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111th Congress 
 2d Session                 COMMITTEE PRINT                     S. Prt.
                                                                 111-54
_______________________________________________________________________

                                     


                        SAUDI ARABIA AND SYRIA:

                     IMPROVING BILATERAL RELATIONS,

                        ADVANCING U.S. INTERESTS

                               __________

                        A MINORITY STAFF REPORT


                      prepared for the use of the


                     COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS

                          UNITED STATES SENATE


                     One Hundred Eleventh Congress

                             Second Session

                             July 21, 2010



                                     


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                 COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS        

             JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts, Chairman        
CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, Connecticut     RICHARD G. LUGAR, Indiana
RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, Wisconsin       BOB CORKER, Tennessee
BARBARA BOXER, California            JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey          JAMES E. RISCH, Idaho
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland         JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
ROBERT P. CASEY, Jr., Pennsylvania   JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming
JIM WEBB, Virginia                   ROGER F. WICKER, Mississippi
JEANNE SHAHEEN, New Hampshire        JAMES M. INHOFE, Oklahoma
EDWARD E. KAUFMAN, Delaware
KIRSTEN E. GILLIBRAND, New York
              Frank G. Lowenstein, Staff Director        
        Kenneth A. Myers, Jr., Republican Staff Director        

                              (ii)        
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                            C O N T E N T S

                              ----------                              
                                                                   Page
Letter of Transmittal............................................     v

I. Introduction..................................................     1

II. Staff Findings...............................................     1

    A. Saudi Arabia..............................................     1

        1. Substance.............................................     2

            a. Critical Infrastructure Protection................     2

            b. Regional Stability................................     4

        2. Process...............................................     6

    B. Syria.....................................................     7

        1. Ambassadorial Access (or Lack Thereof) . . ...........     7

         2. . . . To Better Advance U.S. Interests...............     8

            a. A Suitable New Embassy Compound...................     8

            b. A Responsible Syrian Role in the Region...........     9

            c. Halting Missile Transfers to Hizballah............     9

        3. Security and Morale...................................    10

III. Conclusion..................................................    10

Appendix.--Interlocutors.........................................    11

                                 (iii)
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                         LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL

                              ----------                              

                              United States Senate,
                            Committee on Foreign Relations,
                                     Washington, DC, July 21, 2010.
    Dear Colleague: In late May, I directed my senior 
professional staff member for the Middle East, Dorothy Shea, to 
visit Saudi Arabia and Syria to review bilateral relations as 
well as cooperation on regional issues. Although the 
circumstances facing Saudi Arabia and Syria differ greatly, 
U.S. foreign policy toward both countries warrant continued 
oversight, given the importance of U.S. interests at stake.
    In Saudi Arabia, staff paid particular attention to a 
relatively new bilateral cooperation program on Critical 
Infrastructure Protection, a partnership that is important not 
only for stability in the Kingdom, but for the protection of 
energy security more broadly. It is too early to judge the 
success of the relatively new partnership. Looking forward, 
staff recommended the development of rigorous metrics to 
measure progress and ensure transparency. Staff also reviewed 
U.S.-Saudi efforts to promote greater stability in the region, 
finding a solid basis of shared interests and constructive 
collaboration to advance those goals. That said, there is room 
for greater cooperation.
    Relations with Syria, meanwhile, remain quite strained. The 
Bush Administration decided to recall its Ambassador to Syria 
in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, who was 
then Prime Minister of Lebanon. After a five-year hiatus, the 
Obama Administration has nominated a U.S. Ambassador to Syria, 
making the case that a U.S. Ambassador on the ground would not 
be a reward to the regime in Syria, but rather would represent 
a tool to advance U.S. interests. Against the backdrop of 
Congressional debate about the nomination of Robert Ford as 
U.S. Ambassador to Syria, staff reviewed Embassy operations in 
the absence of an Ambassador. Staff found that the lack of an 
Ambassador in Damascus has rendered the Embassy extremely 
limited in its ability to conduct normal business. The 
Embassy's resultant lack of access has left it hampered in its 
ability to press for progress on a range of specific issues, 
some of which are of great importance to U.S. interests, such 
as obtaining a property for a new, more secure, Embassy 
compound. In addition, recent reports of Syrian transfers of 
ballistic missiles from Iran to Hizballah in Lebanon underscore 
the importance of ensuring that the U.S. message is heard and 
understood in Damascus. U.S. Embassy officials told staff that 
in the midst of this missile incident, they had experienced 
difficulties delivering an urgent demarche to the Syrian 
Government.






