21st Century Wire says…
The following article first appeared at Al Akhbar, on 3rd April 2017, in Arabic. A friend has translated the majority of the article into English. The article was written by Ibrahim al-Amin, Editor in Chief of Al Akhbar newspaper. It is important to note that this story has not yet been fully confirmed…
Al Akhbar: “The announcement by the White House that the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is decided by the Syrian people was not surprising. It has introductions date back to the beginning of last fall, on the eve of (and after) the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, replacing President Barack Obama, who had reached the point of preparing for a military strike against the Syrian government in the summer of 2013.
Two years ago and earlier, voices in the West rose in protest against policies in Syria. It’s not just what’s going on in Europe. Contrary to the prevailing impression that the American majority is not interested in what is happening in the Levant, and that the political, military and security departments are preventing any discussion; information and deliberations show that the debate is raging day after day, but there are those who are closing the doors and eyes.
What the presidential election revealed about the professional crisis experienced by the American media in all its diversity, also reflected the deep moral crisis that afflicts this media, which is dominated by powerful forces in the administration and the economy. Even its cultural elites, appear more superior than those in the decision-makers. It is a supremacy that has become generalised in many countries of the world. The results of the US presidential election showed the media’s inability to hold on to the public’s trends all the time.
Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the Congress from Hawaii, and a member of the Democratic Party. She had already made opinions that seemed to be critical (or controversial) about what was going on in our countries. Ms. Tulsi, whose her voice is prominent in the media and institutions, has been one of the most unpopular voices to the influential administration. She decided to get a closer look at the reality of what is happening over here, especially in Syria.
Mid summer, last year, the idea of visiting Syria on a fact-finding trip was ready. The arrangements were in place for the possibility of the visit in last October. It took some organising, from financing the trip, to arranging the agenda, to getting the congressional House Ethics Committee’s approval for the visit.
Arrangements were completed late summer. But what happened was that Gabbard, known to the team of strong candidate Donald Trump, was involved in the elections. She was never impressed with Hillary Clinton, and explicitly supported Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, something that caught the attention of the Trump electoral team. After the latter won the election, he discussed with his team the possibility of convincing Gabbard to take up a senior government post in his new administration. During the communication and research, Trump learned of her intention to visit Syria.
He asked her to delay the visit until his inauguration, because he had something to say to her.
Gabbard agreed to postpone her trip. On November 21st, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump received her for more than two and a half hours. She told him that she could not postpone the visit any more, and that her program was scheduled for mid-January between Syria and Lebanon, and that she would be there (in Syria & Lebanon) on the day he (Trump) officially took office. She gave him congratulations in advance and apologised for not being able to attend the inauguration ceremony.
During the meeting, he asked her to explain her point of view about the situation in Syria and Iraq. After hearing it, he informed her that he agreed with her analysis. She told him that she was working on the preparation of data to enact a law that would prevent Americans from cooperating with anyone who has direct or indirect links with terrorist groups in the world, especially Da’esh organisation.
Trump asked her: “Are you going to meet Assad in Damascus”?
She answered him: “Most likely”
“Well, ask him if he is ready to communicate with us, and I am ready to call him by phone. However, it should be known from now on that cooperation will be under the “Fighting Da’esh” title. He’ll find that the demand to remove him from office is not in my interests. And such slogan will gradually disappear from (media) circulation. However, direct communication and the abolition of sanctions are time-consuming, and it is important to know how he’ll act and how willing he is to cooperate with us in isolation from the Russians and the Iranians. We must change our policy towards Assad. Direct containment may be useful. The man has remained in power. Reality tells us that we have to deal with him if we really want to confront Da’esh”.
Trump, as a pragmatic president, believes that Obama’s policy has ruined American influence in the Middle East. His predecessor has the responsibility to leave the region open to Russian influence, arguing that his administration must return and participate in the administration of the region, especially in Syria and Iraq. In this context, Trump wants to change all the policies of the administration, the foreign policies as well as the internal ones. He pledges no confrontation with Russia, and wants to besiege Iran and end the effects of the nuclear agreement, even without abandoning it. He believes that Syria is the arena for understandings/deals with Russians and others.
Trump believes that Da’esh is the main danger to everyone. He is sure of the role of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in supporting Da’esh and all branches of al-Qaeda. Despite his hatred of Iran, he believes that it’s the most serious state in fighting Da’esh. He doesn’t want a fundamental political change only, but he wants to change the whole strategy, so he believes it is important to focus on Da’esh now and ignoring all other goals, including the goal of overthrowing Assad.
He knows he has many adversaries in America, from parties to the media and intelligence, down to a part of the army. But he does not want to go renege on this policy.
