US envoy to Damascus: We are ready to cooperate against ISIL
Syrian President gives the envoy documents verifying US security officials’ involvement in terrorism
The White House’s announcement that Syria’s President Bashar Assad’s fate shall be decided by the Syrian people was not a surprise. It was being introduced since the early fall, on the eve of (and after) the election of Donald Trump as the US President and the successor of President Barack Obama who once showed readiness to conduct a military strike against the Syrian government in the summer of 2013
Since two years or even more, the west raised the voice against policies applied in Syria. The issue is not only about what is going on in Europe. Unlike the prevailing impression that the US majority doesn’t care for what is taking place in Syria and that the political, military and security administrations are forbidding any argument, some information and circulations appeared to show that the discussion is going tougher day by day, but there are parties closing the doors and shutting the eyes. What the presidential elections had uncovered, about the professional crisis which all US media outlets are suffering from, also reflected the deep ethical crisis of those outlets being controlled by authoritative powers on both administrative and economic levels. Even the media elites show greater superiority than that among the decision makers. Such superiority became popular in several countries. The US presidential elections’ results made clear that the media is not able to stick all the time with the course of their audiences.
Tulsi Gabbard, former Democratic Representative for Hawaii in the US Congress, had previously declared controversial opinions on what is going on in our countries. She is the woman whose voice rises in institutions and media outlets, and she represented one of the undesired voices of the administration’s powers. She decided to closely learn the truth of what is happening in our region, namely Syria. In the mid of last summer, Gabbard’s idea to make a fact-finding visit to Syria matured. All preparations indicated that the visit might be made in last October. The matter required some measures, starting with providing the required money for the trip, to prepare the agenda and then to obtain the visit permission from the House Committee on Ethics.
Things were done in late summer. However, what happened is that Gabbard, known by strong candidate Donald Trump’s team, was involved in the elections. She didn’t like Hillary Clinton at all, and she frankly supported Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, grabbing Trump’s electoral team’s attention. And as Trump won the elections, he discussed with his team the possibility of convincing Gabbard with taking a prominent governmental rank in his new administration. Meanwhile, Trump learned of her intention to visit Syria, and in turn asked her to delay the visit until he takes power because he has something to tell her.
Gabbard agreed with him. On October 21, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump received Gabbard for more than two hours and a half. She told him she couldn’t delay the visit more, and her program is scheduled to mid January between Syria and Lebanon, and that she will be there when he will officially takes office. So she congratulated him ahead, and apologized for not being able to attend the inauguration.
During the meeting, Trump asked Gabbard to explain her viewpoint on the situation in Syria and Iraq. After he heard her, he expressed his agreement on her analysis. She told him that she is preparing data to enact a law that forbids US citizens from cooperating with any person who has direct or indirect ties with terrorist groups around the world, especially ISIL.
Trump asked her: Are you going to meet Assad in Damascus?
Trump: Well, ask him if he is ready to communicate with us, and I’m ready to call him by phone. But let it be known from now that the cooperation will be entitled fighting ISIL. He will find that overthrowing him is outside the circle of my interests. The issue will stop circulating gradually. As for the direct contact and canceling sanctions, both issues need time; the important thing is that we know how he will act and how much he is ready to cooperate with us away from the Russians and the Iranians. We must change our policy towards Assad. The direct containment could be good. The man stayed in his position. The reality says that we have to deal with him in case we wanted to confront ISIL indeed.
The pragmatic virtual Trump finds that Obama’s policy had damaged the American power in the Middle East. He holds his predecessor responsible for keeping the region open in front of the Russian power, considering that his administration has to return and participate in directing the region, especially with respect to Syria and Iraq. In this regard, Trump wants to change all of the administration’s policies, whether internally or abroad. He pledges not to stand face to face with Russia, and he wants to besiege Iran and end the nuclear deal’s effects, even without giving up on it. He believes that Syria is the place where understandings could be made with the Russians and others.
Trump sees that ISIL is the main threat to everybody. He is pretty sure that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have role in supporting ISIL as well as all al-Qaeda branches. Despite his hatred of Iran, he believes it is more serious in fighting ISIL. He doesn’t want to only make a core political change, but also wants to change the strategy. Thus, he believes that the important issue right now is to focus on ISIL and ignore all other goals, including overthrowing Assad.
Trump knows he has many rivals in the US, starting with parties, media and intelligence to reach part of the army. However, he doesn’t want to retreat.
After Gabbard’s meeting with Trump was over, she asked to intensify the preparations for the trip. Yet what happened is that a campaign to hamper Gabbard was launched inside the US through the CIA and the FBI agents. All those who were concerned with the visit were contacted in an attempt to convince them to change their minds. Later on, the State Department started its efforts to confront Gabbard’s trip.