                                  (v)

    In the interest of contributing to Congressional 
deliberations on the prospects for advancing U.S. interests in 
the Middle East, I wanted to share with you the staff trip 
report, which I believe provides useful insight into key issues 
at play with respect to Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as 
their respective roles in the region. I hope that you will find 
this information helpful.
    I look forward to continuing to work with you on these 
issues and welcome any comments you may have on this report.
            Sincerely,
                                          Richard G. Lugar,
                                                    Ranking Member.
 SAUDI ARABIA AND SYRIA: IMPROVING BILATERAL RELATIONS, ADVANCING U.S. 
                               INTERESTS

                            I. Introduction

    As part of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's 
oversight of the management of U.S. foreign policy, Senior 
Professional Staff Member for the Middle East Dorothy Shea 
visited Saudi Arabia and Syria May 28-June 2, 2010. In both 
countries, staff reviewed the state of bilateral relations as 
well as cooperation on regional issues. Despite the vastly 
different contexts, U.S. relations with both countries warrant 
continued oversight, albeit for different reasons. In Saudi 
Arabia, oversight was focused on the broader relationship; 
whereas in Syria, staff was particularly concerned with the 
question of the merits of having a U.S. Ambassador on the 
ground. Both the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and that 
in Damascus, Syria have recently undergone internal reviews, 
having been inspected by the State Department's Office of the 
Inspector General (OIG).\1\ The staff delegation followed up on 
several of the OIG's findings and recommendations with Embassy 
staffs in the respective countries.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \1\ See U.S. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of 
Governors Office of Inspector General's Report of Inspection: Embassy 
Riyadh and Constituent Posts, Saudi Arabia, Report Number ISP-I-10-19A, 
March 2010; and Report of Inspection: Embassy Damascus, Syria, Report 
Number ISP-I-10-34A, March 2010.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           II. Staff Findings


