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memri
May 14, 2004 No.
714

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Al-Jazeera

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad gave a wide-ranging interview at his home, "The People's Palace" in Damascus, to Ghassan bin Jiddou of Al-Jazeera. The date of the interview was not disclosed, but it took place prior to the April 27, 2004 reported terror attack in Damascus. The interview covered numerous topics, including inter-Arab relations, Iraq, terrorism, Syrian-U.S. and Syrian-European relations, the Syrian influence in Lebanon, and Israel and the Palestinians. The following are extensive excerpts from the interview: [1]

Developments in Iraq

"The Americans will sink into a quagmire. All the occupation forces, not only the Americans. The Iraqis will pay a heavier price than they paid in past decades. We, as a neighboring country, will pay a direct price, and will be affected by what will happen in Iraq. The Arab situation will be worse… The instability, the Iraqi suffering, and the suffering of the neighboring countries have had a rapid effect. Within [a few] months, what was expected to happen in three or four years happened. [What the Americans are doing in Iraq] is everything but what they say. Everything besides liberating Iraq, besides democracy, besides improving livelihood, besides prosperity. Everything besides these concepts they raise… They say that this is occupation, and recently have admitted failure. Perhaps not directly, but politically or practically, they are admitting failure. There is no doubt that they have failed. There is no need [even] to analyze. What have they offered and what are the results? Is the Iraqi people prospering? Are the services better? Is there security? This is clear and there is nothing to analyze.

"The invasion of Iraq directly followed the invasion of Kuwait. There are other stations that harm national enterprise, such as going in separate [tracks] and the failure of the peace process… Also when a summit [conference] is held, we do not reach agreement. The national enterprise is a uniting enterprise, not in the sense of Arab unity, but uniting [on the level of] interests, economically uniting, in an idea, in many things, in various elements found in the Arab societies."

'We Do Not Know if There Exists Anything Called Al-Qa'ida'

"The Palestinian resistance is legitimate because it is popular, and when the Palestinian people calls it 'resistance' that means that it is resistance. Neither we nor others have the right to call it by another name. Popular support is what transforms it into resistance. If we want to call it by another name, what can we say? Are all the hundreds, thousands, and millions who are resisting occupation in various ways, not necessary by military resistance, all members of the so-called Al-Qa'ida – and we do not know if there exists anything called Al-Qa'ida! Or are they all supporters of Saddam's regime? If so, then it means that the previous regime [in Iraq] was popular. Then why did you [i.e. the U.S.] say that you came to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein? … What is happening with regard to popularity gives legitimacy to the resistance, and proves that what is happening is – for the most part – resistance…"

Assad's Attitude to the Iraqi Governing Council

"…We recognize the Governing Council as a fact in the field because it is a fact in the field, and I have said to the members of the council who visited Syria that we have no position with regard to the Governing Council. Some [council members] lived in Syria for decades, and we have connections with them, but this has nothing to do with policy. As policy, we have no right to give them legitimacy; that is an internal Iraqi matter. An Arab summit, the neighboring countries, or the U.N. are not entitled to give it legitimacy [either]. If there is no legitimacy from the Iraqi people, there is no value in any legitimacy given it by others. We regard them as a fact in the field as a result of the conditions of the occupation…

"With regard to the [Transitional] Administrative Law and the Interim Constitution: First of all, its name is 'Interim Constitution.' We cannot assess an interim constitution. We [can only] assess a permanent constitution. Every constitution, even the worst, [would be] good if the Iraqi people accepts it. The best constitution [would be] very bad if the Iraqi people does not accept it, since this constitution determines the fate and unity of Iraq.

"If there will be disagreement regarding the constitution … it would mean that it is the seeds of future civil war, and this is why it is important to support any constitution that will express through means of elections [or any other mechanism chosen by the Iraqis] the desires of the Iraqi people.

"Now let's move from support of the constitution to recognition of its legality. What should be our position, as a neighboring country or an Arab summit? I do not think that it is the role of the Arab summit to convene and discuss an internal matter of any country. All over the world, when a constitution crystallizes, it is raised before the citizens, and the citizens vote on it. Is it logical to raise an Iraqi constitution to an Arab summit and vote on it as Arab leaders?… This is illogical. The role of the Arab summit is not to interfere in an internal matter. Whoever wants legitimacy for their constitution must raise it before his people."

"The Iraqi popular positions are clear. We see them in demonstrations that express from time to time the support of the Iraqi people… As [Arab] governments, we can not go against the public opinion about Iraq. We do not come instead of the Iraqi people. This should be our principle. We can not intervene in Iraq's internal affairs. We support the Iraqis, and when there will be a body that represents the Iraqi people, we will cooperate with it."

Infiltration from Syria to Iraq

"This matter arose after the occupation of Iraq, and top European and American officials brought it up before me. I have always told them, and the members of the Governing Council, 'You say that people are entering Iraq from Syria, and you know who they are or have caught some of them. What are their names? What passports do they have? Are they Syrians? Are their [passports] forged? Give us some of the names, tell us how they entered, interrogate them.' So far, we have received no information. I told [the Americans]: 'Give us one piece of information. After all, we are talking about infiltration.' People are crossing the Syrian border, and we do not know. This [i.e. weapons smuggling and infiltration of people] interests us as a state. Anything that happens [in this regard] without our knowledge is illegal activity, and we have to be notified about it. Up until now, [we have received] no information… The accusations toward us are merely throwing on us the responsibility for other countries' failures."

Syria-U.S. Relations

"Up until now, the basis [for relations] remains dialogue. This does not mean that the relationship is good. It changes every day, and is different from one school of thought within the American administration to another. There are some who oppose dialogue with Syria, and there are some who want dialogue with Syria and see it as important for reasons connected to the problems of the region in general and to Syria's role. We cannot determine now exactly [the state of the dialogue], particularly when the American government is entering an election period, and everything in the U.S. is controlled by the elections. Members of Congress told us: 'We supported the Syria Accountability Act, [but] we are not convinced of [its justness], but the election interest pushed us to vote [for it].' This is a well known [phenomenon] in the U.S. Most internal matters in the U.S. affect its foreign policy, but the dialogue is continuing.

"We do not fear escalation, and we are not complacent. The escalation is a temporary matter. Escalation [by the U.S.] can be for propaganda [purposes], or temporary, and [the same goes] for calm [on the part of the U.S.]. It can be propaganda or temporary. Our relations with the U.S. … have undergone a number of phases, to the point of clashing. [Even] during the worst times, there was always a [branch] in the American administrations that played the role of a superpower preserving stability in the region and restraining things, [but] not completely… We have always viewed these forces, with which we disagree most of the time, as part of the international guarantees for [the stability of] the world and the small countries. Now, this picture has changed – the U.S. has changed from an element of stability to an element of instability… There is confusion connected to the fact that the administration has failed at solving some of its problems, primarily Iraq. There is no doubt that this caused embarrassment within the administration. There has been division within this American administration since it began its term. There are two schools of thought, perhaps more.

"We must not waste time gambling [on a Democratic rather than Republican administration in the U.S.]. Every time, we gamble and pay the price of disappointment, because we are always passive, not active. We always hope for the arrival of an administration that will do what we want, and this is impossible. Perhaps a little bit better one will come, or one a little bit worse. It is impossible to predict. [We can do very little] so that an administration will come that will adhere to what we want from it. These gambles are a waste of time, and we must not waste time. We tried it, we gambled much, and what was the result? The second Balfour declaration."

Syria-Europe Relations

"We support an active role for Europe, but it is obvious that Europe has no active tools right now. Some praise [Europe] for economic reasons, [or] for political reasons, but I add the political will, primarily when Europe is not united, and we see differences among the countries in their actual policy.

"[Europe] is continuing to market the American proposals, primarily [with regard to] the peace process. The U.S. proposes something and Europe markets it. That is, Europe has not yet played its part. In order for us to assume that Europe wants to propose an initiative, the initiative must emerge from a European point of departure – primarily when Europe is closer to us and better understands our problems. [Europe] is the one that needs to raise the idea, and its role must complement the American role.

"[At this stage, the decision] is American, and Europe plays only a coordinating role. The reality is of American hegemony toward the European decision, and of European surrender to the American decision, as [happened] in [the U.S.'s] placing the Hamas movement and Islamic Jihad on the terror list. Europe did not want this [but had to comply], and this very much weakened its influence and prevented it from [taking on] roles… Who are the forces in the Palestinian arena? Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, the Palestinian Authority, and perhaps other small forces. How is it possible to play a role outside the framework of these forces? The PA is isolated or President [Arafat] is isolated, Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad are, according to them, terror organizations – [so] who is there to negotiate with?… I call for an active European role. But so far we have seen no such tools in the hands of the Europeans."

Syria's Relations with the West

"I do not believe in the idea of the clash of civilizations. There are no civilizations. There is one human civilization in which we now live. In the past, there were 'civilizations' because the [different] civilizations were separated by long intervals or large distances, and perhaps there was no contiguity between the civilization of South America or Central [America] and that of East Asia. Today, the world is connected, and there is a single human civilization. There are [different] cultures. I am not saying that there is a struggle of cultures, [that] the struggle is going on between the cultured and the uncultured. There is a problem of cultural globalization, that is, [the imposition] of a single model of culture across the world. This is dangerous and causes conflicts between those who want to go with cultural globalization and change the national model, and those who want to preserve unique [national] culture.

"The danger with regard to us is the cultural invalidation that might happen because of cultural invasion and globalization. The preservation of the [unique] culture is not closing up, but the opposite – opening up, dialogue, influence by everything positive, and preservation of the specific culture of every country or every people in a way that fits together with the present, liberates it from its negative [influences], [and] preserves its positive [characteristics] and enhances them by rubbing up against other cultures."

The Challenges Facing Syria

"As a country in the region, we are facing the challenges that face most of the countries in the world, but the Middle East is a special region, and Syria is at the eye of the storm. The security challenges always exist, but they have increased following the mistaken struggle against terror in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and the daily mistakes in handling the Iraqi problem. The economic challenges have existed for a long time, but they are increasing with the unification of the interests of the countries of the wealthy world, that is not for the sake of the interests of the less developed countries or the poor countries. The social challenges are the natural result of the political and economic turmoil, of poverty, and so on. The cultural challenges are the natural result of all these, in addition to the cultural attack that is coming in one direction – from the West toward us. There is no parallel Arab or Eastern cultural invasion [of the West]. All these challenges face us, as one of the countries of the region and particularly as Syria, east of which is the Iraqi problem, west of which is the problem of peace and the occupation of the Golan, and which lives in a terror-struck region."

The 'Damascus Spring'

"There is a problem regarding concepts. We believe that human beings are the ones who invented the concepts, and not that the concepts invented the human beings or the countries. Now we are in April, that is, in the spring, and we are sitting in Damascus, and there you have 'Damascus Spring,' and so it is for other seasons. But I am not referring to it like this. The concept of 'Damascus Spring' is taken from the concept of 'Prague Spring,' that denoted a movement supported from without in order to bring about a coup [in Czechoslovakia]. There were two sides in it: support from without and the call to bring about an explosion [from within]. I [by contrast] did not come in from the outset to explode, and in Syria the matter [that requires discussion] is the connection with the outside. [Foreign] intervention in internal reform is completely out of the question, and is not a topic for discussion. Therefore, Damascus Spring, in the way in which it is proposed, is out of the question. We in Syria are leading a process of development, and it is not easy, but in my inaugural speech I said that I had no magic wand, as the situation and the statistics are clear and open. There is difficulty in many areas; there is a need for great development, and tools are lacking.

"The 'tools' [that are lacking] are first of all the people, that is, comprehensive development activity. By Damascus Spring, you mean the political aspect, and we are carrying out extensive development – political, economic, cultural, in all areas. The political area is only one of the aspects. Our priority is the economic area. [However,] priority does not mean that I begin something and only when it ends begin something else – as economic development is [never] finished. Priority means focusing on one area, and continuing to act in all the others.

"The most common problem for the Syrian citizen is making a living, particularly for the clerks who perhaps cannot finish the month, and it is natural that the priority will be the citizens' difficulties in survival. How can the citizen ensure a living for his children? How will he fund their medical care? How will he fund proper education for them? How will he provide them with food? This is the main problem. We have focused on the economic matter. The country has no income, it has no good or proper collection system, and there is no proper collection of income. To be precise: There is income, but it is insufficient. There are gaps in collection of income in the tax system, gaps in the distribution of the wage levels, and more details that I will not get into.

"I did not mention the priority of the political reform, but we have not stopped. We have carried out political reform and it is not true that the political situation today is like the situation a few years ago."

Civil Society in Syria

"What are the associations of the civil society? What is the meaning of the concept 'civil society?' Why are we taking a concept from outside, and don't know what it means? In Syria there is one society; there isn't civil society and non-civil [society]. There is one society, a civil [society] that is becoming civil. All the institutions use the concept of 'civil society.' This Syrian society has institutions. The government is the institution of civil society. The people's council, the military, the police, the charities, the non-government organizations, all the institutions, the unions, the associations – all are organizations of civil society.

"In Syria there are channels for enterprise. There is a development process that is advancing in [certain] areas and retreating in other areas. I am not saying that the process is advancing easily. There are many obstacles; there are objective, political, and other conditions that affect the entire development process. But there is a matter that always delays, stops, and turns back any development process, and that is opportunism.

"When opportunists ride the wave of change, they destroy everything. They of course are inside and outside the country, and ride the wave of reform with a [particular] aim, or out of personal interests – or for the sake of goals that reach the point of toppling the current regime, and to this we do not agree.

"We are advancing in the development process, but with caution, not with haste. We care neither about concepts nor about what they say about us outside Syria… We are marching out of faith, and are convinced that it [i.e. Syria] is moving in the right direction. Every day we discover a deviation, a gap, or a mistake in the process, correct it, and expand [the circle] of participation.

"This is the most important thing that we are doing: involving all the residents. Perhaps not all of us agree with each other, and this is natural, but the principle of participation is a basic principle."

Syria and Terrorism

"… During the 1970s and 1980s, we were subjected to terror attacks by forces adopted by the Arab and Western countries. We told them, we advised them: 'These forces will turn and [act] against you; ultimately you will pay a high price.' In the early 1990s, this happened in several Arab countries, and spread to other countries, and now it has spread to other places in the world. These Arab countries themselves came to us and asked us to help them and the Western countries. [U.S.] Congressmen told me: 'You saw ahead 15 years, before us.'

"We demanded [to convene] a conference on the war on terrorism, and we said that [terrorism] would spread, but no one listened. We talked in the past of the resistance in Lebanon and said that it would achieve results, and we were proven right. I talked also about the matter of Iraq.

"What we saw [then] is taking place now, and in details, but the best example I gave is the Iran-Iraq war. We paid the price for our position since 1980, when the war broke out, until 1990, with the invasion of Kuwait… President Hafez Al-Assad said [then] to those responsible in the Gulf, headed by the Kuwaitis, 'Saddam will finish with Iran and get to you,' and they did not listen then. I heard this from them several times … and I appreciate [their] honesty, and their admission. In 1990, they said to President Hafez Al-Assad, 'You were right.'

"I ask a simple question: Have all these instances proven that we see the situation precisely? Who needs to change his language and way of thought – us or them? We leave it to events to determine this. We are certain that we see correctly. We are not perfect; perfection is [only] Allah's. But we aspire always to develop and improve this vision."

The Syrian Opposition in the Diaspora

"It is not possible to put everyone in one basket. Everyone is responsible for his position. Because this is so, a number of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who were involved in events in the past returned to Syria. These leaders, who went to prison and were responsible for destructive operations during the 1980s, including those on the highest levels of seniority, have now left the prisons, and now most [members] of the Muslim Brotherhood are living a normal life in Syria. It is possible.

"With regard to those outside Syria, some returned to Syria, and also people from the ranks who are not leaders but belong or identify with the Muslim Brotherhood, returned quietly and in an orderly fashion. There is recognition of the mistakes of the past, such as killings of Syrian citizens, and destruction.

"Syrian political enterprise has channels like any other country, and they will continue to develop and take on a new form. The main thing is the general framework for political enterprise, which is determined by the systems and the laws."

The Kurdish Riots in Northern Syria

"We must differentiate between the matter of those without citizenship and the events in Qamishli. The investigation did not prove [there had been] any external intervention. As we have seen, it was a [soccer] game, and following it there was rioting, that turned into clashes and took on a nationalist character. This is the first time, of course, that such a thing happened in Syria, but it happened and was quickly handled. The investigation is continuing, but so far we have seen no foreign connection.

"The subject of [Kurdish] citizenship is 42 years old, and it has breaches. There are people who received citizenship, and people who deserve citizenship and did not receive it. I visited the Al-Hasaka region, I met with powerful elements from all the parties. They brought up the subject, and I said that the matter would be taken care of, and there is really no problem in this matter [any more].

"The only thing that holds us back is the changing political situation. But the foundations have been laid and discussed, and the subject was in the final stages, and there is no objection to it on the part of any element in Syria. [The Kurds] are Syrian residents living among us, and the Kurdish nationality is a primary part of the Syrian fabric and the Syrian history, and is fully integrated. This matter is solved."

The Situation in the Arab Arena

"Most Arab citizens are stricken with confusion and despair as a result of the situation. The Arab leaders bear a large part of the responsibility, and this is natural. The problem is not whether we despair, but whether we give in to despair.

"In the Arab world, there are two currents, and both of them exist among the governments and among the people. The first current calls to submit to despair, to submit to reality, and its motto is 'the opportunity has been missed.' The second current states that there are certain elements of weakness, but that we can stride ahead, and the opportunity has not yet been missed.

"The first current sometimes sees Arab weakness as an absolute weakness, and the strength of some of the superpowers as absolute power, and thus arises the motto 'the opportunity has been missed,' and the reliance on it.

"There is another current that sees things in relative terms, and I belong to this current. [Our] weakness exists, and we are not capable of promising that the situation will change rapidly. There are objective and subjective conditions that lead to this situation.

"There is an accumulation [of conditions] over decadesthat has a part in what we have come to, and we add to it with our current actions, first of all as rulers. I always place the responsibility on the rulers, primarily because I am one of them. Of course, every leadership, leader, and government represents the society in one way or another, and the society supports them and pushes them forward or backward. The connection is reciprocal. There is no 'regime without society.' There is always a connection … [but] most of the responsibility falls upon the leaders.

"I do not think that the opportunity has been missed. If the weakness was truly absolute, we would not exist today, materially or culturally. We can act. We need a little will and a little patience. Not all the will; a little will, a little patience, and a little seriousness will manage to lift us up. With the help of a little will we will manage to elevate ourselves, in order to give hope. Obviously if we succeed in mobilizing all the will and all the seriousness, it [will be] excellent.

"When I say 'a little will,' I mean that the source of our weakness is not insufficient will. Sometimes there is no will [at all], and therefore I say that with the help of a little will we can attain at least something simple. What is this something simple? Will we improve the Arab situation? If we assume that the Arab situation stands at 10%, can we transform it into 15%? No, perhaps next year [it will be] 5%. Let's at least keep it at 10%. If the situation must deteriorate, [at least] the deterioration will be minimal…"

The Arab Summit

"… The Arab summit is the jewel in the crown of the collective Arab enterprise. The mistake is that we view this summit as an event that is to solve all the problems in two days. Actually, we are talking about a few hours of meetings, with the lion's share being speeches and bilateral meetings. Where is the serious work at the Arab summit?… Why are we angry when a summit is cancelled and happy when it takes place? The result is the same [anyway]. There is a problem with the way of collective Arab enterprise, and [this problem] is not the political conflicts nor the ill intent always found in the Arab circles.

"First of all, what is our Arab enterprise between summits? We want to reduce all of our many problems in a few days. This will not give results. What is the level of participation? The Arab summit or collective Arab enterprise is an expression of meetings between presidents, kings, princes, or foreign ministers. Where are the rest of the elements in the collective Arab enterprise? Where are the economic meetings and the economic, cultural, and other agreements?…

"Let's assume that I raised some subject for the good of the economic interest before the Arab summit, a subject connected to hundreds of millions of Arab citizens. Is it conceivable for me to ask for that the Arab leaders agree to the matter without studying it? Every matter must be examined politically. There are experts to whom you must turn, there are jurists, there are concepts that are perhaps connected to religious ideology that must be examined.

"On the other hand, is it conceivable that we will go to a summit without dealing with this matter? [We must] devote time to it, as Arab leaders, in order to arrive at a minimum of agreement, and the leaders and presidents must polish it and add the political aspect, instead of wasting time on talking about a concept in which we and the foreign ministers are not well versed.

"There is powerlessness in the collective Arab enterprise that leads to the failure of the summit… There is no value in talking without agreed political decision. We issue communiqués, make decisions, and then do not adhere to them. The priority must be setting a path. We can do this... but a political decision can not be regulated by law or by some internal order. This depends on the leadership in every country… We need political will with regard to every decision we make, and then we will be able to talk about reform…

"Obviously, the subject of reform exists – reform in the [Arab] League and general reform. Are we raising it because we are convinced of it, want it? Do we have tools now, or is this a reaction to the [U.S.'s] Greater Middle East Initiative and to other European proposals? If this is a reaction, then we are reverting to a situation of passivity, and the reaction will be temporary, and will not lead to a thing. But if this is internal conviction, that is something else. Therefore, this matter is connected to political decision. Reform is always a priority, not [for the Arab] summit [in general] but for each country [individually].

"But can the Arab world carry out reform in its countries, in a planned and uniform way? [The answer is] no. It is difficult. Every country has its own characteristics. It is possible to determine the principles that will be raised at every summit conference – reform, democracy, improvement, reinforcement, and more – but how do we make decisions? There is disagreement among the Arab countries. We have not managed to agree on the big problems that concern us directly, for example the problem of Iraq and the daily political problems. Some want us to talk about murder and crime, such as the murder of [Hamas leaders] Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Dr. Rantisi, and there are some who do not want us to talk [about it]…

"The [passive] state is what pushes us to turn to the G-8 summit that will convene in June 2004, and to prepare for it a document that will constitute a kind of recommendation, except for the fact that we will turn to them as if we are asking for support for development in the framework of reform…

"There are [external] pressures on all the Arab leaders. The foreign ministers and the [foreign] embassies are acting regularly in this direction. This is no secret. Obviously, the pressures are continuing, and at every summit [conference] there are attempts to influence us. I do not say that we must not respond to these pressures, demands, or proposals, but there are different ways. For example, when we go to the G-8 conference [is it] in order to ask for recommendations, [or] is it to rebuke them and to ask them: 'Where did [you] the G-8 go wrong? You are talking about democracy in our region and about dictatorships, where is the development? Where is the solution to the Palestinian problem? What about the occupation in Iraq?… Why do we feel guilty?'

"We acknowledge our mistakes and admit to them, and what about [the G-8]? Are they angels or full partners in the situation?"

The Egyptian-Saudi-Syrian Axis

"I sometimes understand the word 'axis' as if a group of countries is turning against another group of countries. I prefer the term 'core of collective Arab enterprise,' which is not a substitute for Arab enterprise. This is a formula that is found in certain instances, such as following the invasion of Kuwait … [when there was] the tri-lateral meeting [of the Egyptian, Saudi, and Syrian leaders] in order to preserve minimal Arab coordination. On the other hand, these [three] countries have influence.

"This is not a question of a small or large country. The participation of the small countries is a healthy sign, and proof of the recovery of the Arab enterprise. One country cannot come instead of another country. Syria is not a large country, neither in territory nor in number of residents. Do you have a definition of the concept of 'small country?'… A large country is measured by its independence of national decision, and by its various achievements.

"I will give you an example: Lebanon is one of the smallest Arab countries with regard to territory and population, and it is the only Arab country that succeeded in doing what all the Arab countries together did not succeed: To liberate its land by its own force, while it was in civil war… [So] is it a small country or a large country? I think that it is one of the greatest Arab countries. Perhaps also Iraq will be like this in the future, and perhaps also Palestine. I do not believe in the concepts of 'small' and 'large.' There is a country that acts and a country that does not act."

Syria's Relations with Turkey and Iran

"Syria-Turkey relations are separate from the tri-lateral Syria-Turkey-Iran relations. These are sensitive relations, both in their good moments and in their less good moments. Many things unite us with Turkey, and it is they who helped us establish these relations quickly in recent years. The most important [thing] is the common will and the belief in cooperation, which pushed these relations [forward].

"Recently, the problem of Iraq has arisen, and created a direct and similar danger toward Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The new Turkish government has acted since its rise to remove the isolation from Turkey, as Turkey was for a long time at odds with many countries…

"The occupation of Iraq united the three neighboring countries due to the common danger. Syrian-Turkish coordination is improving, both with regard to this problem and with regard to other matters… I cannot say that there is an axis or a core, but there is ongoing coordination among the three countries."

Presidential Elections in Lebanon

"What is important is not the people, but the outlook. Since the end of the civil war in Lebanon in the 1990s, we have been supporting the Lebanese institutions. We decided to support the Lebanese institutions because they are a guarantee of the fact that Lebanon will not revert to the atmosphere, circumstances, or reasons for civil war.

"We supported all the [Lebanese] institutions and all the people heading them, without exception. It is natural for us to particularly support the first-rank institution – the institution of the presidency – regardless of the powers [given it].

"The issue of powers is a separate one. The institution [of the presidency] represents the entire people, and ultimately it remains the guarantee of the homeland and the people, regardless of its powers. We supported presidents Al-Harawi and Lahoud, and to the same extent we will support any president coming through the institutions, but all the options remain open…

"The situation in Lebanon is ethnic and this is very important. We cannot accept or support a president with an ethnic tendency, a president who does not want to be president of all the Lebanese, and wants to turn back the situation [to what it was before]. This is [our] main focus. Of course the national aspect is important, [but] the institutional aspect is in first place, because the institution [of the presidency] safeguards against division and ethnic [factionalism]."

Support for Hizbullah and Palestinian Organizations in Syria

"[The Israelis] want us to cooperate with them in eliminating the Palestinian problem and perhaps [eliminating] the Syrian problem [too], that is, the problem of the Golan. They want us to be their partners in killing the Palestinians. Why should we cooperate? There is a clear problem. We have not changed our position for decades, and we also will not change."

Christian Resistance to Syria in Lebanon

"We are meeting with some [representatives of the Christian Lebanese community] and hear their criticism, and we are also hearing other criticism, through mediators or the media. There is genuine criticism and there is disingenuous criticism. The disingenuous criticism does not interest us. The genuine criticism is correct.

"In all enterprises, there are mistakes. We respect these opinions and think that they are beneficial and help us to refrain from negative things. At the same time, there are many things to which Syria is not connected to, but what is important is that we cannot avoid negative things as long as there are negative things in Lebanon…

"The Lebanese must stand [on their own]; we cannot stand in their stead. We can help them, but not stand in their stead. Most of the critics are doing this in order to develop [Syrian-Lebanese] relations, and this is a positive thing. Our doors are open [to all factions in Lebanon]."

The Palestinian Resistance

"… We have no right to assess the legitimacy [of the Palestinian resistance]. It is the Palestinian citizen who must do so. This is an internal phenomenon, and we only have the right to support it when the Palestinian people wishes [it]. Saying whether it is legitimate or not is in itself illegitimate.

"Is the [resistance] effective or not?… The Lebanese were also told, in the 1980s, that the Lebanese resistance was ineffective, and ultimately it led to the liberation of the Lebanese lands except for the Sheba'a Farms. [The Palestinian resistance] is effective in the Palestinian arena, taking into account the differences between the two types of resistance. I am talking only about the Lebanese experience as a modern experience, whose results we, or the Lebanese, reaped in May 2000.

"I chose the latter experience. If we examine other experiences, we will see that this was accomplished [in them too]."

Syrian Support for the Palestinians

"… The factors that affect the role of the state or of a people regarding the problem of another country or another people are geographic, political, historical, educational, cultural, and so on. Do these conditions exist with regard to Syria, Egypt, and Jordan? Absolutely. The Palestinian problem is connected to all the Arabs, morally speaking… Egypt has direct contact with Gaza. Jordan has direct contact with the West Bank, and there is daily and individual contact with the situation of the Palestinian people… Even though there are no contiguous borders [between Syria and Palestine], there is a very strong and fateful connection between the two problems [i.e., the Syrian and the Palestinian problem]. The solution of the Syrian issue, that is, the Golan, by means of peace talks, will directly affect the results of the Palestinian track, and vice versa.

"What will be the fate of the half million Palestinians in Syria when the Palestinian problem is solved? What will be the fate of the half million Palestinians in Lebanon, primarily when the Syrian and Lebanese tracks are connected to each other? [Both tracks] will have a direct influence [on each other]. In addition, the Syrian citizen lives the Palestinian problem through the existence of half a million Palestinians who are becoming integrated in Syrian society every day. With their help, we live the Palestinian problem.

"What restrains the [Syrian] role is the conflict with the Palestinian leadership. The conflict has undergone two stages: the stage following the exit of the [Palestinian] resistance from Lebanon in 1982 and the stage following the beginning of the peace process. Until today, we are very divided politically [with the Palestinian leadership], but at the same time it is obvious that we stand alongside President Arafat, because the U.S. and Israel want to isolate him because of some positions [of his] that displeased them, beginning with Camp David 2000 and until today. We stood alongside him.

"This is a picture of the Syrian role. Obviously, there is a continuous connection with the Palestinian factions, more than in the past, but we are still in different political directions.

"We do not object to people or support people; we are not against President Arafat or for him. We have a way, and it concerns other ways. We are against the way of separate [tracks], against the way of Oslo, never mind how they call it. We have stood alongside President Arafat because there was intervention that is unacceptable. They want to fire the president and set up a [new] president… Perhaps we disagree about Arafat, but he symbolizes an historic phenomenon that we are not denying. He made concessions [several times, but this too] did not satisfy the Israelis…"

Possible Reconciliation among the Palestinian Factions

"This is an internal Palestinian matter, [so] we are not interfering in it. But we always say to them: Reach agreement among yourselves, as your enemy is one. [As the saying goes:] 'The white bull is eaten before the black bull is eaten.' [2] Your enemy is one. Stand alongside each other and put aside conflicts or disagreements."

Israel's Threats to Harm Palestinian Leaders across the World

"Any threat on the part of Israel is [something that is] anticipated, and this is not the first time. They always threaten, and the threat exists even if Israel is not threatening. No one trusts Israel. Israel was built upon killing, murder, destruction, and the like. This is Israel's way. The threat has existed since Israel has existed, and this is an ongoing situation. Aggression will be answered by aggression.

"… The important question is: What is our role? Do we want to place most of the responsibility on Israel and the rest on the U.S., the West, the European countries, and the other

great powers – are we [also] placing responsibility on ourselves for what is happening? We must look for our responsibility: silence, inaction, accumulating neglect, toying with marginal matters at the expense of the main problems, the lack of a path, the lack of cooperation, and the list goes on and on."

Syrian-Israeli Relations

"I did not propose any initiative. I have only expressed the Syrian position that is reiterated at every opportunity. In all political statements, whether an official speech, a press interview, or a meeting among officials from any side, we stress our eternal readiness for peace without mentioning the names of Israelis, as we have a clear path. There is a basic right, there are Security Council decisions, and we always say that we are willing to negotiate when the conditions ripen in Israel.

"I proposed no initiative, but I raised [the subject] when I was interviewed for The New York Times. [3] The Americans saw this as an initiative, because they do not know that we are offering peace, that is, peace proposals. They saw this as an initiative, as if we are always silent or have never spoken against the war, the killing, and the violence, and suddenly we proposed peace. This attests to our absence from the American political arena. But we always say that it doesn't matter who is in Israel – we have rights, and we do not differentiate between the [different] names [of Israeli leaders]. This was known also before the rise of Sharon. They say that this prime minister is better than his predecessor, and we say that they are all alike, only the form changes. This one kills the Arabs and the Palestinians and calls himself an emissary of peace, and that one kills and calls himself an emissary of war, but in effect they are all the same."


[1] Teshreen (Syria), May 2, 2004. Teshreen published a transcript of the Al-Jazeera interview, a videotape of which MEMRI has in its possession.

[2] An Arab proverb about the need for cooperation.

[3] See Assad Tampers with New York Times Interview: One Message to Americans, Another to Syrians, January 7, 2004, ' Assad Tampers with New York Times Interview: One Message to Americans, Another to Syrians.'