Syrian and Egyptian presidents, Bashar Assad and Hosni Mubarak, had nothing much to say to each other when they got together in Cairo on Sept 26. Each knew the other’s views on the Saudi-Egyptian rescue plan which DEBKA-Net-Weekly first revealed on Sept. 23 (Will He or Won’t He Perform a Qaddafi Stunt?).
Mubarak shares the Saudi king Abdullah’s ambition to save Assad from himself by sending him in the footsteps of the Libyan ruler. He would then seek rehabilitation in Washington by delivering a mea culpa of his misdeeds in public, including his role in engineering the murder of Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri, before setting about mending his ways.
Assad, for his part, has not made up his mind whether to adopt the Saudi-Egyptian plan.
But the Egyptian ruler had an ulterior motive in inviting Assad to Cairo. The next day, Tuesday, Sept 27, he was to be sworn in before parliament for his fifth term as president. Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi was invited to the ceremony as guest of honor.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources, Mubarak planned to persuade Assad to meet Qaddafi in Cairo. It would be most important, he told Assad, to hear from Qaddafi’s own lips how he overcame his problems with the Americans that were strongly analogous to those facing the Syrian ruler.
As an example, Mubarak cited the terrorist bombing that caused Pan-American 103 to crash over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in Christmas 1988.
In 1999, four years before the US invasion of Iraq, the Libyan ruler realized it was time to move away from fostering terrorist attacks and turn the perpetrators of the Lockerbie disaster over to international justice. The Egyptian ruler strongly advised Assad to take a leaf out of Qaddafi’s book and turn in the Syrian officers and agents involved in the Hariri murder.
After listening to Mubarak for two hours, the Syrian agreed to stay over in Cairo for another 24 hours and meet Qaddafi.
But then Mubarak’s scheme ran into an unexpected hitch.
The Libyan ruler had no wish to meet Assad, even in secret. In any case, he dismissed the Syrian president as the last man with whom he would share the secrets of his private exchanges with the Americans and Britons on the Lockerbie affair or the dismantling of his weapons of mass destruction.
Thus snubbed, Assad emplaned for home without further delay.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources add that Qaddafi is not the only Arab leader giving the Syrian ruler a wide berth these days. He recently asked for an invitation to Riyadh, only to be quietly rebuffed. Algeria’s Boutefliqa also gave him the brush-off. Syrian diplomatic feelers for a presidential visit to Amman or a royal visit to Damascus were turned down. In Ankara where last year he was received with open arms, the Syrian ruler is no longer welcome. Prime minister Tayyyep Erdogan and foreign minister Abdullah Gul told Syrian diplomats straight out that as matters stand in Iraq and Lebanon, the Turkish government prefers to keep its distance from Damascus.