                            a. saudi arabia


    The United States Government and the Kingdom of Saudi 
Arabia have long enjoyed strong relations. The relationship is 
built on mutual interests, including regional stability, energy 
security, and the fight against terrorism. Relations have not 
been without challenges, however, particularly in the aftermath 
of the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which 15 of the 
hijackers were Saudi nationals. That said, the trajectory is 
positive, as the relationship has matured and strengthened over 
time. The purpose of this report is not to review the history 
of those relations--many documents available to the public do 
an excellent job in this regard.\2\ Nor is the purpose to 
provide a comprehensive overview of U.S. policy vis-a-vis the 
Kingdom. Rather, staff looked into a couple of discrete areas 
where there might be opportunities to better advance U.S. 
interests vis-a-vis the Kingdom. Findings relate to both the 
substance and process of U.S.-Saudi relations.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \2\ See, for example, Christopher M. Blanchard, ``Saudi Arabia: 
Background and U.S. Relations,'' (Congressional Research Service 
RL33533, December 16, 2009); and the Department of State's Background 
Note on Saudi Arabia (April 5, 2010); http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/
3584.htm.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. Substance
    The U.S. Embassy Country Team has laid out several core 
objectives with respect to Saudi Arabia. These include working 
cooperatively to counter the threat of terrorism; working 
constructively to promote regional stability; improving U.S.-
Saudi economic ties, including through increased 
diversification of the Saudi economy; building and improving 
ties between the Saudi and American people; and promoting good 
governance. The reality is that the United States has many, 
sometimes competing, interests, and staff found that the U.S. 
Embassy was aggressively pursuing progress on these fronts. Of 
paramount concern to U.S. national security interests are 
energy security, which is being addressed in Saudi Arabia, 
among other ways, through a new program on critical 
infrastructure protection; and regional stability, which the 
Kingdom is working to promote both domestically and abroad, 
both at the operational level, through counter-terrorism 
programs, and at the societal level, through counter-
radicalization efforts. Staff focused on U.S.-Saudi cooperation 
on critical infrastructure protection and regional security.
            a. Critical Infrastructure Protection
    Saudi oil reserves are the largest in the world, estimated 
at 263 billion barrels, and over one million barrels of Saudi 
oil are supplied to the U.S. market on a daily basis. As the 
State Department Background Note puts it, ``The continued 
availability of reliable sources of oil, particularly from 
Saudi Arabia, remains important to the prosperity of the United 
States.'' \3\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \3\ Department of State's Background Note on Saudi Arabia (April 5, 
2010).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Following the May 2006 attempted terrorist attack on the 
Abqaiq oil processing facility, the United States and Saudi 
Arabia stepped up their cooperation on the protection of the 
Kingdom's energy resources. In May 2008, the United States and 
Saudi Arabia signed a Technical Cooperation Agreement on 
critical infrastructure protection. Meetings to set the agenda 
for the program and review progress will be held semi-annually 
and chaired on the U.S. side by Under Secretary of State for 
Political Affairs Bill Burns, and on the Saudi side by Deputy 
Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef.
    A key challenge to infrastructure protection is that energy 
infrastructure in Saudi Arabia is dispersed throughout the 
country. The goal of the technical assistance program is to 
establish and improve the Saudis' capability to protect 
critical infrastructure via the transfer of technical 
knowledge, advice, and resources. The new bilateral program has 
begun execution through project-specific agreements, which are 
fully funded by the Saudi government. The value of agreements 
in place for the next three years is about $800 million. In 
October 2008, then-U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ford Fraker 
predicted that the value of contracts associated with the 
program could reach tens of billions of dollars.\4\ Key 
components include:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \4\ As quoted in above cited Congressional Research Service report 
on Saudi Arabia, RL3533.


   The Facilities Security Force. Standing up a 35,000-strong 
        force to defend critical sites. The Saudis will do the 
        recruiting; the U.S. will help provide basic training, 
        English-language training, and specialized training;
   Site Assessments. Identification of priority sites, which 
        are then visited for assessment of vulnerability;
   There is agreement in principle for future cooperation on 
        Diplomatic Security; Maritime Security; and Cyber 
        Security.


    Staff had the opportunity to meet with members of the new 
team of U.S. experts in Riyadh, who are funded by the Saudi 
government. They are contractors employed under the banner of 
the new Office of Program Management--Ministry of Interior. 
Staff found the growing cooperation, of both a policy and 
technical nature, to be promising. While it is still too early 
to assess progress, the program is working from sound guiding 
principles, including:


   The need to be anticipatory and adaptable;
   The need for continuous planning and adaptation;
   The need for seamless inter-agency coordination on the part 
        of both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Government; and
   The need for independent evaluation and auditing.