After her meeting with Trump, Gabbard wanted to step up preparations for the travel. But what happened was the start of a campaign to disrupt her trip to Syria, inside the United States, through CIA and FBI agents. Communications got in touch with all those involved in the visit to persuade them to abandon it. The Foreign Ministry also began to confront Gabbard’s trip.
The U.S. ambassador to Beirut, Elizabeth Richard, received what seemed to be “instructions” that she had to hamper the visit. She has already told Congress, and then upon her arrival in Lebanon, that her mission is confined to confronting Hezbollah and the Syrian government. She was not welcoming the congresswoman’s visit, but she did not know – officially – the purpose of the visit. She assumed that she would be the referee’s authority to control the visit, fix appointments, and place prohibitions.
It was not late for the ambassador to be surprised by a message opposite to her wishes. She is already living in a state of great tension because of its administration’s decision to freeze her work with other diplomats in the world. She was not in the process of developing a serious program (to the visit). But Gabbard herself asked her assistant team to inform the US embassy in Beirut that she did not want them to participate in the preparations or even the arrangements. “I do not want anything from the embassy there,” she told her team. “No security protection, no logistical procedures, no hosting, no scheduling, no participation in visits”. The US ambassador was informed.
The ambassador thought she had to move quickly. With the arrival of the congressional assistants to Beirut a few days earlier, Ambassador Richard asked to meet with them at the embassy and brought the security official to explain details of the serious situation in Lebanon with certain recommendations. The security official offered Gabbard would stay at the guest house at the embassy. Once again, the Ambassador in Lebanon was shocked. Gabbard’s assistants told her that neither they are interested in the offer nor wanted anything from her (the Ambassador), and that Gabbard preferred her visit to be far from all forms of the usual protocol. She wanted to choose who to meet, where and how.
The security guards at the embassy pressed for conditions, from the name of the Lebanese official security agency, which will accompany the US Member of Representative (Gabbard) while in Lebanon, with an explanation of the areas she can never visit (the red zone) or those that are preferred only by day (yellow zone) and those open day and night (the green zone). The security officer at the embassy then deposited a number of telephone numbers to call them when necessary, saying in a confident language: “We have units scattered all over Lebanon ready to intervene whenever necessary”.
On Saturday January 14, Gabbard left the US capital for Beirut airport. Gabbard, accompanied by her husband, a wealthy, Indian-born cinematographer, Abraham Williams, and the accompanying delegation arrived on Sunday. Her assistants were waiting for her, accompanied by a force from the embassy security service of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), which had been made available after contact with (the Lebanese) Interior Minister Nihad al-Mashnouk. From the airport, the convoy headed directly to the Yarzeh area to obtain a visa to Syria from the Syrian embassy there. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, hosted them pending the completion of visa papers.
What happened was that the convoy of the American guest chose a short route to reach the Yarzeh area. This means that she crossed the southern suburb (of Beirut), classified within the red zone (for the U.S. Embassy authorities). As she passed the district, she asked: “Where are we”?
“We are in the area of Hezbollah”
Gabbard: “But where are the military bases and the gunmen”?
“These things do not exist at all”, they answered her.
She asked again: “Are you sure that we are going through an area completely controlled by Hezbollah”?
Answer: “Yes! and within minutes we will be in an area completely under the control of the Lebanese army, and there is the office of the Syrian ambassador and his house”.
Over there, a force from the Lebanese (al-Fohud [Cheetahs]) squad of the ISF arrived. Security officials at the US Embassy were unhappy with the use of the Lebanese embassy security. Their information indicates that it is under the influence of Hezbollah, and that they prefer “Cheetahs” squad. Gabbard’s assistants accepted the order, but when she arrived at her room in a hotel in the capital, the American ambassador called to meet her. But Gabbard apologised, repeating: “I do not want anything from the (U.S.) embassy”.
On Monday morning at 8:00 AM, the motorcade starts their trip from the hotel directly towards the Syrian border. At al-Masna’ border checkpoint, the convoy heads towards a point where a Syrian security team was giving an easy access to the VIP lounge, where members of the Presidential Palace, headed by a Syrian presidential delegate, were waiting with the motorcade. While Lebanese security remained at the border, Gabbard and the delegation went directly to meet President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad received her with his usual smile. Shook hands with the members of the delegation, and asked her about the trip, and then she entered directly into the conversation:
“I’m here on a fact-finding visit. I want to visit more than one area in Syria if it was possible, and to meet people on the ground. I would like an assist in providing reliable and documented data on who supports terrorist organisations, especially Da’esh and Al Qa’eda. I am here with the approval of Congress, and I intended to attend months ago, but the postponement came at the request of President Trump himself. “
Gabbard then mentioned her vision of the situation in Syria and the region to Assad. “I met President Trump before coming over here,” she said. “I bring you a message from him. He asked me to tell you his thoughts and ideas about the region, and he asked for something else directly. “
Assad continued to listen, and Gabbard continued presenting her point of view and what she heard from the US president-elect. She repeated the administration’s comments on the policies of its allies in Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to the rest of the Gulf states. She told him that Trump’s absolute priority was to fight Da’esh. He will take into account his approach to Iran. It is a very serious country in the fight against Da’esh. President Trump wants a radical change in America’s policy toward Syria and the region.
