Across the Bay

Friday, December 11, 2009

Is the Syrian Ambassador being Recalled?

Imad Moustapha's days in DC might be numbered. Rumor is that once the US sends an ambassador back to Syria, Imad Moustapha will be sent home.

A very well-informed source in Washington tells me that they've heard State Department officials declare openly that Moustapha has "zero credibility in this building" and that "all meaningful diplomatic communication [with Syria] is through [Syrian FM Walid] Moallem." It is in this context that Moallem's deputy, Faysal Mekdad, was invited to DC a few months ago.

I had noted before that rumors had it that Moustapha's standing in Damascus was shaky, especially for his mischaracterization of the Obama administration's approach to Syria, which he portrayed to his boss as a fait-accompli walk in the park. To that effect, my source adds that they think that Moustapha staying in DC was allowed by Assad "at Moustapha's repeated requests to remain" and "over Moallem’s repeated objections."

The rumor mill is now churning that the State Department has finally sent the name of the new US ambassador to the White House for approval. However, from what I've heard, the names listed by Josh Rogin in this report are inaccurate, though obviously I cannot say for sure. They are indeed names that are making the rounds in Washington, but a number of good sources tell me that neither Walles nor Khoury is the actual pick.

If the rumor of Moustapha's recall is true, then there is no telling how this will affect the standing of Moustapha's American circle -- the various analysts, journalists, bloggers (e.g., the "Friday Lunch Club") and academics, the Syrian ambassador has used over the past few years to put through the Damascus regime's message. Presumably, some frequent visitors to the Syrian embassy, like Seymour Hersh or Robert Malley, have their own outlets to the Assad family (including the ICG's Peter Harling's office in Damascus), but others, like University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis are wading in deeper water. Since Landis' position in Washington policy circles was a function of his proximity to Moustapha, as the Syrian ambassador's stature sunk so did Landis' and the invitations to speak around town became much less frequent (especially when it was realized that Landis had no added value, as he merely brought what Moustapha fed him). Now with Moustapha's departure possibly imminent, it's not clear if Landis is going to be making an exit as well, or if Moallem's new charge will find a use for the Norman, OK-based blogger.