I have been to Damascus 5 times in my life. Once as a child and I do not recall meeting any Syrian officials. Twice as a young teen to renew my foreign passport and to travel through Damascus' airport because we had no access to the embassy in Lebanon and the Beirut International Airport at the time.
As an adult my flight from Beirut to Amsterdam landed in Damascus for a few minutes in 1999. I did not leave the plane. Finally, in winter of 2006 I spent a weekend as a tourist (fully equipped with a camera around my neck, short shorts, and high dark socks) at the infamous Sheraton which hosted thousands of visiting political pilgrims that frequented Damascus for their blessings. This was the closest I got to meeting with the Assads.
Just wanted to come clean in case I ever run for a Metni office.