    Given the importance to U.S. interests of protecting 
critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, staff believes that 
this area of cooperation will merit continued oversight. 
Suggested areas of oversight include:


   Measuring success. Ultimately, the success of this program 
        will be measured by the extent to which the security of 
        Saudi energy infrastructure sites is enhanced. It is 
        important that precursor metrics be developed, however. 
        One can imagine metrics to gauge the effectiveness of 
        the training of the 35,000 new recruits for the new 
        Facilities Security Force, for example. Similarly, the 
        ability of this new force to deter attacks could be 
        tested by targeted drills. The point is not for the 
        Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government to develop 
        metrics, but to be sure that the U.S. Administration 
        and Saudi overseers of this program do, and that they 
        are used to make improvements where necessary as the 
        program matures.
   The degree to which seamless inter-agency cooperation is 
        achieved and maintained.  This pertains to both the 
        U.S. side (where the State Department, the Departments 
        of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, and the 
        Intelligence Community are all stakeholders), and the 
        Saudi side, which one observer described as 
        ``hopelessly stove-piped,'' particularly in the 
        security sphere.
   Transparency in awarding contracts. The prospect that the 
        value of contracts that could be associated with this 
        program may reach tens of billions of dollars 
        underscores the need for vigilance in ensuring that 
        contracts are awarded in a transparent, results-based 
        manner. In addition, both sides must take pains to 
        avoid potential perceptions of diplomatic payoff to buy 
        American goodwill, and/or greed on the part of U.S. 
        contractors. Under Secretary Burns and Prince Nayef can 
        play an important role in this regard by setting a tone 
        of professionalism and accountability in the bilateral 
        oversight meetings.
            b. Regional Stability
    Staff had hoped to follow up on Washington-based 
discussions about regional dynamics, including Saudi views of 
Iran's role in the region, Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen, in 
Syria and Lebanon, as well as in promoting Israeli-Palestinian 
peace talks. Unfortunately, suitable interlocutors were not 
available in Riyadh to have a meaningful exchange. (See below 
section on Process issues.) Even so, based on conversations 
with State and Embassy officials in the field, staff would 
recommend continued oversight on the following areas:


   Cooperation on Iran.  Saudi Arabia can play an important 
        role in bolstering and helping preserve the integrity 
        of the sanctions regime. Saudi views about Iran's 
        nuclear program are also important and should be given 
        serious consideration.
   Cooperation on Yemen.  Saudi Arabia exercises far more 
        leverage in Yemen than does the United States. As the 
        United States seeks to prevent state failure in Yemen 
        and to counter the threat of terrorism emanating from 
        al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, there is potential 
        for improved cooperation. Indeed, considerable 
        international cooperation, including with the Kingdom, 
        is already in evidence through the Friends of Yemen 
        Group. But to achieve lasting results, a closer 
        alignment of the U.S. and Saudi approaches would be 
        helpful. For example, job creation for the 40% of the 
        Yemeni population that is estimated to be unemployed--
        especially youth--is critical. Saudi Arabia and other 
        Gulf Cooperation Council member states could play an 
        important role in this regard. In addition, the 
        distribution of cash payments to Yemeni President Saleh 
        and the tribal leaders contributes to a lack of 
        transparency in governance and is thus part of the 
        problem, not the solution.
   Syria/Lebanon. Saudi-Syrian relations became quite strained 
        after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister 
        Rafik Hariri in 2005, since Hariri, who had acquired 
        Saudi citizenship, was close to the royal family. 
        October 2009 marked a turning point in relations, with 
        a visit by King Abdullah to Damascus. Among other 
        things, his visit is believed to have helped break the 
        logjam in the formation of the Lebanese government. 
        Relations have since continued to thaw, as evidenced by 
        Syrian President Assad's reciprocal visit to Riyadh 
        last January. Many observers perceive the King's 
        overture to Damascus as motivated in part by a desire 
        to displace Iranian influence in Damascus. Although the 
        U.S. Administration shares this goal, it has been 
        sensitive to the concern expressed by many Lebanese 
        observers, particularly those sympathetic to the pro-
        Western March 14th Coalition, that any Saudi-Syrian 
        rapprochement should not come at the expense of 
        Lebanon. Indeed, Syria has been reasserting its 
        influence in Lebanon, evidenced most recently by the 
        visits to Damascus by Prime Minister Saad Hariri both 
        before and after his May 25th visit to Washington. The 
        degree to which there is room for closer U.S.-Saudi 
        cooperation in Syrian-Lebanese dynamics is unclear but 
        should nonetheless be explored.
   Promoting Middle East Peace. In the face of hard-lined 
        resistance in the Arab League, Saudi Arabia has helped 
        keep alive the Arab Peace Initiative, first put forward 
        by then-Crown Prince Abdullah and later endorsed by the 
        Arab League at the 2002 Beirut Summit. Similarly, the 
        Kingdom has played a relatively positive role in the 
        Arab League supporting Palestinian participation in 
        Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks. Continued 
        oversight can help underscore the importance of 
        continued Saudi moderation.
   Countering Terrorism. Administration officials with whom 
        staff met gave the Saudi government high marks for 
        improved cooperation in countering terrorism. That 
        said, the latest State Department report on money 
        laundering noted that Saudi Arabia ``continues to be a 
        significant jurisdictional source for terrorist 
        financing worldwide.'' \5\ It goes on to state that the 
        Kingdom ``could do more to target Saudi-based support 
        for extremism outside of Saudi's borders'' by, for 
        example, holding terrorist financiers publicly 
        accountable through prosecutions and full 
        implementation of United Nations Security Council 
        obligations'' and establishing a ``charities oversight 
        mechanism.'' Continued oversight in this area may help 
        encourage more rigorous enforcement.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \5\ Department of State's International Narcotics Control Strategy 
Report (2009); http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/120055.pdf.


    Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia deserves credit for the fatwa that 
was recently issued by Council of Senior Ulema denouncing 
terrorism, which it defines as ``a crime aiming at 
destabilizing security'' by attacking people or property, 
including by ``blowing up dwellings, schools, hospitals, 
factories, bridges, airplanes (including hijacking), oil, and 
pipelines.'' The fatwa also specifically disallows the 
financing of terrorism, which it specifies as ``a form of 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
complicity to those acts.''


   Countering Radicalization. The Kingdom has developed an 
        innovative religious-based rehabilitation program to 
        help de-radicalize terrorists by discrediting the 
        ideological and religious underpinnings of violent 
        Islamic extremism. The program uses a combination of 
        religious counseling, psychological treatment and 
        family interventions, which, taken together, provide a 
        foundation to promote reintegration and prevent 
        recidivism.\6\ The results of the program are not 
        perfect; there has been some recidivism, including on 
        the part of several who have then gone on to leadership 
        and membership in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, 
        based in Yemen. Even so, to the extent that the program 
        has had some success, it is worthy of further study. 
        Many observers caution, however, that lessons learned 
        from the Saudi experience may not be applicable 
        elsewhere, given that the Saudi program relies heavily 
        on socio-cultural aspects which are considered sui 
        generis.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \6\ See Christopher Boucek, ``Counter-Terrorism from Within: 
Assessing Saudi Arabia's Religious Rehabilitation and Disengagement 
Programme,'' (Royal United Services Institute Journal, vol. 153, no. 6, 
pp. 60-65), December 2008.


