Assad told U.S. security help depends on ties: WikiLeaks
LONDON (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad told U.S. politicians Syrian intelligence had "saved American lives" but that Damascus would not resume security cooperation until political ties improved, according to cables issued by WikiLeaks.
Assad also told U.S. officials he was not convinced that Iran was developing nuclear arms, as the West suspects.
The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. Although President Barack Obama has tried to repair relations with Damascus, little progress has been made.
Washington wants Syria to stop support for Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, and has complained that Syria allowed militants to cross into neighboring Iraq. Syria wants greater U.S. pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, occupied for more than 40 years.
"I have saved American lives," the cable quoted Assad as telling a Congressional delegation in Damascus in February last year, citing information he said he passed to the king of Bahrain about an imminent attack on American citizens.
The Gulf Arab state hosts a U.S. naval base.
HEZBOLLAH, HAMAS TIES
The cable said Assad told the delegation that "if the U.S. wished for similar coordination in the future, Syria could not begin security cooperation without concomitant political cooperation."
The Syrian leader repeated that condition in a meeting last December, according to another cable.
"I won't give it (intelligence cooperation) for free," he said, adding that the two countries had to rebuild relations from a basis of "an absence of trust."
The Obama administration named a new ambassador to Damascus in February. But Congress held up approval of the ambassador's appointment on accusations of Syrian arms supplies to Hezbollah.
Syria has shown no sign of cutting its ties to Hezbollah or Hamas, or distancing itself from its regional ally, Iran.
According to the cables, Assad also said he was "not convinced" that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes and denies Western accusations it seeks to develop a bomb.
"He argued Iran could not use a nuclear weapon as a deterrent because nobody believed Iran would actually use it against Israel," the report on the February 2009 meeting said.
"Assad noted an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would result in massive Palestinian casualties, which Iran would never risk."
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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