The Syrian Revolution
Thursday September 15 marks the start of the sixth month of the Syrian revolution. The preceding 183 days of social upheaval and corresponding security crackdowns have resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 Syrians – with some 113 killed last week alone. Since the uprising began on March 15, 112 Syrian cities and villages have seen deaths amid security crackdowns, over 80 children have been killed in related security incursions, and over 95 adults have reportedly died whilst under torture in Syrian prisons. Activists and foreign officials estimate that more than 15,000 have been imprisoned, several thousand of whom were effectively ‘disappeared’.
The international community, initially slow to respond to the crisis in Syria and still encumbered by the pitfalls of its recent military incursion in Libya, has succeeded only in rallying around harsh condemnations of Damascus – a firm UN Security Council resolution remains elusive. All predictions of the imminent collapse of the Syrian government have proven incorrect as the opposition struggles to usurp power from – or even to hold sway over – Syrian authorities. The government seems to have calculated that the use of low-level violence against civilians is sufficient to hinder international intervention, whilst protecting its seat at the helm of the country. For its part, the opposition largely remains divided – with many gains toward unity, swiftly countered by internal dissent. Still too weak to gain leverage over the government and yet undeterred from taking to the streets in protest, the opposition continues in its fight for systemic change and finds its opponent equally undeterred.
Protests, security crackdowns, opposition meetings
On Thursday September 8, international media reported that over twenty people were killed following artillery-backed military offensives in a number of neighborhoods in Homs. According to local activists, the worst hit neighborhoods were those that had seen soldier defections in the preceding days.
Thursday’s crackdown was one of the worst thus far in Homs – which has seen mass protests, unrest and severe security crackdowns since March. State-run media reported that eight soldiers and five “insurgents” were killed during the day – a markedly different story from that reported by foreign media.
On Friday September 9, activists reported that hundreds of thousands of protestors again took to the streets in nationwide protests with many reportedly calling out: “We want international protection!” The Syrian Revolution Facebook page also posted a note that day calling for the UN to create a permanent observer mission in Syria.
The same reports indicated that the death toll from the day was again high while another child, this time a 15-year-old boy, was shot and killed by soldiers at a checkpoint outside of the northwestern village of Al-Rama. Foreign media also reported that well-known human rights campaigner Najati Tayara, 66, was severely beaten whilst being interrogated in prison on Friday. Tayara was arrested back in May.
On Saturday, security forces opened fire on crowds attending the funeral of prominent activist Ghiyath Mattar – critically injuring a 17-year-old boy who would succumb to his injuries on Sunday, dying whilst in the hospital. Some 12 people were reportedly killed in violence on Saturday.
The following day, more violence was reported as security forces engaged in raids in the town of Bukamal and a woman in her forties was killed by a stray bullet during the incursion.
Meanwhile, members of the Syrian opposition met in Istanbul over the weekend in an effort to draft a list of candidates for a national council that would in theory represent the Syrian uprising. Loaay Hussein, another well-known Syrian dissident, also announced the formation of a group called The Current for Building the Syrian State. According to Hussein, the group will aim to “bring an end to the despotic regime and transform Syria into a democratic and civil state”.
On Tuesday, international media reported that at least 19 more Syrian civilians were killed – five of whom were shot whilst attending a funeral in Hama. The other fatalities occurred in Saraqeb, Deir ez-Zor, Ghab, Homs and Damascus. In Homs, civilians came under fire whilst passing through a security checkpoint.
Just the day before, some 26 people were killed during further crackdowns, with a 12-year-old boy among the fatalities. The boy was reportedly attending a funeral procession for a protestor who had been killed on Sunday. The largest number of the day’s fatalities occurred in Hama where security and military forces reportedly carried out raids in search of wanted activists and protestors. Further violence was also reported in Homs.
According to Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Washington-based Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria, over 3,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the unrest on March 15 – with the deaths occurring in some 112 Syrian cities and towns. Bouthaina Shaaban, media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, asserted on Monday during meetings in Moscow that 1,400 people in total have been killed – 700 members of the security and military forces and another 700 “insurgents“. Shaaban’s figure runs counter to all others reported by local activists, the UN and foreign governments, as well as international media.