The US ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, received a sort of “instruction” that she has to hinder the visit. Richard had previously announced to the Congress, then when she arrived in Lebanon, that her mission is limited with confronting Hezbollah and the Syrian government. She even didn’t welcome the Congress member’s visit, yet she doesn’t know -officially- the goal of the visit. She assumed that she will definitely be the reference who would adjust the visit, set the dates and list the prohibitions.
It wasn’t too late before the ambassador was surprised with a message that went against her desire. She has been already confused with her administration’s decision to freeze her job along with other diplomats across the world. She wasn’t into setting a serious schedule. But Gabbard herself asked her aides to notify the US embassy in Beirut that they don’t want them to make any preparations or arrangements. She told her team: “I don’t want anything from the embassy there. No security protection, no logistic measures, no hospitality, no dates organization and not even participating in my visits.” The US ambassador was informed about that.
The ambassador thought that she has to act quickly. As Gabbard’s aides arrived in Beirut a couple of days before she did. Richard immediately asked to meet with them in the embassy’s headquarters, in the presence of the security official to explain details on the dangerous situation in Lebanon with certain recommendations. The security chief offered that Gabbard stays at the embassy. But once again, the ambassador, deprived from Lebanon’s blessings, was shocked. Gabbard’s aides told her that it is none of her business and that nobody wants something from her, adding that Gabbard prefers that her visit remains out of any protocol. She wants to select with whom she will meet, where and how.
The embassy’s security staff pressed to set conditions starting with the name of the Lebanese official security figure that will accompany Gabbard in her visit, with an explanation of the areas she cannot visit at all (the red zone) or the area that she is preferred to visit only in the day (the yellow zone) and the area open in day and night (the green zone). The embassy’s security official gave Gabbard’s aides phone numbers to be contacted when necessary, saying confidently: “We have units spread all over Lebanon that are ready to intervene when necessary.”
On January 14, Gabbard took off from Washington heading towards Beirut Airport. She arrived with her husband, the movie director and the rich man of Indian origins Abraham Williams, and the accompanying delegation on Sunday. Her aides were waiting for her, along with a force from the Embassies Security Apparatus of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. They were delegated after contacting Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq. Leaving the airport, the delegation headed directly to al-Yarzeh to obtain visa to enter Syria from the Syrian embassy in Lebanon. Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, was there. And he received them until the visas were issued.
What happened is that the American guest’s delegation chose a short way to reach al-Yarzeh, which means that she passed through Beirut’s southern suburb, classified within the red zone. Thereat, Gabbard asked: Where we are?
Answer: We are in the Hezbollah zone.
Gabbard: But where are the military bases and the militants?
Answer: Such things do not exist at all.
Gabbard: Are you sure we are passing through a zone that is fully controlled by Hezbollah?
Answer: Yes! And within minutes we will be in a zone that is under the Lebanese army’s full control, where the office and house of the Syrian ambassador are located.
There, the Black Panthers Force of the Internal Security Forces was waiting. It appeared later that the US embassy’s security officials weren’t pleased by the help of the Embassies Security Apparatus. Their information provides that it is influenced by Hezbollah, and that they prefer the “Black Panthers”. Gabbard’s aides accepted it, but as she arrived at her room in one of Beirut’s hotels, the US ambassador called asking to meet with her. Gabbard apologized reiterating: I want nothing from the embassy.
On Monday, at 8 in the morning, the convoy left the hotel heading directly to the Syrian borders. On the Lebanese border checkpoint, the convoy headed towards a security team that facilitated their entrance to the top visitors lounge. There, they were awaited by members of the protocol team in the presidential palace, headed by a Syrian presidential envoy. As the Lebanese security personnel remained on the border point, Gabbard and her delegation headed straight away to meet with President Bashar Assad.
President Assad received her with his familiar smile. He shook hands with the delegation members and asked Gabbard about her trip, who in turn started the conversation at once: “I am here on a fact-finding visit. I want to visit several areas in Syria if I could, and I want to meet with people on the ground. I need help in presenting documented and certain data on who is sponsoring the terrorist organizations, namely ISIL and al-Qaeda. I am here under a congressional permission. I wanted to come a month earlier but the delay happened due to President Trump’s demand.”
Gabbard later talked with Assad about her vision on the stance in Syria and the region. She said: “I met with President Trump before I came here. I am carrying his letter for you. He asked me to reflect to you his vision and thoughts regarding the region, and he demanded something else straightly.”
