August 31, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1687

Syrian Vice-President in Speech Marking Syria's "Journalist Day"

August 31, 2007
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 1687

In an August 14, 2007 speech to an audience of journalists and media personnel on the occasion of Syria's "Journalist Day," Syrian Vice-President Farouq Al-Shar' lamented the disunity and "disintegration" in the Arab world, attacked Arab countries that are establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and are thus creating a "rift" in the Arab world, and criticized Saudi Arabia, which, he said, is refusing to maintain good relations with Syria. [1]

In his speech, Al-Shar' also condemned the U.S. for trying to "take over the entire world," and declared that Syria would not participate in the peace conference initiated by President Bush, slated for this fall, until it learns all the details about this conference and is convinced that it represents a genuine peace initiative.

Referring to Syria's relations with Iran, Al-Shar' said that Iran's position on Iraq differs from that of Syria, which wants "a united, independent, and Arab" Iraq.

The following are excerpts from his speech:

"The Arab Body is Disintegrating From Within"

"The Arab body is disintegrating from within, and there are some who, without reason, feel [a sense of] defeat from within. America is suffering defeats and has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these people are sorry about it. This is inconceivable."

Al-Shar' said that Syria would try to "mend the rifts in inter-Arab relations" at the upcoming Arab League summit, to be held in Damascus in March 2008. He said: "Some may think that the problem is between Syria and some of the Arab states, but this is not so. There is a general weakness and feebleness that needs to be treated… Arab solidarity is a necessary condition. When the Arabs are strong, others will respect them, none of us will feel humiliated, and the myth of Israel's [strength] will meet its final end...

"Arab solidarity will continue to be an honorable goal for which we work. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are essential to Arab solidarity. It is no secret that [Syrian] President Bashar Al-Assad was interested in holding a Syrian-Saudi-Egyptian trilateral summit during the Riyadh summit, but [Saudi Arabia and Egypt] were not interested in talking – they lacked the necessary courage. We hope that at the [2008] Damascus summit, they will find the ability and confidence to hold a trilateral meeting."

On diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan, Al-Shar' said: "Some Arab officials see nothing wrong with holding talks with Israeli officials… Israel has embassies in these countries, and these countries have ambassadors in Israel. [These Arab countries] can convey whatever [messages] they want through their ambassadors, but it appears that at present they want to create a rift in the [already-] disintegrating Arab body…

"[Israel's] defeat last year is the strongest proof that it will gain nothing from future attempts to create a state of normalization with the Arabs. Just as it failed in aggression, so it will fail in diplomacy… Israel was defeated, and it did not expect this. Even among the Arabs there were some who did not expect this – and what is more, I will say in all honesty that some of the Arabs were made uncomfortable and were filled with fear by Israel's defeat. This is saddening, but that is the reality."

Saudi Arabia is Now "Almost Completely Paralyzed" and Cannot Fulfill Its "Important Role" in the Arab and Muslim Arena

Al-Shar' said that Syria is "highly interested in establishing good relations with Saudi Arabia, for [Saudi Arabia] has an important role in the region in terms of inter-Arab relations as well as relations between Arabs and [other] Muslims. But to be honest, [Saudi Arabia] is now almost completely paralyzed [and cannot fulfill] this important role. I do not know why, but there are indications that this is the case...

"You know that the Mecca Agreement between Fatah and Hamas was [actually formulated] in Damascus, in secret talks between the Syrian leadership, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the Hamas leadership, headed by Political Bureau leader Khaled Mash'al. These talks led to an agreement between the two movements regarding the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government... [Further dealings] in this matter were postponed, but [only one issue] remained unresolved – namely, [the question] of whether to include the word 'honoring' [past agreements with Israel] or 'commitment' [to these agreements]."

Al-Shar' stated that Damascus could have resolved this issue, but had decided, along with the Palestinians, to let it be resolved by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, "because the goal was not just establish a national unity government, but [to establish a government] that would receive support from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which would be necessary for its continued existence...

"Everyone expected that an agreement signed in Mecca, in the shadow of the honorable Ka'ba, and sponsored by Saudi Arabia, would lead to the lifting of the [Israeli] siege and to the release of the [Palestinian] prisoners. But, unfortunately, this did not happen... The U.S. did not listen to its ally Saudi Arabia, which brings into question the long-standing alliance [between the two countries]. It may be that after the signing of the Mecca Agreement, