Al-Assad interview with Al-Arabia TV discuss internal and foreign policy issues
Syria-Regional, Politics, 6/11/2003
Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad said the recent summit in Aqaba was designed for the Palestinian track. Syria was not invited to the summit and that Washington postponed talks on the Syrian-Lebanese tracks, he added.
The President's statement was made in an interview with Al-Arabia TV Satellite Channel aired on Monday.
President Bashar said Syria announced she agrees to what the Palestinians agree adding "Frankly speaking what we heard from the Palestinians whether before or after the war on Iraq was a refusal of what is called the Roadmap plan… We have many remarks on this plan, but eventually we will agree on what the Palestinians decide and agree.'' The President also said "Syria has adopted the cause of Palestine according to the liking of its owners ( i.e the Palestinian people). We cannot refuse anything they are convinced of. When we participated in the 1991 Middle East peace process, we thought that this track would lead to one Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian track. But what we had taken place was the fact that the Oslo process had actually separated the Palestinian track from the other two trails which remained one track.
"After the outbreak of the Intifada, however, many people realized that what Syria was saying is right. Then the Palestinian presentation was introduced in a different formula from what was being said previous to the Intifada. Thus, Syria was able to present the same view it was convinced of. This enables us to say that the Syrian presentation is in agreement today with the convictions of the Palestinian citizen… When we say this land is occupied, in our view and convictions and accordance with what the international resolutions say, it means that this land is occupied and the rightful owners of this land have the right to defend it and resist. Historically, this right has been sacred. There are many examples in history, first and foremost the resistance which was led by Charles de Gaulle during the World War II."
On a question concerning the so-called '' militarization of the Intifada, the President said "The Intifada started, as I know, with stones, so we cannot define the best form for this Intifada. I believe that Palestinians are the people of the Intifada, so they can determine the form they want to liberate their land. They have tried the peaceful Intifada and the Intifada of the stone, and now they are trying the Intifada in its current form."
About the question of the Palestinian refugees, the President said that the Palestinian refugee is a brother living in Syria at a time when his cause constitutes the Palestinian people's central cause and to the concerned states.
"The important question is why this cause has not been raised in plans like Roadmap, Tenet, Zenni, Mitchell and others. Therefore, there were no serious initiatives on this subject. About Sharm El-Sheikh summit, the President said that our relations are good with the Arab leaders, particularly those who attended Sharm El-Sheikh summit. We were informed of the results and knew that some of those leaders raised the subject of the Golan."
"Generally, the summit was dedicated for the Palestinian track and the Roadmap. The subject of the Golan was discussed with the European leaders many times. This subject was raised by Arab leaders continuously without asking them to do so with Americans and the Europeans. All must know that there will be no peace without Syria. But this raises another question: Why has the Roadmap been raised without the Syrian track if they worked for comprehensive process? Approximately a year ago, Western-American-European presentation was based on the basis that there is no solution except through a comprehensive peace and no solution but through one basket. They supported the Arab initiative. But putting forward the Roadmap, without talking about basic issues such as the refugees, Jerusalem, and borders, means that there are question marks about it. Some say for election reasons and some say to calm down the Arab public.
"Getting Syria and Lebanon involved in this initiative may be made to give it the characteristics of comprehensive peace and Syria or Lebanon has nothing to do with the second and third stages."
On what was said about US Secretary of State Colin Powell's demands, President Al-Assad said the meeting with the US State Secretary was long. He pointed out that the main topics set for discussion were the Palestinian organizations and Iraq. The president said " The question of organizations coincided with the publication of the Roadmap plan because the US has the conviction that those organizations block the plan. But for us, we know that they carry out information and social activities. In fact, the organizations are based in Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza and the Americans know that." The President said he told Powell the closure of the offices cannot solve the problem as there are hundreds of thousands Palestinians in Syria, Lebanon and other places. They are able to block any issue.
On Hizbollah, President Bashar said "The Americans always mix between this party and the Palestinian organizations. They also sometimes mix between Hizbollah and al-Qaida. Their information about most issues in our region is inaccurate. Hizbollah has nothing to do with the Roadmap. If the Americans want the Lebanese party not to retaliate to Israel, they have to put pressure on (Israel) and to halt its provocations against Lebanon manifested through daily violation of Lebanese air space and bombardment of villages and orchards.