    The de-radicalization program has largely focused on 
returned detainees from Guantanamo Bay and convicted 
terrorists. In addition, the Kingdom is seeking to do more in 
the area of pre-emptive programs to counter the appeal of 
extremism to at-risk populations. Staff had the opportunity to 
meet with the leadership of the King Abdulaziz Center for 
National Dialogue, along with several youth volunteers who have 
participated in various national and international dialogues to 
promote tolerance. The Center represents a potentially 
important mechanism to foster religious and cultural tolerance. 
More could be done in this regard, however, including by more 
thoroughly vetting the curricula of Saudi-funded madrassas, 
both within and outside the Kingdom.
2. Process
    Doing business with the Saudi government is complicated. 
Power is concentrated among a small group of individuals that 
includes the King and several key advisors. Mid-level 
officials, and even relatively high-level officials outside 
that circle, are generally not empowered to take independent 
action or convey official positions. As a result, day-to-day 
diplomacy is often subject to bureaucratic holdups.
    Complicating this process challenge is a long-standing 
tradition whereby the Saudi King prefers to rely on the Saudi 
Ambassador to the United States as his exclusive intermediary 
with the U.S. Government. As a result, the U.S. Ambassador and 
team are not always in a position effectively to perform their 
proper functions. This phenomenon of over reliance on the 
Washington channel is not new; many observers point out that 
Prince Bandar served such a function during his long tenure as 
Ambassador to the United States. The status quo is, 
nonetheless, frustrating to the U.S. Embassy and to the State 
Department. The United States has a capable Ambassador and 
Country Team in Riyadh; they should be empowered with a greater 
role in the division of labor between the Washington and Riyadh 
channels.
    One of the ideas for changing this dynamic includes the 
reinvigoration of the U.S.-Saudi strategic dialogue. This 
dialogue was established in 2005 and provided a strategic 
framework for discussions on issues including counterterrorism, 
energy, political-military issues, economic and trade issues, 
consular issues, and education, exchange, and human 
development. Asked about the merits of such a mechanism, some 
interlocutors underscored the significant potential benefits of 
the imposition of discipline on official interactions, on the 
one hand, and of having a formal framework for resolving 
differences, on the other. Both Saudi and U.S. diplomats 
cautioned, however, that an inherent drawback of such strategic 
dialogue exercises is that they sometimes end up being process-
driven without producing sufficient results to justify the 
outlay in effort.