Well-known Syrian activist and organizer Ghiyath Mattar was arrested on September 6 and subsequently tortured to death whilst in police custody. His body was returned to his family on Saturday, showing signs of severe torture.
Ghiyath’s killing has prompted outrage in and outside of Syria. The US State Department issued a formal statement in response to his murder:
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of Syrian human rights activist Ghiyath Mattar while in the custody of Syrian Security Forces. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends as they mourn their loss. Ghiyath, along with leading activist Yahya Sharbaji and a number of other human rights activists committed to non-violent resistance, was detained on September 6. Ghiyath Mattar’s courage in the face of the Asad regime’s brutal repression is well known in his home of Daraya and across Syria. His brave commitment to confronting the regime’s despicable violence with peaceful protest serves as an example for the Syrian people and for all those who suffer under the yoke of oppression.” US Ambassador Ford also reportedly attended Mattar’s funeral.
A spokesperson of Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton also issued a statement in response to his death:
“The EU condemns in the strongest terms the killing of human rights activist Ghiath Matar while detained by the Syrian security forces. He was killed for his resolve to stand up peacefully to the
brutal repression perpetrated by the Syrian regime. We express our condolences to his family and all those who will miss him as a friend, leader, and example. Ghiyath Mattar’s death adds to the great number of people who have fallen victim to the Syrian regime’s policy of arbitrary killing, injury, detention, torture and abuse of peaceful protesters, and other widespread violations of human rights. It is yet another sign of the brutality with which the regime responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. All perpetrators of such acts must be held to account.
“The EU salutes the courage and determination of the Syrian people which they continue to demonstrate every day despite the repression. The EU demands that Bashar al-Assad and his regime stop their violent campaign without delay and release all detained protesters, in particular Yahya Sharbaji, Amer Matar, Najati Tayara, Shadi Abu Fakher and Omar al-Assad who were illegally arrested during the past weeks. The EU reiterates that the regime must clear the way towards a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria.”
Mattar was 26 years old.
Rafah Tawfeek Nashed
On Saturday September 10, Rafah Tawfeek Nached, 66, a well-respected Syrian psychoanalyst, was arrested following her arrival at the first luggage checkpoint at Damascus International Airport. Her husband, Dr. Faisal Mohammad Abdullah, a professor of history at the University of Damascus, reported via a Facebook note that Nashed had called him at the checkpoint to tell him that security had taken her passport. Shortly thereafter, her mobile was cut off. According to her husband, Nashed has a number of health conditions for which she was traveling to Paris to seek treatment.
Recent surge of ‘trophy videos’ depicting abuses by security forces
In recent weeks, there has been a surge in videos posted on the internet allegedly filmed by Syrian soldiers, of other soldiers engaged in fighting and in most cases, acts of abuse against alleged members of the opposition. This has led to much speculation as to why soldiers are filming incriminating videos.
Some maintain that the footage is sold and that the primary motivation is profit; the videos are sold for hundreds of dollars. Others maintain that the videos are likely recorded by soldiers who have turned against the government and aim to expose the crimes committed by members of the security and military forces against Syrian civilians. Still others believe that the videos have been shared with the intent of intimidating dissidents into staying home and off the streets. The content of the videos – which many are now dubbing ‘trophy videos‘ – is disturbing, with graphic depictions of brutal beatings and in some cases, killings.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Iran’s Ahmadinejad on Syria – “military solution is never the right solution”
On Thursday September 8, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to bring an end to the violent crackdowns against Syrian protestors. The move marked the latest, and undoubtedly one of the more surprising, of recent efforts by foreign leaders to pressure Damascus into adopting a less violent approach to managing the country’s deepening unrest. “Regional nations can assist the Syrian people and government in the implementation of essential reforms and the resolution of their problems… A military solution is never the right solution,” said the Iranian President in an interview with a Portuguese TV station.
The irony of Ahmadinejad’s remarks was lost on few; just over two years ago the Iranian President employed decisive force against Iranian citizens after being reelected in a sham election.
