Syrian en­voys eyed as spies on anti-regime pro­test­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE

The State Depart­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing charges that Syrian diplo­mats are spy­ing on Syrian anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors in Wash­ing­ton and other U.S. cities in or­der to in­tim­i­date their rel­a­tives in the restive Mid­dle East­ern nation.

Eric Boswell, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for diplo­matic se­cu­rity, re­cently sum­moned Syrian Am­bas­sador Imad Moustapha to air “con­cerns with the re­ported ac­tions of cer­tain Syrian Em­bassy staff in the United States,” the State Depart­ment said on July 8.

“We re­ceived re­ports that Syrian mis­sion per­son­nel un­der Am­bas­sador Moustapha’s au­thor­ity have been con­duct­ing video and pho­to­graphic sur­veil­lance of peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in peace­ful demon­stra­tions in the United States,” the depart­ment said.

The charges could spur the State Depart­ment to re­strict the travel of the am­bas­sador and other Syrian diplo­mats.

Hamdi Ri­fai, di­rec­tor of Arab Amer­i­cans for Democ­racy in Syria, said he filed a com­plaint with the State Depart­ment in June about re­ports of the am­bas­sador’s at­tempted in­tim­i­da­tion and sur­veil­lance of Syr­i­anAmer­i­cans.

“I was told they were ac­tively con­sid­er­ing plac­ing re­stric­tions on the move­ment of Am­bas­sador Moustapha amongst other reme­dies to the sit­u­a­tion,” Mr. Ri­fai said.

Rad­wan Zi­adeh, the di­rec­tor of the Damascus Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights who is in close touch with Syria’s lib­eral op­po­si­tion, said he first no­ticed Syrian diplo­mats mon­i­tor­ing demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton last month.

“What I know is, we had demon­stra­tions in front of the White House last month and, for the first time, we were con­fronted by some sup­port­ers of the As­sad regime. When we took pic­tures and looked for their names, some of them worked for the em­bassy,” he said.

“This hap­pened also in Michi­gan, New Jer­sey and Los An­ge­les, where there is a large Syrian com­mu­nity. We started ask­ing the State Depart­ment to fol­low up on this is­sue.”

Mr. Zi­adeh said he was wor­ried that the ac­tiv­i­ties from the em­bassy per­son­nel were part of a cam­paign to in­tim­i­date the fam­i­lies of Syrian-Amer­i­cans.

“All the Syrian ex­iles who are ac­tivists are afraid to go back to Syria,” he said. “My mother is in and mi­nor op­po­si­tion fig­ures who did at­tend the con­fer­ence, aimed at set­ting the frame­work for na­tional di­a­logue, were crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment crack­down.

Syrian Vice Pres­i­dent Farouk al-Sharaa called for a tran­si­tion to democ­racy in a coun­try ruled for four decades by the As­sad fam­ily dy­nasty. He cred­ited mass protests with forc­ing the regime to con­sider re­forms while warn­ing against fur­ther demon­stra­tions.

A se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said in re­sponse to the meet­ing: “We and the Syrian peo­ple are look­ing for pos­i­tive and gen­uine ac­tion from the Syrian

Rad­wan Zi­adeh, the di­rec­tor of the Damascus Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights who is in close touch with Syria’s lib­eral op­po­si­tion, said he first no­ticed Syrian diplo­mats mon­i­tor­ing demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton last month. “What I know is, we had demon­stra­tions in front of the White House last month and, for the first time, we were con­fronted by some sup­port­ers of the As­sad regime. When we took pic­tures and looked for their names, some of them worked for the em­bassy,” he said.

Damascus. She has been told she can­not travel, and my brothers and sis­ters have been told they can­not travel. They called my brother to is­sue state­ments to dis­credit and at­tack me. This is be­cause of what I am do­ing out­side of the coun­try.”

Mr. Ri­fai said he re­ceived a note to his Face­book ac­count from the Syrian In­te­rior Min­istry ask­ing him to end his op­po­si­tion ac­tiv­i­ties and obey Syrian law.