As Assad continued listening to her, Gabbard went on to expose her viewpoint and what she heard from the US President-elect. She reiterated to him the US administration’s remarks on its allies’ policies in Syria, counting Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Gulf States. She said that Trump’s ultimate priority is fighting ISIL, and that when approaching the Iranian issue, he will take into consideration that it is a very serious country in fighting ISIL. President Trump wants radical shift in the US policy towards Syria and the region.
Assad asked her: Is this the impression you made after meeting with Trump?
Gabbard replied: No, they are his thoughts, he asked me to reflect them to you. We, in short, want to cooperate with you on fighting ISIL. Trump is impressed with Russia’s brilliance in dealing with the Syrian issue, and he wants to make understandings with the Russians in Syria.
Gabbard suddenly asked Assad: If President Trump called you, would you respond?
Assad smiled: Is it hypothetical or a suggestion?
Gabbard: It is not hypothetical.
Assad: Is it your suggestion?
Gabbard: No, it is a question for you from President Trump. He told me to ask you. And I am repeating: If he called you would you respond?’
Gabbard was stunned with Assad’s fast reply: Of course, and I will give you a phone number through which I can be easily reached.
At that point, Gabbard seemed a bit surprised, as if she assumed that Assad won’t respond on the spot and he will ask for some time before he replies. Later, it appeared that the Trump administration believed that Assad will ask for some time before he replies to discuss the issue with his Russian and Iranian allies. The Americans frankly thought that Assad “won’t dare to contact them without Moscow’s permission.”
Before the end of the meeting, Gabbard explained to Assad once again that she needs to make a tour inside Syria to prepare her report on what is going on there. She asked if she could visit Aleppo after the Syrian army and its allies had regained full control of it.
In some two hours, Assad listened to Gabbard’s offer and then presented his viewpoint and information on what is happening, and the US direct or indirect role in supporting terrorist groups. After that, Gabbard entered another office where she met for extra two hours with Syria’s First Lady Asmaa Assad, in which they discussed social issues and the negative aspects of the war on Syria’s people. She went after to meet with Syria’s Mufti Badreddine Hassoun, visit Damascus Grand Mosque and then meet Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem. After all, she met with businessmen and academics who displayed the consequences of the war on Syria.
The delegation spent their night in an official hospitality headquarter. On that night, Gabbard accepted Assad’s Counselor Bouthaina Shaaban’s dinner invitation, in the presence of Syria’s UN Envoy Bashar al-Jaafari. Later, a meeting with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was organized.
In the next morning, an official political and security team from the Presidential Palace accompanied the American guest onboard a presidential plane off to Aleppo. Thereat, another team was waiting, and Gabbard made a two-hour tour in which she met with the Governor of Aleppo, MPs, clerics, activists and citizens. She also visited a migrant camp.
Before leaving Aleppo, Gabbard’s aides received a call that President Assad decided to receive her Wednesday all day, and that he made preparations to hold detailed meetings, including a business lunch, and that he will provide her with invulnerable documents confirming direct involvement of US security personnel, under a request of former President Barack Obama, in supporting terrorists in Syria. This is what happened, and Gabbard decided to delay its return from Wednesday to Thursday. On Wednesday, Gabbard met Assad twice in the presence of Syrian government officials who carried with them documents and files. He showed her what not only surprised her, but rather shocked her. She was given enough evidence to examine when she returns to the US.
Gabbard returned to Beirut on Thursday, in which her agenda was supposed to be full of previously scheduled meetings with respect to a list that for the first time didn’t include the figures the US embassy obliges any American visitor to meet with. The suggestions came along with Gabbard’s desire. Her agenda included visits for the three primates, the Army Commander, Director General of General Security, former President Emil Lahhoud and Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, stressing that the meetings won’t be attended by any of the embassy’s staff. She had assigned a date to meet with Ambassador Richard in a quick and sneak meeting.
The surprise was that the office of the Parliament Speaker refused to organize a meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri. Soon after, Gabbard’s team learned that the US Embassy intervened, informing the Speaker’s office, as well as those concerned in the presidential and governmental palaces, and even the security leaderships that the visit was not coordinated with the State Department.
Gabbard learned the issue, and asked her aides to inform the ambassador that what she is doing is illegal and that the White House will be informed about the issue, in which the ambassador will be held accountable for doing what contradicts with the US interests.
Before leaving Beirut, Gabbard held a non-scheduled meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari who happened to be in Beirut. She then traveled to the US, where she was awaited by a crowd of rivals who launched against her a media campaign that lasted several weeks. Gabbard, however, was waiting a date to meet with President Trump to inform him with her visit’s results, and in the meantime she started preparing her special report on Syria… which has its own long story as well!
Al-Akhbar Newspaper, Translated by website team
Source: Al-Akhbar Newspaper