Regardless of Ahmadinejad’s public statements, many continue to believe that the Iranian regime views the current government as too essential to the advancement of its own strategic interests, to truly support any efforts that might lead to Syria’s political and social overhaul. Such public declarations are construed by some as word play aimed at protecting Iran’s reputation in the Arab world. As Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explained, “Iran wants to be perceived as the voice of the downtrodden in the Middle East, the one country that speaks truth to power. Their close rapport with the Assad regime undermines that image.”
Russia – Medvedev: “aware of the disproportionate use of force” by Syrian security forces against civilians
On Thursday September 8, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev conceded during an interview with Euronews that the Syrian government was guilty of using “disproportionate force” against protestors. “It’s true that we recognize that there are problems in Syria. We’re aware of the disproportionate use of force, and of a large number of victims, and it’s something we disapprove of,” said Medvedev.
“I have addressed myself several times to President Assad on this, but I think that if we decided to address a severe message to Syria, we should do the same thing to the opposition. Those who are chanting anti-government slogans are very diverse people. Some are clearly extremists, some could even be described as terrorists. We are ready to back different approaches, but they should not be based on a unilateral condemnation of the actions of the government and President Assad. We should send a strong message to all the parties to the conflict. Russia’s interest in such a solution lies also in the fact that Syria is a friendly country with which we have numerous economic and political ties,” Medvedev continued.
The following day, members of the Syrian opposition sent a delegation to Moscow to meet with the Russian upper house of parliament’s foreign affairs chief Mikhail Margelov. The delegation included Ammar Qurabi, the head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria. Though the details of the meeting were not made public, a number of high level figures reported that the delegation expressed its dismay at Russia’s lack of support for the Syrian opposition and frustration that Russia will not back UN sanctions against the Syrian government. However, Qurabi’s public remarks on the meeting were limited to a comment to reporters that, “Russia should be playing a more active and positive role in regulating the political situation in Syria” and that the focus of the meeting was “to tell the Russian media about what is happening in Syria so they could help us and put pressure on the Russian leadership.”
For his part, Margelov stated that Russia will seek permission to send a high level delegation to Damascus to assess the situation and that “Russia will do everything possible to make sure that that the situation in Syria did not follow the Libya scenario.”
On Monday September 12, Medvedev said that the latest US and EU sanctions against Syria meant that “additional pressure now is absolutely not needed in this direction“. Medvedev went on to state that Russia believes that any possible UN resolution must be “tough but balanced, and addressed to both sides in Syria,” and that it should not automatically result in further sanctions as “there is already a large number of sanctions against Syria”. The Russian president was reportedly speaking following talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
US Ambassador Ford – creative diplomacy, Facebook notes
On Thursday September 8, US Ambassador Ford posted another Facebook note, this time in defense of American foreign policy in Syria:
“On Syria we have underlined that we support a democracy that would respect the equality of all of its citizens, including Alawis and Christians. As for my counterpart in the US, after the Syrian government insisted on restricting my movement in Syria, the U.S. government reciprocated, requiring that Syrian officials in DC also seek permission to travel outside the city. Ambassadors from around the world travel all over the US and they are free to talk to people to understand our society, ideas and problems. Various human rights NGOs have been visiting Guantanamo for years.
“…Secretary Clinton has made clear that we have no plan to respond to the uprising in Syria in the same manner as in Libya. Secretary of Defense Panetta recently said that the Syrian situation differs in many respects from that the Libyan situation.
“…[some] warn that the U.S. wants to create an Islamist government in Syria. We absolutely do not support extremism. Many times I have expressed regret at the loss of Syrian security force members’ lives. But we have to be very clear about what is causing the violence: government intolerance and violence is provoking retaliation from a protest movement that has sought to remain peaceful. This is not just an American conclusion…
“Outside observers including the EU, Japan, the Arab League and others think that the only way forward is for the government to release political prisoners and to stop shooting at peaceful protests (thus ending the excuse for retaliation) and for a peaceful, democratic Syrian-planned transition to go forward. Many countries do not think this can happen under Syria’s current president; others disagree. All of us agree that whoever is in authority in Damascus needs to immediately start respecting Syrians’ human rights as laid out in the UN Charter of Human Rights that Syria itself signed.”
