assad - AP - November 10 2010
Syrian President Bashar Assad, November 10, 2010. Photo by AP
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s adviser on Middle East affairs, Boris Boillon, was also sent, at the beginning of December 2008, to brief the Americans after his meeting, at the end of November, with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, together with Sarkozy’s senior diplomatic adviser Jean-David Levitte and general secretary of the Elysee Claude Gueant.

Boillon told the Americans that, when “asked point blank whether Syria would end its support for Hizballah in exchange for Israeli territorial concessions on the Golan Heights, al-Assad made a somewhat astonishing statement ...: ‘For the moment I am not playing the role of policeman with regard to the arms going through Syria to Hizballah. But I understand Israel’s security requirements.’”

The Americans call his comments in the cable “a tacit admission that he is aware of, and facilitates, arms shipments to Hizballah.” According to Boillon, however, “the meaning was that in exchange for peace with Israel, al-Assad would be willing to turn off the arms flow to Hizballah.”

To date, nearly two and a half years later, the transfer of weapons to the Islamic organization has not been stopped.

The French were surprised at the Syrian president’s apparent bitterness when the discussion turned to matters of Iran. “The only high-level Iranian to visit Damascus in recent months was [then-] Foreign Minister [Manouchehr] Mottaki,” said Assad, with what the French perceived as “some annoyance” with Tehran. Assad added he was not prepared to transmit any more messages concerning the nuclear program to Tehran. “He seems to have been affected by Iran’s propaganda,” noted Boillon.

According to him, another topic on the agenda was the matter of the site suspected as being the location of a nuclear reactor at Deir al-Zur, which, according to foreign reports, Israel had bombed in September 2007. Assad repeatedly denied to the French that the facility had been a nuclear plant. The French warned him that the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency is “like a pit bull” and urged him to cooperate with it. Boillon said: “If we take too hard a line ... then the Syrians may pull back into their shell and turn again to Iran.”