With international pressure on Syria increasing owing to UN Security Council resolution 1559, the country’s suspected involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and American complaints that Syria helps facilitate the Iraqi insurgency, the Times of London reported that the US is offering the beleaguered country a way out. According to the report, Syria would first have to agree to a series of concessions, including ending the country’s support for terrorist organizations Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all sworn to the destruction of Israel. But when the global news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) published a story about the Times report, this demand mysteriously disappeared.
The Oct. 15 Times of London story, entitled “America offers ‘Gaddafi deal’ to bring Syria in from the cold,” cited senior American and Arab officials describing the US proposal to end Syria’s international isolation. The article noted that “the American proposal is very specific, with at least four key demands being made of Damascus.”
Those four demands are clearly detailed, and summarized in a prominent graphic published both in the print and online versions of the story. (See below.)
That same day, AFP dispatched its story about the Times of London report, under the headline: “Washington offers Syrian president deal to end isolation: report.”
The AFP dispatch accurately conveyed the background and context of the story, and made clear that the British newspaper report was the source:
The United States has offered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a deal to end his regime’s international isolation if it agrees to a list of concessions, a British newspaper reported on Saturday. …
Citing senior US and Arab officials, The Times newspaper said the latest deal — which hinges on four key demands — could save Syria from the threat of looming international sanctions.
When it came to the specifics of the four alleged US demands, however, AFP inexplicably rewrote the American directive so that it no longer insisted Syria end support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Although this final demand was expunged, AFP retained four distinct demands by splitting the first into two discrete parts.
Thus, according to the French news service:
Under the deal, The Times said Washington had four main requirements:
– Syria must cooperate fully and adhere to any demands by the UN inquiry into Hariri’s death.
– If any members of the regime are named as suspects they would have to be questioned and stand trial.
– The Syrians must stop interfering in Lebanon, where they have been accused of a series of recent bomb attacks.
– Washington wants Damascus to cease alleged recruiting, funding and training of volunteers to take part in the violent insurgency in Iraq.
In subsequent dispatches, AFP continued to disseminate the manipulated version of the report. For example, a dispatch the following day stated:
Under the deal, The Times said Washington wanted Damascus to cease alleged recruiting, funding and training of volunteers to take part in the insurgency in Iraq.
The United States also asked for Syria to stop interfering in neighbouring Lebanon, cooperate fully with a UN probe into the February 14 killing of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, and guarantee that any members of the regime named as suspects would stand trial.
In return, the United States would establish full and friendly relations with the country, the British report said.
Reporters and editors at other news organizations – including the Associated Press, the Financial Times, Lebanon’s Daily Star, Jordan’s Al Bawaba, and IslamOnline – had no trouble reporting on the Times of London scoop accurately.
Why did AFP doctor the facts and conceal from readers the explicit call for Syria to “Stop support for militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad”?