Twitterati report: Syria trip mixes work with play

Twitterati report: Syria trip mixes work with play

The State Department’s two leading Twitterati, Special Advisor on Innovation Alec J. Ross (@alecjross) and Policy Planning staffer Jared Cohen (@jaredcohen), are in Syria this week leading a delegation of tech companies hoping to, as the Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon puts it, "woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran" with offers of networking equipment, computer software, and the like.

But it’s not all work and no play for Ross and Cohen, who have been finding some time to take in the sights and tell us about it, 140 characters at a time. For example, according to Ross, on Tuesday Cohen challenged the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest and called it "Creative Diplomacy." Match that, Tehran!

Ross and Cohen both tweeted about their trip to the Tonino Lamborghini Caffe Lounge in Damascus, but while Ross was "amused" by the place, Cohen wants his 300,000-plus tweeps to know that "I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus."

Good to know!

There were some travel tips as well. "Feel bad for @alecjross who I just watched get charged 5000 Syrian pounds at an ATM and only get 500 out of machine," tweeted Cohen.

In between drinking frappuccinos and touring such places as the Souk al-Hamadiye, the famous covered marketplace in Damascus, Cohen and Ross did find time to hold substantive meetings with Syrian students, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, government officials, and Assad himself.

The students complained that the Syrian government blocked Google, Tashkil, Facebook, YouTube, etc., according to Cohen. Apparently they don’t block Twitter…

Ross explained that the trip is not just about engaging Assad. "This trip to #Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of #netfreedom," he tweeted.