U.S. offers safe haven, stipends to key Syrians who betray Assad

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community has opened a secret
dialogue with members of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar

Western diplomatic sources said the CIA and State Department were
sending messages to middle and senior level members of the Assad

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The sources said the messages, sent through relatives and
colleagues, offered regime officials safe haven and stipends to defect or sabotage Assad’s hold on power.

“We’ve been calling for many, many weeks on members of the military to vote with their consciences and to break ties with Assad and to refuse orders and to refuse to participate in the violence that’s ongoing,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “So we’re beginning to see this stream accelerate, and that’s a good thing.”

In a briefing on June 22, Ms. Nuland reported a series of defections by senior military officers. She said two brigadier generals and two colonels went to the opposition during the previous day.

“We’ve seen plenty of family members moving out of Syria,” Ms. Nuland
said. “And these are often good indications about how people feel about the
staying power of their government.”

The sources said CIA officers were working with Saudi intelligence
agents to identify leading Assad members, particularly those who had been
in contact with the Americans before their embassy was closed in 2011. They
said those targeted were mostly Kurds and Sunnis in the government, military
and intelligence services.

“We know that there are many who would consider defection if they could
leave with their families,” a diplomatic source said.

On June 14, a Syrian Air Force colonel flew his MiG-21 to Jordan in the
first such defection during the 15-month revolt against Assad. The sources
said the defection capped weeks of negotiations with the
pilot, Hassan Hammadeh, and several colleagues.

“The first thing was to prove to the others that Hammadeh would receive
good treatment, and when that’s done others will follow,” the source said.

The sources said Washington’s campaign has been financed by Qatar and
Saudi Arabia. They said Saudi agents were transporting millions of dollars
per week to the Syrian-Turkish border to finance rebel operations,
particularly by the Free Syrian Army, which has access to Syrian Army

On June 22, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported that members
of Assad’s inner circle were planning to defect. The newspaper said
Washington was helping these unidentified Assad aides move their fortunes
from Syria to banks in China and Lebanon.

“We are seeing members of Bashar Assad’s inner circle make plans to
leave,” a senior U.S. official told the newspaper.

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