                                b. syria


    Relations with Syria have been strained for many years, 
reflecting U.S. rejection of Syria's sponsorship of terrorism, 
not only through hosting and supporting Palestinian 
rejectionist groups, but also by providing materiel and 
financial assistance to Hizballah in Lebanon. Tensions 
culminated with the recalling of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria 
five years ago in the aftermath of the assassination of 
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This move sent a strong 
signal of condemnation of Syria's destabilizing behavior in the 
region and served to further isolate the regime in Damascus. 
The Obama Administration has for the past year changed tack, 
pursuing an engagement track with the Assad regime, including a 
series of visits by high-level delegations to Damascus. The 
purpose of the staff trip was not to review the history of 
bilateral relations--many public reports provide such 
background.\7\ Instead, taking into consideration the pending 
nomination of Robert Ford as U.S. Ambassador to Syria, staff 
focused primarily on the extent to which the U.S. Embassy in 
Damascus is able to operate effectively in the absence of a 
U.S. Ambassador. Staff also reviewed several key U.S. interests 
that have not been advancing adequately in the absence of a 
U.S. Ambassador.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \7\ See, for example, Jeremy M. Sharp, ``Syria: Background and U.S. 
Relations,'' (Congressional Research Service RL33487, April 26, 2010); 
and the Department of State's Background Note on Syria (February 17, 
2010); http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. Ambassadorial Access (or Lack Thereof) . . .
    Against the backdrop of Congressional debate about the 
nomination of Robert Ford as U.S. Ambassador to Syria, staff 
reviewed Embassy operations in the absence of an Ambassador. 
Staff found that the lack of an Ambassador in Damascus renders 
the Embassy extremely limited in its ability to conduct normal 
business. For protocol reasons, the Syrian Government will not 
receive the very capable Charge d'Affaires ad interim at the 
Ministerial level or above. The only exceptions have been the 
Charge's meeting with the Foreign Minister to present the U.S. 
request for agrement for Robert Ford's nomination, and when he 
has accompanied delegations of high-level U.S. visitors. The 
business the Embassy does manage to conduct is hardly 
efficient: all interactions with the Government of Syria must 
be handled by diplomatic note--the Embassy had logged some 400 
in the first five months of 2010. Of course, the presence of an 
Ambassador would not negate the continued need to conduct much 
day-to-day business via diplomatic note, but an empowered 
Ambassador could be expected to break through logjams.
    As a result of its relative lack of access, the Embassy has 
been hampered in its ability to press for progress on a range 
of specific issues, some of which are of great importance to 
U.S. interests. The Embassy is often unable to deliver critical 
demarches to policy makers, as in the aftermath of reports of 
the transfer of long-range missiles via Syria to Hizballah. 
This has led to an over-reliance on the Washington channel. In 
this context, some critics have expressed doubts about whether 
the Syrian Ambassador to Washington is a reliable conveyor of 
U.S. views to his home capital. One thing is clear: in the 
absence of an Ambassador, the U.S. message is not adequately 
heard.
    It should be noted, however, that even in such a non-
permissive environment, the Embassy has done an admirable job 
of breaching obstacles to engage directly with the Syrian 
people. In the above-cited report, the OIG credited the 
Embassy's Public Affairs Section with the ``best practice,'' 
now being replicated by other U.S. Missions, of initiating a 
free text messaging service to improve recipients' English, 
offering a weekly example of American idiomatic usage. As a 
result, the Embassy has a growing client base of service 
subscribers with whom it can engage. The Public Affairs shop 
has also made excellent use of the extremely limited exchange 
programs available to Syrians. Although the Fulbright exchange 
program came under serious strain in recent years, the section 
was able to generate 10 Fulbright exchanges and 34 
International Visitor Leadership Program participants. Staff 
had the opportunity to make a site visit to a Syrian non-
governmental organization that provides services to and raises 
public awareness about autistic and hearing-impaired children. 
The NGO is benefiting from a series of U.S. experts provided 
under the auspices of the Fulbright program. This kind of 
collaboration represents a positive case study in how 
creatively to build bridges through partnerships in difficult 
environments.
2. . . . To Better Advance U.S. Interests
    Of course, having a U.S. Ambassador on the ground is not an 
end in itself but should be a means to more effectively pursue 
U.S. goals. Staff made this point directly to Syrian Deputy 
Foreign Minister Miqdad and asked whether it was reasonable to 
expect that with an Ambassador on the ground the United States 
would be able to make progress on issues of key concern. The 
Deputy Minister emphasized a willingness on the part of the 
Syrian leadership to improve relations with the United States. 
He said that a U.S. Ambassador with the full confidence of the 
U.S. Administration would find ``all doors open to him.'' He 
predicted that differences would not disappear instantaneously 
but undertook that such differences could be moved to the 
margins. He observed that much would depend on the instructions 
given to the U.S. Ambassador, however.
    Among the key issues on which a U.S. Ambassador should be 
able to press for progress are the following:


            a. A Suitable New Embassy Compound
    The Embassy compound does not meet U.S. State Department 
security guidelines for setback and the physical space is no 
longer sufficient. The Administration has long been seeking 
permission from the Government of Syria to relocate its Embassy 
away from the busy thoroughfare on which it is situated, to a 
more secure location and larger facility that can better 
accommodate the Embassy's needs. Syrian foot-dragging on this 
issue probably reflects a combination of bureaucratic inertia 
as well as Syrian pique over U.S. sanctions and disengagement.
    In the above-cited report, the OIG found that the security 
situation faced by the Embassy had not materially changed since 
the unsuccessful vehicle-borne attack on the embassy compound 
in 2006, meaning that U.S. and Syrian personnel working there 
continue to be vulnerable. Experts believe that Hizballah and 
Hamas have residences in Damascus and that the Iranian 
Revolutionary Guard Corps has a presence as well. Based on 
staff interviews it is quite possible to imagine that these 
groups, other Palestinian rejectionist groups headquartered 
there, or Islamist extremists might wish to target Embassy 
staff. In light of the potential threat, staff shares the OIG's 
assessment that, ``Physical security at the aging, poorly 
situated chancery is shocking.'' \8\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \8\ U.S. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of 
Governors Office of Inspector General's Report of Inspection: Embassy 
Damascus, Syria, Report Number ISP-I-10-34A, March 2010, p. 1.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    During the staff visit, the Charge d'Affaires was granted a 
meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review 
prospective properties for a New Embassy Compound. This was a 
promising development, but the presence of an Ambassador on the 
ground would no doubt enhance forward movement for a new 
property. Staff pressed the Foreign Ministry for early progress 
on identifying suitable land for a New Embassy Compound, 
emphasizing that the security of U.S. Embassy staff was at 
stake.