Ambassador Ford has adopted a notably unconventional approach to diplomacy, ignoring the Syrian government’s restrictions on his in-country travel, visiting the country’s hotspots, and using Facebook as a means of engaging in informal diplomacy. Many analysts note that the US State Department has granted Ford an unusual amount of leeway, allowing him to “be as active as he thinks he can be, consistent with security“. Interestingly, though Ford is flagrantly critical of the Syrian government, he still succeeds in landing meetings with high-level Syrian officials.
Ford is the first US ambassador to be posted in Syria in five years. Though assigned to Damascus on a recess appointment and expected, pre-revolution, to engage in comparatively subtle diplomatic rapprochement with the Syrian government in an effort to bring Damascus in from the cold whilst weakening its ties to Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, Ford is now among the most outspoken of foreign officials in Damascus. US officials view Ford’s use of Facebook as an effort to put a ‘human face’ on American diplomacy – making the message and its implications more accessible to both Syrians and Americans. Nevertheless, many also speculate that Ford’s increasing boldness will soon result in his expulsion by the Syrian government from Damascus.
US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issues general licenses
On Friday September 9, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a set of licenses that govern transactions for entities in Syria. US persons that were engaged in business with the Syrian government before August 18, 2011 have until November 25 to carry out any transactions “that are ordinarily incident and necessary (1) to the winding down or divestiture or transfer to a foreign person of a U.S. person’s share of ownership, including an equity interest, in pre-August 18,2011 investments located in Syria, or (2) to the winding down of a contractual or other commitment that was in effect prior to August 18, 2011, involving· the exportation of services to Syria, are authorized through November 25, 2011“. Such persons are required to file a detailed report with the OFAC with 10 of finishing the transaction.
According to the OFAC, international organizations, including the UN and its agencies and related contractors, are able to continue their work in Syria while still complying with the executive order issued on August 18, 2011 imposing sanctions against the country – so long as they meet certain conditions.
The OFAC also issued a general license for US persons living in Syria, stating that “individuals who are U.S. persons residing in Syria are authorized to pay their personal living expenses in Syria and to engage in other transactions, including with the Government of Syria, otherwise prohibited by Executive Order 13582 of August 17, 2011…that are ordinarily incident and necessary to their personal maintenance within Syria, including, but not limited to, payment of housing expenses, acquisition of goods or services for personal use, payment of taxes or fees to the government of Syria, and purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services from the government of Syria.” However, the payment of personal living expenses cannot include: “any debit to an account of the government of Syria on the books of a US financial institution…” or “any transaction with a person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the orders other than the government of Syria” or “transactions or services ordinarily incident to operating or supporting a business in Syria, employment in Syria, or any new investment in Syria.”
Finally, the OFAC orders stated that, “the operation of an account in a U.S. financial institution for an individual in Syria other than an individual whose property and interests in property are blocked” by US executive orders “is authorized, provided that transactions processed through the account” (1) are “of a personal nature and not for use in supporting or operating a business”; (2) “do not involve transfers directly or indirectly to Syria or for the benefit of individuals ordinarily resident in Syria unless authorized by General License No. 6 (“Noncommercial, Personal Remittances Authorized”); and (3) “are not otherwise prohibited by the orders“.
Tony Blair – “no process of change” in Syria will leave President Assad “intact”
On Friday September 9, in an interview set to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated in an interview with The Times that Syria would fare better if the current Syrian president was no longer in power. “He [President Assad] is not going to lead the program of change in Syria now. He has shown he is not capable of reform. His position is untenable. There is no process of change that leaves him intact.”
