India's broader interests in Damascus include Syria's influence on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Iraq, and the GOI's desire to burnish relations with the Muslim world.

399159/6/2005 13:5405 NEWDELHI 6841 Embassy New Delhi SECRET//NOFORN05STATE 145434" This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.061354Z Sep 05""S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 006841

SIPDIS

NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2015 TAGS: PREL, PINR, IN, SY, External Political Relations, India-Syria SUBJECT: INDIA-SYRIA RELATIONS (C-NE5-00868)

REF: A. STATE 145434

B. DAMASCUS 4183 C. NEW DELHI 6735 D. 04 NEW DELHI 8053 E. NEW DELHI 6804

Classified By: A/DCM Geoff Pyatt for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)

1. (S/NF) Summary: Indian West Asia Envoy Gharekhan's recent trip to Syria was focused on Iraq. India's broader interests in Damascus include Syria's influence on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Iraq, and the GOI's desire to burnish relations with the Muslim world. End Summary.

Gharekhan's Visit to Syria

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2. (S/NF) Charge and PolCouns met Indian West Asia Envoy Chinmaya Gharekhan on August 10. In the course of that meeting, they inquired about his June trip to Damascus per Ref A. Gharekhan related that his meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Shara was focused on Iraq, and India's desire to be involved in Iraq's future. Shara used the meeting as an opportunity to insist on Syria's innocence of charges that it has supported infiltration of insurgents into Iraq. Gharekhan told us that he conveyed to Shara India's message that words are not enough, but that Syria needs to show action in clamping down on fighters crossing the border -- not to appease the US, but to maintain good ties with the new Iraqi government.

3. (S/NF) Gharekhan commented that he was passing along Shara's statement ""for what it's worth,"" implying that he did not believe Syria's claims of innocence.

Gharekhan's Role in Policy

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4. (S/NF) On August 31, Poloff quizzed retired Ambassador to Iran and Saudi Arabia Hamid Ansari, now a member of the Prime Minister's National Security Advisory Board, on Indian policy in the Middle East and Gharekhan's role. Ansari believed that Gharekhan acts as both envoy of the Foreign Minister and a source of policy input to the GOI on policy toward Syria. Gharekhan is sufficiently senior that he could report to the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or Foreign Secretary as he wished, Ansari said, but gave his opinion that he commonly reports to Foreign Minister Natwar Singh. However, Ansari added, the Middle East is sufficiently important to India that there is no lack of interest from the Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary in making policy.

Indian Interest in Syria: Not Much?

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5. (S/NF) In general, India's bilateral relations with Syria are very thin. India's interests in the Middle East are drawing more high-level attention in the GOI than in the past, but the foci of those interests are:

-- Gulf Cooperation Council countries, for their predominant share of India's oil supplies, and the large number of Indians working in those countries (Ref D);

-- Iran, which India sees as a growing energy source, an important balancing neighbor on Pakistan's opposite border, a Muslim swing state, and India's access point to Central Asia (Ref E); and

-- Israel-Palestine, both for India's growing strategic and defense relationship with Israel, and its historical rhetorical support for Palestinian statehood (important for domestic politics).

In contrast, Syria falls outside of any of the standard Indian areas of concern in the Middle East, and there are few, if any, shared interests. Our contacts tell us that India's prime concern with Syria is for its influence on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, where India is trying to carve out a role for itself, after recognizing New Delhi's increasing marginalization. The other current interest, as illustrated by Gharekhan's recent Damascus visit, is India's desire to find low-risk options for re-engaging on Iraq.

Why Engage Syria?

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6. (C) Greater engagement with Middle East states, including Syria, fits into two broader goals of Indian foreign (and domestic) policy, particularly under the ruling UPA government. The UPA derives an important portion of its support from India's 150 million Muslims, and it came to power in May 2004 with a stated goal of recalibrating India's relations with the Muslim world, especially on the Palestinian question. Portraying itself as a defender of Muslims in India and a champion of the Palestinian cause, the UPA has made reinvigorating ties with Middle East and Muslim countries a high priority. The second goal is to rally support for India's perennial battle to be admitted in some status to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has been critical of India's Kashmir stance. Although both of these goals derive mostly from domestic electoral political considerations, rather than strictly foreign policy objectives, New Delhi has recognized that its lackluster relations with Arab and Muslim states have become a foreign policy liability, and is working to rectify that (Ref D).

7. (S/NF) As part of these broader goals of deeper engagement in the Middle East, New Delhi has floated suggestions recently that it could play a mediating role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as a state with growing working relations with Israel and (at least) bona fides in the eyes of Palestinians (Note: Ref C reports on the latest disappointing India-Israel interaction. End Note). However, given its generally weak relations with most Middle Eastern countries and lack of gravitas, most dismiss this vision as unrealistic.

MULFORD "