On resistance operations, Al-Assad indicated that "they (Israel) have to handle the causes which lead to such operations… They have to handle the problem and prevent the causes leading to them.'' On the Syrian presence in Lebanon, The president said that "redeployment has been carried out three times there, so the Lebanese army has become strong, civil institutions have begun to assume their role… and the Lebanese society has become healthy… so, it is natural to carry out redeployment and withdrawal towards the Syrian land."
On the coming meeting of the US Congress and the possibility of discussion the so-called "Syria's accountability act," The President said "We did not give any interest in this issue, since we have always been focusing on the issue of the US's role in the peace process. This act is as a stick raised to be used… We don't deal with this issue, and we openly told those who raised it that the Congress is a US institution, so the issue is an American matter."
On the issue of mass destruction weapons, The President said that "Our response to the accusations directed against us came in the form of a draft resolution proposed to the UN Security Council to remove the mass destruction weapons from the entire region… The Americans opposed it and were very upset. We have been raising this issue for a long time, and we have big interest in it, so do countries of the region with the exception of Israel. We are in a state of war with Israel, so this must be within the framework of a comprehensive work. The problem between us and Israel is not only a military parity… I think the most dangerous problem is the political parity and the balance of forces in general, including the economic, technological and social balance."
About the Syrian political discourse towards basic issues and about some who say the discourse is still ideological, President al-Assad said nothing changed as the land is still occupied. He made clear that "the discourse cannot be changed unless issues change. We realized beforehand the entire situation in many times. For example and in 1974 when President Richard Nixon was in Syria and when the Arab situation was good, President Hafez Al-Assad proposed the question of cooperation with all, but since then nothing changed. Now we have US companies working in Syria since the 1980s, and recently an agreement with two US oil companies was concluded."
On Iraq and whether Syria opened her borders to Iraq personalities, President al-Assad said "We closed the border immediately. We closed them totally at a certain time before the war ended, some officials reached the Syrian borders but we didn't allow them to come in. Some perhaps came in from unofficial outlets because the Syrian-Iraqi borders are long ... All officials later arrested by the Americans didn't come to Syria or they came and then returned. Some of those officials are wanted in Syria because they were behind massacres perpetrated in Syria. Our relations with the Iraqi regime were limited at a certain level. We didn't open an embassy. The relations were confined to trade and there was actually no political action. The political battles we waged as regards resolutions 1441 at the Security Council before the war provided no coordination between Syria and Iraq."
About the Syrian political refugees who were in Iraq before the war, the President said "In the first stage, we brought in the families and in the second stage we asked different services in Syria to check every person by name whether he is wanted for a criminal act or if he is accepted in an honourable way. Of course, Names must be checked and defined. There are people who should go directly to judiciary to be accounted. There is blood. The question is not a matter of banning. Nobody prevents any person from return."
About what is happening in Iraq, the President said "We are not interested in the government which is being cooked by them. There are vital and intermingled interests. We are affected directly by what is taking place in Iraq. Our concern in Iraq is that the situation must be safe, keeps unity of Iraqi lands and Iraq must be an Arab home land to all people. Then, it is not important how the government's form might be. The government must represent the country, Iraq, as an Arab Muslim country. There is a coordination between us and states like Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran concerning Iraq either at the bilateral or collective levels."
About relations with Turkey, the President said " If you want to solve a problem, you have to look for the points which constitute harmony. This will facilitate to solve other problems. This is what we are working for now with Turkey. They are so far faithful, and we are sincere in developing relations with them with the aim of solving all problems at one time. This needs time."
On the internal issue, the President said "What some proposed, concerning the so-called latest memo, doesn't differ from what I have presented and continue to present. Initially, I presented it in the oath address, and I continuously present it. Of course, it is natural to see that there are pressing demands for citizens, and this is what we have to seek for as a state.. this is our job.. we must not forget that what happened in Iraq has made many people to worried, which is a natural thing. I am one of those who were affected by what happened in Iraq. This makes us think of how to develop our country. There is no relation between this issue and the issue of the US..if we link between the two issues, reform and what happened in Iraq, and that, we cannot think of reform until after having a shock.. this does not deserve reform. Reform is a continuous need.. perhaps, we think at crisis times, but when we want to carry out reform we will not do this in response to what is happening, or out of fear from what is happening.. if we were a top democracy or backward, the Americans don't care. They did not come to Iraq because Iraq was not democratic or to achieve democracy.. As for us in Syria, the cause is not related to persons, it is the cause of general system… there must be development of the system with its sides, the development of the mechanism by which the society is being run… this will help in fighting corruption. We need a proper administrative system, which helps uncover the points of corruption.
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