Syrian ambassador to Lebanon – “we expect Lebanon to stand by…the interest of Syria”
On Saturday September 10, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, told reporters that the Syrian government expects support from Lebanon at the UN. “We expect Lebanon to stand by its interest and the interest of Syria and to be in solidarity with a fair case,” the ambassador told reporters following a meeting with Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour. “I think the Russian, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and the South African position, in addition to the Lebanese one … affirms that Syria is capable of resolving its crisis with the help of its brothers and friends without any interference,” Ali continued.
Arab League chief meets with President Assad in Damascus
On Saturday, the secretary-general of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby, met with President Assad in an effort to pressure Damascus to bring an end to the violence that has shaken the country for some 183 days. Elaraby was supposed to meet with the President on September 7, but Damascus postponed the meeting whilst carrying out military operations in the central city of Homs that day. According to state-run media, Elaraby “asserted that the Arab League cared deeply about the safety and stability, rejected foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs, and promised to stand by Syria during this difficult time”.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe – absence of UN position Syria is a “scandal”
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters whilst on an official visit to Australia that, “I think it’s a scandal not to have a clear position of the U.N. in such a terrible crisis“. Juppe continued, “We think that the regime has lost its legitimacy. We think that it’s too late to implement a level of reform. We should adopt in New York a very clear resolution condemning the violence.”
Gulf Cooperation Council calls for “an immediate end to the killing machine”
On Sunday, the Gulf Cooperation Council held a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during which the Council’s six foreign ministers of Gulf States issued a statement urging for the Syrian government to bring an end to the crackdowns against members of the opposition. In the statement, the ministers called for “an immediate end to the killing machine” as well as “the immediate implementation of serious reforms that meet the aspirations of the Syrian” people.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warns of sectarian civil war in Syria
On Tuesday September 13, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated in an interview published in Egypt’s Al-Shourouk at the start of his tour of a number of Arab countries, that “I fear that matters will end with a civil war [in Syria] breaking out between the Alawites and the Sunnis.” He continued, “We know that the Alawite elite dominates important positions within the regime, the army and the security forces. The people’s anger is directed at them, not only because they are a tool of the government, but also because of their confession, and the Syrian regime is playing up this dangerous card.” Erdogan went on to state that the “shabiha”, or a band of violent, pro-government thugs, “”belong to the Alawite sect” which in turn “deepens the rift between them [Alawites] and the Sunni majority.”
Regarding President Assad’s failure to enact comprehensive reforms, Erdogan stated that “If President Bashar does not take this step [reform], he personally will pay the price.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe meets counterpart in Beijing to discuss Syria
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told journalists in Beijing on September 13 following a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, that the two discussed the issue of a UN resolution against Syria for its violent crackdowns against civilians. Asked whether or not he made any headway on changing the Chinese position that any such UN resolution is inappropriate, Juppe replied “Not really.”
Scores of activists, organizations call on Arab League to take action against Syria
On September 14, some 175 organizations signed and submitted a petition to the Arab League demanding that it suspend Syria’s membership in the League until the violent crackdown against Syrian civilians is brought to an end. The petition also called on the League to support UN actions – including the implementation of a travel ban against Syrian officials, asset freezes and perhaps an arms embargo. The absence of a unified position among Arab leaders against the actions of the Syrian government, is central to the inability of the international community to adopt a firmer stance in response to the crisis in Syria.
“Syria: What Kind of Revolution?” – Monthly Review Magazine – Bilal el-Amine’s assessment of the Syrian uprising through the eyes of activists in Lebanon. Amine puts forth an unconventional view of the revolution, noting that while the “complete overhaul of the current regime” is necessary, there is reason to maintain “misgivings about the nature and politics” of the uprising. Bilal goes on to interrogate the oft-repeated view of Syrian activists who charge that the Syrian government’s support of resistance movements like Hamas of Palestine and Hezbollah of Lebanon is not as strong as the government would have the world believe. Commentary on the revolution has become “so polarized that it has been extremely difficult to articulate an independent position without being accused of hypocrisy or standing with a dictator against the people”, as Amine sees it. The remainder of the article focuses on the sectarian undercurrents of the revolution and what the author terms the opposition’s other “dirty secrets” that must be aired so as not to continue making the “mistake of blindly cheering on movements that may not be much an improvement over the dictatorships they will replace”. While many will take issue with certain of Amine’s views, the article is nevertheless well-written and worth the read.
