October 14, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 799

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: 'Do Western Countries Want to Fling the Entire Region Into the Volcano? Haven't We Learned From 9/11, From the War in Iraq?... When a Volcano Erupts, its Core Strikes Countries Near and Far, Great and Small, Powerful and We

October 14, 2004
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 799

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spoke at the Conference of Syrian Expatriates, held in Damascus on October 8, 2004. He criticized U.N. Resolution 1559, which condemns the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and discussed other regional issues. The following are excerpts, printed the following day in the Syrian daily Al-Ba'th: [1]

U.N. Resolution 1559 is Unjust

"We are living in an anarchy of mistaken meanings and concepts, which increases the divisions among cultures and prepares the ground for further wars and bloodshed. This situation [was] made possible the passing of [U.N.] Security Council Resolution 1559, which surprised many. [2]

"Although Syria is known for its permanent support of the U.N. and the U.N. institutions, and for its call to implement [U.N.] resolutions, this does not mean that we won't criticize mistakes when they happen – especially double standards with regard to these resolutions, or the passing of resolutions that are not in the purview of the body that releases them or that contradict the U.N. Charter itself. [Such is the case with] the recent resolution, described as a defense of Lebanon's independence following a 'blow' to the Lebanese constitution. Actually, [this resolution] has no connection to that, and is unconnected to the extension of [Lebanese] President Lahoud's term.

"[This U.N.] resolution was prepared long in advance [of the extension of Lahoud's term] and was aimed to accomplish other goals very distant from what is represented as camouflage for the true goals. The first of these [goals] is the internationalization of the internal situation in Lebanon – which means Lebanon's return to the atmosphere of the 1980s and a blow to the existing relationship between Syria and Lebanon…

"In recent weeks, some questions and reservations have arisen regarding the passing of the resolution, its goals, our attitude to these [goals], and the goals of the countries behind [the resolution]. Many have understood that the resolution would not have been released had it not been for the extension [of President Lahoud's term]. If we look at the content of the resolution … we see no connection whatsoever between its sections and the matter of the extension or the presidential elections [in Lebanon].

"A small example: The section [in the resolution] dealing with the militias … what does this section have to do with the extension [of Lahoud's term]? What does a section concerning the establishment of the Lebanese military's control of Lebanese soil have to do with the extension? Actually, a few months before this resolution [was passed], we received information that the Security Council was preparing something against Syria and Lebanon, and we thought at first that this was only rumor.

"How can [the extension of Lahoud's term] be a violation of the [Lebanese] constitution if the whole world changes constitutions? All, and perhaps most, constitutions in the world contain sections that state how to change the constitution. So why is this a violation of the constitution?

"We are unconvinced that [the Americans] do not know the most fundamental principles of world law. They have said publicly that they are against the extension [of Lahoud's term]. If they are against the extension in principle, why did these countries [i.e. the U.S. and France] and the same people agree to the 1995 extension, [yet] oppose it in 2004 – even though the section [of the constitution] is exactly the same section? That means that the problem is not with the principle. If it were the principle, the[ir] position would not have changed in nine years.

"[On the other hand], if the problem is personal, that is, [having to do] with the personality of the [Lebanese] president, this would mean [that this resolution constitutes] gross intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs."

A Critique of Western Interference in Lebanon

"[The Americans] are saying that one of their goals is defending Lebanon from external intervention. In [any] case, we are talking about gross intervention in Lebanon's affairs. They spoke of defending Lebanon … and the question is: What did all those [international] forces give Lebanon over the past decades, as it experienced crisis after crisis?

"I will note two things I raised before the Western countries: In 1975, one the [Western] countries provided the Christians with a boat so they could leave Lebanon, and in 1990 one of the countries provided aircraft carriers to help a group of rebels against the Lebanese legitimacy. [3] Where was this [international] protection in the beginning of the civil war, when in 1976 Syria entered [Lebanon] to rescue the Lebanese Christians who were being slaughtered at that time?

"The slaughter [committed] in the name of reform of the political regime, and [in the name of] justice, socialism, and progress, could have ended within a fortnight. Where were they [the Western countries] then? [Had] the reform of the political regime demanded the slaughter of half of the citizens, who would have remained [alive] to correct all society? No one would have remained, and there would have been reform without a people. At that time, President Hafez Al-Assad was asked to delay the completion of the Syrian forces' entrance into Lebanon by only two weeks, so that the task [of reform] could be completed. He of course refused.

