On November 3, 2017, Ibrahim Al-Amin, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Al-Akhbar Lebanese daily, which is close to Hizbullah and to the Syrian regime, published an article in which he claimed that a senior American security official had visited Syria several days ago and had met with a Syrian security official. According to the report, this was a continuation of recent contacts between CIA Director Michael Pompeo and Syrian National Security Bureau Director Ali Mamlouk to discuss Americans missing in Syria. The report said that the senior U.S. official who visited Syria made it clear to his Syrian counterpart that the U.S. forces on Syrian soil would not fight anybody except ISIS and that they had no intention of remaining in Syria after the defeat of ISIS. Al-Amin further reported that the U.S. official had spoken disparagingly of the capabilities of the armed opposition organizations in Syria in his talks with the Syrian official.
In the article, Al-Amin also cited statements made by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to recent visitors, among them the claim that no reasonable person could trust the Americans.
In an op ed, Abd Al-Bari Atwan, owner of the online daily Rai Al-Youm, also related to the apparent visit of the senior U.S. official, saying that the visit in and of itself was an "unprecedented step" and constituted "American recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership, acceptance that President Al-Assad would remain in power, and an attempt to open channels of dialogue with him regarding joint interests that could be achieved only through direct contacts."
It is noteworthy that on November 5, two days after the report on the U.S. official's visit to Syria, the Jordanian Al-Ghad daily reported, citing Syrian opposition members, that Syrian army forces had begun to withdraw from their posts at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle and near the U.S. base in Al-Tanf. It was unclear, however, whether the Syrian withdrawal from the vicinity of the U.S. base was carried out in coordination with the Americans and whether it was related to the apparent visit of the American security official in Syria.
A Pentagon spokesman, Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, denied that such a visit had taken place. He told the Al-Hurra TV channel that this was a false report and that the Pentagon and the U.S. forces had no contacts whatsoever with any senior official in the Syrian regime. A senior U.S. State Department official also told Al-Hurra that the department had no information of such a visit.
Following is a translation of the main points made by Ibrahim Al-Amin in the Al-Akhbar article:
The Visit Is Continuation Of Contacts Between CIA Director And Syrian National Security Director Vis-à-Vis Americans Missing In Syria – Apparently Including Intelligence Agents
As mentioned above, Ibrahim Al-Amin, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily, reported, on November 3, 2017 that a high-ranking American official had secretly visited Damascus several days earlier, and had met there with a Syrian security official. According to the report, the American official had come "as a representative of one of the most prominent American security agencies" and that "the newspaper had learned that the official, who holds a high position, had organized his visit through contacts with mutual friends of his and Syria." The report called the visit "an indication of change in the U.S. administration's policy vis-à-vis the Syrian issue."
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According to the report, the American official "arrived in Beirut early this week, and on Tuesday [October 31] traveled overland to the Syrian capital, accompanied by Lebanese security, where he was hosted for several hours by a high-ranking Syrian security official, and later he returned to Beirut." The report said that the American emissary "continued recent contacts between senior American security officials, including CIA Director Michael Pompeo, and Syrian National Security Bureau head Gen. Ali Mamlouk" with regard to "Americans missing in Syria, including, apparently, American intelligence agents." The U.S., said the report, "wants to verify this after it received an official dossier with a great deal of information about these [missing persons]."
Al-Amin continued: "The Syrian leadership has been cautious about the visit. It appears that Damascus decided to limit the level of the officials with whom the American guest met, and was not enthusiastic about high-ranking political officials meeting with him. This is particularly true in light of [Syria's] discouraging experience with the Americans, with past visits of emissaries to Damascus yielding no results whatsoever. Furthermore, it appears that Damascus does not want the [American] dialogue with it to be limited to the security channel. This is accompanied by the conviction that the presence of American forces on Syrian soil constitutes occupation."
American Official To Syrian Counterpart: U.S. Forces On Syrian Soil Will Fight ISIS Alone, Will Not Remain After Its Defeat
Al-Amin added: "It is known that the [American] security emissary, nicknamed 'David,' told the Syrian security official with whom he met that the U.S. military presence on Syrian soil is [strictly] in an advisory capacity and that the activity of the U.S. forces is limited to fighting ISIS. The official stressed that the U.S. and the army have no intention of clashing militarily with anybody else in Syria. Also notable was the [American official's] emphasis that the U.S. administration had no intention of leaving any base or military presence in Syria after it gets rid of ISIS, and that Washington has made no commitment to any element in the Syrian opposition to remain on Syrian soil – hinting at 'democratic Syrian forces' in general and the Kurds in particular. According to the information, the American security emissary spoke disparagingly of the capabilities of the armed groups that oppose the [Assad] regime, and stressed that his country did not believe in their ability to take permanent control of any region and maintain stability. He even said that Washington was acting together with Moscow to draw up arrangements for the post-ISIS phase, [arrangements] that will be based upon agreement with the Syrian regime."
According to Al-Amin, "Lebanese and Syrian sources refused to relate to the news item." He further wrote: "The issues brought up during the American-Syrian meeting require follow-up on the part of the two sides, but Damascus did not show any willingness or enthusiasm for security cooperation unless Washington announced clear changes in its policy [vis-à-vis the Syrian regime]."
Assad To Recent Visitors: We Will Not Relinquish "Full And Absolute Control In All Syrian Lands"; "There Will Not Be Another Kurdistan In Syria"
The rest of Al-Amin's report expanded on Assad's positions on other issues, as reported by people who visited Assad recently: "The visitors said that the Syrian president opposed any attempt by anybody in the world to present solutions that require the central regime to relinquish – even temporarily – full and absolute control over all Syrian lands." They added that "Assad told Damascus's allies and friends that the proposals that will leave Syrian areas under Turkish, U.S., or Jordanian aegis are not acceptable, that Damascus is not negotiating with the Kurds on independent administration of regions, and that there will not be another Kurdistan in Syria. He stressed that the regions where the Kurds are situated are Syrian regions with nothing unique that would require autonomy. [Assad] stressed that the Syrian government would continue to act in order to regain control over all Syrian lands, whether through negotiations and reconciliation or through military campaigns, [and that] Damascus would under no circumstances agree to a change in the demographic or political situation in any region in Syria."
Assad To Recent Visitors: No "Reasonable Person Can Trust The U.S. Administration"
Al-Amin continued: "The visitors further said that Assad – who calmly recapped the situation on the ground and the imminent final collapse of ISIS – is not operating on the assumption that the war is over, but thinks that Syria's enemies are working to keep the fire stoked... and he is acting to strengthen the military and security situation [in Syria] and is taking steps that will help people remain steadfast."
The visitors said that Assad told them that "neither he nor any other reasonable person can trust the American administration, no matter what positions Washington makes public or what emissaries it sends."
Al-Amin said that according to the visitors, Assad had "protested to Moscow over its plan to hold a conference for dialogue among the Syrian peoples. He told the Russian leadership that there is a single Syrian people, not [many] peoples, and that Damascus welcomes dialogue but refuses to hold it at the Russian Hmeimim [air] base [in Syria]. The visitors revealed that Moscow had given up on the idea and on the phrase 'Syrian peoples' and had moved the conference to Sochi, Russia."