“Frequently Asked Questions on EU restrictive Measures Against the Syrian Regime” – European External Action Service – A backgrounder on the EU sanctions against Syria. Undoubtedly a bit of political propaganda, but nevertheless useful for those seeking to interpret EU motives in Syria.
“Stone Age, Here We Come” – Syria Comment – Author ‘Syrian Prometheus’ turns to Syrian history to argue that the current revolution “has a long way to go” and that “we have not even begun to reach the upper limit of civilian casualties and economic pain that this conflict will exact”. The author details the implications of the sanctions for average Syrian consumers and business owners, noting that mass bankruptcies and economic stagnation are looming and that the heaviest toll of such moves will be exacted on Syria’s most vulnerable citizens – here, using the case of Iraq between 1991 and 2003 as a model. Finally, the author tears apart any assumptions that economic punishment and severe diplomatic isolation will somehow persuade the Syrian government to lay down its arms. As the author sees it, “Syria is already in a state of civil war. It just happens that one side has all the weapons.”
“Is Syria Set to Become ‘The New Libya’?” – Notes from Medinah (blog) – Chris Keeler assesses the conditions necessary for an armed rebellion in Syria and the factors that dictate the international community’s willingness to intervene. Keeler highlights one of the principle conundrums of the uprising: “any armed uprising is likely to be immediately crushed without international military support” – a disincentive to the opposition taking up arms. At the same time, foreign governments will not intervene in the absence of an “organized fighting force on the ground…that is gravely threatened by Assad” and as Keeler sees it, the government will maintain its current level of repression, which is just “low enough to cause disgust and condemnation from the international community without the threat of intervention”, so long as there is no armed rebellion – meaning that the deadly stalement that has overtaken the country for months, is likely to continue for many more.
“Squeezing Syria” – The Washington Post – The paper’s Editorial Board’s latest views on the US’s Syria policy. Published on September 7, Board’s new editorial asserts that, “Only the end of Mr. Assad’s regime will end the violence… Foreign governments cannot topple Mr. Assad — Syrians must do that. But outsiders can help by abandoning efforts to ‘engage’ the dictator and instead stepping up political and economic sanctions.”
“Syria’s Ports Suffer as Unrest Hits Economy” – Reuters – Traffic in Syrian ports has all but collapsed since the start of the revolution in March. Foreign customers have stopped placing orders with Syrian businesses and shippers, Syrian businessmen have reduced orders out of concern for the country’s deteriorating economic environment, and companies that have used Syrian ports as conduits for trade have begun seeking alternative routes fearing the country’s security situation.
“Syria: Crowdsourcing Satellite Imagery Analysis to Identify Mass Human Rights Violations” – United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response – An article exploring the possibility of using micro-tasking with backend triangulation to crowdsource the examination of high resolution satellite imagery from Syria for the purposes of identifying and furnishing evidence of mass human rights violations in the country. Such techniques have been used in Sudan and Somalia with success. Features that analysts would look for include missing roofs, military equipment in civilian areas, darkened or burnt building features, military equipment and/or persons atop roofs indicating possible sniping, and so on.
“Who Watches the Watchers?” – GlobalPost – Annasofie Flamand and Hugh Macleod cover “Syria’s web of informants” – the individuals who willingly watch fellow citizens and inform security forces of any ‘illegal’ behavior. In recent weeks, some protestors and activists have taken to publishing lists and details of suspected informants on the web. The authors discuss the controversial practice and its possible impediments to building a new state.
Syria to cooperate with IAEA
On Monday September 12, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano stated that the Syrian government has agreed to cooperate with the UN Agency and has proposed holding a related meeting in October. During the Agency’s board meeting on Monday, Amano said that Syria had submitted a letter last month in which it “stated its readiness to have a meeting with agency safeguards staff in Damascus in October“. The letter indicated that the talks were to be to “agree on an action plan to resolve the outstanding issues” with regard to the facility in Deir ez-Zor.