Mr. Zi­adeh talked to The Wash­ing­ton Times from Jo­han­nes­burg, where he was lob­by­ing the South African gov­ern­ment to vote in fa­vor of a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Syria’s crack­down on non­vi­o­lent protests.

Syrian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, has been fight­ing wide­spread non­vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions for about 14 weeks. Hu­man rights groups ac­cuse his se­cu­rity forces of killing as many as 1,600 pro­test­ers.

In its re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Moustapha, the State Depart­ment said: “The United States gov­ern­ment takes very se­ri­ously re­ports of any for­eign gov­ern­ment ac­tions at­tempt­ing to in­tim­i­date in­di­vid­u­als in the United States who are ex­er­cis­ing their law­ful right to free­dom of speech as pro­tected by the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

“We are also in­ves­ti­gat­ing re­ports that the Syrian gov­ern­ment has sought ret­ri­bu­tion against Syrian fam­ily mem­bers for the ac­tions of their rel­a­tives in the United States ex­er­cis­ing their law­ful rights in this coun­try, and will re­spond ac­cord­ingly.”

In Syria, main op­po­si­tion groups boy­cotted talks with the gov­ern­ment on Sun­day and said they would not ne­go­ti­ate un­til Mr. As­sad stops the vi­o­lent crack­down and frees thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal prisoners.

Even many of the in­tel­lec­tu­als, in­de­pen­dent par­lia­men­tar­i­ans gov­ern­ment that leads to a tran­si­tion. This tran­si­tion must meet the as­pi­ra­tions of the Syrian peo­ple. The Syrian gov­ern­ment will be judged by its con­crete ac­tions, not its words.”

The pub­lic al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Moustapha could sig­nal the fall in stature for an am­bas­sador who be­came a fix­ture of the diplo­matic cock­tail-party cir­cuit in Wash­ing­ton in the first years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Moustapha, un­like many of his pre­de­ces­sors, is ac­ces­si­ble to re­porters and even kept up a per­sonal blog. An en­try from Jan. 31, 2009, dis­cusses re­cent din­ner par­ties that the am­bas­sador threw un­der the ti­tle “Friends and More Friends.”

His din­ner guests have in­cluded jour­nal­ists Sey­mour Hersh and He­lene Cooper of the New York Times and mem­bers of Congress.

“Com­mon sense says that given what has hap­pened in­side Syria, Moustapha is in a com­pli­cated and tense sit­u­a­tion in Wash­ing­ton,” said Steve Cle­mons, Wash­ing­ton edi­tor-at­large for the At­lantic mag­a­zine, who has in­cluded the am­bas­sador among his guests at par­ties.

“I would be highly sur­prised if the em­bassy served as a base for in­tim­i­da­tion of Syrian-Amer­i­can fam­i­lies but have no sense of this one way or an­other. I think that Moustapha be­lieves in en­gage­ment and sup­ports broad eco­nomic lib­er­al­iza­tion,” Mr. Cle­mons said.

He added, “Just as am­bas­sadors of the United States need to obey the dic­tates of pol­icy whether con­ser­va­tive, lib­eral or neo­con­ser­va­tive, Moustapha must fol­low the in­struc­tions of his home base or re­sign.”

Mr. Cle­mons said he last saw the am­bas­sador at a din­ner he hosted for Robert Ford, who was ap­pointed last year as U.S. am­bas­sador to Syria.

Michael Singh, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, said the al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Moustapha are “be­yond the pale.” He said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion should kick the am­bas­sador out of the coun­try or at the very least re­strict his move­ment.

“It would be outrageous for any for­eign gov­ern­ment to do this in the United States. But the fact that this is the Syrian regime that is do­ing this and is re­port­edly us­ing the in­for­ma­tion against fam­i­lies or as­so­ciates of peo­ple here in the United States makes it even worse,” Mr. Singh said.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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