"Where were they [i.e. the Western countries] in 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon when thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed, when during the course of a few weeks, Syria lost thousands of killed in action, and when some of the Lebanese brothers, today's heroes, threw rice at the Israelis? Where were they during the Israeli occupation – from 1987 to the Israeli withdrawal from most of the Lebanese lands in 2000? They weren't there. This [argument about caring for] Lebanon and [Lebanese] independence, and democracy, appeared suddenly."

'We Took Nothing from Lebanon, but We Gave Blood'

"The Americans spoke of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon. When a country wants to create hegemony it should have hidden or declared goals. Did we in Syria aspire for money? Are there natural resources in Lebanon for us to seek? Is there oil in Lebanon that we want to appropriate? Did we take Lebanese electricity, Lebanese water? No. We took nothing from Lebanon, but we gave blood. Had we wanted hegemony over Lebanon we wouldn't have withdrawn our forces in stages from Lebanon in the last five years up to the last withdrawal…

"The region was at the mouth of a volcano. But now, we in the Middle East are in the heart of the volcano. Syria and Lebanon are the most stable countries in the Middle East, despite all the circumstances. Do they [the Western countries] want to fling the entire region into the volcano? Haven't they learned from 9/11? Haven't we learned from the Iraq war? Hasn't the world learned?

"We learned many years ago that when a volcano erupts, its core strikes countries near and far, great and small, powerful and weak. The time has come for us to learn this lesson. Therefore, we are convinced that Syria's responsibility towards Lebanon and Lebanon's responsibility towards Syria will remain despite everything and due to the power of history and geography, Allah willing and with the blessings of both peoples."

Relations with Iraq

"From the historical-geographic point of view, it is obvious that we will talk of the eastern border and of Iraq, with which we have close and brotherly relations and a common history, and all of whose sons know that we stood determinedly before the aggression against it, and whose occupation we still oppose. At the time, we thought that the preparation for the war [in Iraq] would bring the region and the world into the unknown. The events, killing, and destruction in Iraq clarify the enormity of the distress … and prove the correctness of our view…

"Today we declare that we are doing our best to preserve Iraq's unity and ensure its stability, so as to restore its full sovereignty. This requires the ratification of a constitution that will express the will and aspirations of the Iraqi people and the foreign forces' withdrawal from its soil."

The Peace Process

"The Middle East peace process has been standing in place for years due to Israel's refusal to resume the talks, its continuing occupation of the Arab lands, and its ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people. As a result, the international forces are not meeting their obligations towards the peace process and are not implementing the resolutions of international legitimacy [i.e., the U.N.] when Israel is concerned. We have emphasized under various circumstances our clear position regarding the peace process and our honest desire for a just peace in accordance with the U.N. resolutions and with the principle of land for peace. But instead of promises of the peace to which the peoples of the region aspire, they [these peoples] live in despair due to the unbridled Israeli hegemony over the Arab people.

"The Syrian position towards peace is open and known. What is the purpose in secret negotiations? If the Syrian political position is known, and, more important, the Syrian people and the Arab people as a whole support peace talks and the peace process because it wants peace – what is the secrecy for?…

"We have before us two possibilities: Either the aim of the secrecy is negative, and we can take as an example the Oslo [secret] track for which the Palestinian people paid and are still paying a heavy price, or that the Israeli electorate is not ready for the peace process.

"This proves the correctness of the Syrian position, which we have emphasized in recent years: The problem lies with the Israeli citizens, who apparently are still not ready for the peace process."

[1] Al-Ba'th (Syria), October 9, 2004.

[2] The resolution was passed in August 2004 following Syrian pressure on Lebanese politicians to extend the term of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud in contravention of the Lebanese constitution. The resolution calls for a halt to Syrian interference in Lebanon's domestic affairs and for the exit of all foreign troops from Lebanon.

[3] In 1976, U.S. deputy undersecretary L. Dean Brown suggested that the U.S. send boats to Lebanon's Christians so that they could leave the country. In 1989, France helped then Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun with arms shipments.

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