Assad asked her: “Is this your impression after meeting Trump”?
Gabard replied: “No, that’s his idea, and he asked me to convey it to you. In short, we want to cooperate with you in fighting the Da’esh. Trump is impressed by Russia’s intelligence in managing the Syrian file and wants to build an understanding with the Russians in Syria.”
Then Gabbard suddenly asked Assad: “If President Trump called you, would you answer the call”?
Assad smiled and asked: “Is this a hypothetical question, or is it a suggestion”?
She told him: “It’s not a hypothetical one”.
Assad: “Is that a suggestion from you”?
Gabbard replied: “No, this is a question for you from President Trump, who asked me to convey it to you, and I will reask the question: If he calls you, will you answer the call”?
Gabbard was surprised by a quick response from Assad: “Of course, I will give you a phone number that he can reach me on quickly”.
Later, Trump’s administration thought that Assad would ask for some time before answering, in order to consult with his Russian and Iranian allies. The Americans thought frankly that Assad “would not dare to communicate with them without Moscow’s permission.”
Before the end of the meeting, Gabbard re-explained to Assad her need for a tour of Syria to prepare her report on what was going on. She asked if she could visit Aleppo, after the Syrian Army and their allies who had regained control of the city.
In about two hours, Assad heard Gabbard’s presentation, then presented his views and data on what was happening and the role of the United States of America directly or indirectly in support of terrorist groups. After that, Gabbard moved to another office, where she also met for two hours with the first Syrian Lady Asma al-Assad, and talked about the social aspects and negative effects of the war on the people of Syria. Then she met with the Grand Mufti of Syria, Badr al-Din Hassoun, and she visited the Great Mosque in Damascus, and then met with Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem, after which she met with businessmen and academics who presented the effects of the war on Syria.
The delegation arrived at an official hospitality. That evening, Gabbard paid a visit to Assad’s advisor, Dr. Buthaina Shaaban, to attend a dinner, in the presence of Syria’s UN representative Bashar al-Jaafari, and arrangements were made for a meeting with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
The next morning, an official political and security team from the (Syrian) presidential palace joined the American guest and everyone left on a presidential plane to Aleppo. Over there, another team was waiting, and Gabbard was taken on an extensive tour, during which she met with the governor, members of parliament, clerics, activists and citizens, and visited a camp for the displaced.
Before her departure from Aleppo, her assistants received a call that President al-Assad had decided to host her on Wednesday throughout the day, and that he had arranged for detailed meetings, including a working luncheon, and would provide her with compelling documents confirming the direct involvement of American security officials at the request of the administration of former President Barack Obama, in supporting terrorists in Syria. This is what happened, and the decision to postpone her departure from Damascus from Wednesday to Thursday. On Wednesday, Gabard met al-Assad twice with officials of the Syrian state who brought the documents and files. And presented her with what she felt as a shock rather than a surprise. She was given evidence to verify its authenticity when she returned to the United States.
Gabard returned to Beirut on Thursday, where she was supposed to have a schedule full of scheduled dates, according to a list did not include for the first time the characters that the US Embassy requires every American visitor to meet. The proposals came in response to Gabbard’s requests. The schedule included the meeting of the three presidents (the troika of the Lebanese system: the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the Parliament), army chief, general security chief, former president Émile Lahoud and Maronite Patriarch Bechara ar-Ra’i, stressing that no employee from the US embassy in Beirut would attend the meetings. She had set a date to meet with Ambassador Richard in a rapid and ephemeral meeting.
What happened, which was a surprise (to Gabbard’s team at the beginning), that The Speaker of the Parliament’s office refused to arrange a meeting between Gabbard with Mr. Nabih Berri (The Speaker of the Parliament). The Gabbard team quickly discovered that the US Embassy had intervened and informed the office of the Speaker of the Parliament, as well as those involved in the Presidential and Government Ministries and even security leaders, that the visit was uncoordinated with the U.S. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Gabbard learned of the matter and asked her assistants to inform the ambassador that what she was doing was illegal and would be reported to the White House, and the ambassador would be held accountable for an act contrary to the interests of the United States.
Before departing Beirut, Gabbard held an unscheduled meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was in Beirut by coincidence, and later travelled back to the United States to face a crowd of opponents who campaigned against her trip to Syria for several weeks. She was waiting for a meeting with President Trump to brief him on the results of the visit, while working on preparing her own report on Syria…”
**End of Al Akbar Article**
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) April 3, 2017