            b. A Responsible Syrian Role in the Region
    There are many ways in which Syrian actions in the region 
are hostile to U.S. interests. It would be naive to believe 
that the regime will alter its policies dramatically in the 
near term, but a U.S. Ambassador in place would be able to make 
the case that Syria's own interests are not being well served, 
for example, by its friendly relations with Iran, its support 
for Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups, its meddling in 
Lebanon, its role as a ``spoiler'' in the Middle East peace 
process, or by its efforts to encourage continued unrest in 
Iraq. The fact that Syria has tightened controls on the Syrian-
Iraqi border to stem the flow of foreign fighters is indicative 
that it can be persuaded to take some responsible actions.

            c. Halting Missile Transfers to Hizballah
    In mid-April, reports began to surface that Syria had 
transferred long-range SCUD missiles to Hizballah from Iran. 
Israeli Government officials reacted strongly to this 
potentially game-changing development, pointing out that 
missiles with longer range and greater accuracy could 
effectively put the entire State of Israel at risk. The 
Administration has since stated publically that it does have 
information confirming that Syria has transferred ballistic 
missiles to Hizballah. The Administration has demanded an 
immediate end to arms transfers to Hizballah, pointing out that 
they are in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 
1701. Staff took advantage of meeting with Foreign Ministry 
officials to underscore strong concern about these 
destabilizing weapons transfers. Syria has denied the 
accusations, including in exchanges with staff. It is unlikely 
that the presence of a U.S. envoy on the ground alone would 
change the Syrian leadership's calculus on such weapons 
transfers, but given the stakes involved, it would be 
irresponsible to risk that U.S. warnings about the potential 
consequences of such activities might not be properly heard or 
interpreted.
3. Security and Morale
    Given the difficult work environment in Syria, staff made a 
point of sounding out Embassy employees about morale issues. 
Not surprisingly, safety and security impact staff morale in a 
significant--and negative--manner. Embassy personnel expressed 
genuine fear about the Embassy compound's lack of a setback. 
They also pointed out that the Embassy in Syria is the longest-
operating Embassy located in a designated state-sponsor-of-
terrorism where employees are not compensated with premium 
danger pay. The need for a new Embassy compound has already 
been addressed; staff believes the issue of danger pay warrants 
reconsideration by State Department authorities.

                            III. Conclusion

    The United States has critical interests at stake in Saudi 
Arabia and Syria. The U.S. Embassies in those countries should 
be empowered to work to maximum effect to advance those 
interests. In Saudi Arabia, that means the widening of official 
exchanges beyond the Washington channel, including the 
reinvigoration of the strategic dialogue. In Damascus, that 
means the presence of an Ambassador at the helm to make sure 
the U.S. message is heard. Strong leadership and open channels 
are necessary precursors to advance U.S. interests, but 
concerted U.S. diplomacy will be necessary to gain traction on 
the more difficult issues.

                        Appendix--Interlocutors

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
Ambassador James Smith and the Country Team
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Head of Arab Affairs Department
Representatives of the American business community
Office of Program Management-Ministry of the Interior
Naif Arab University for Security Studies
Assistant Minister for Petroleum Affairs
King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue
Damascus, Syria:
Charge d'Affaires Charles Hunter and the Country Team
Vice Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs
Syrian non-governmental organization AAMAL
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Deputy Country Representative
Select group of Syrian youth
Select group of Syrian business people
UN Relief Works Agency Country Representative