast.

The former vice president was accused in the Syrian parliament of treason and threatened with the withdrawal of the Haddam family’s passports by the Damascus government. Without the Saudi passports, his family would have been unable to leave Syria and their substantial property would have been subject to confiscation.

So effective was the broadcast interview that DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Paris sources report that negotiations are in progress with CNN and al Arabiya’s competitor Al Jazeera for Haddam to take to the airwaves with more shockers.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email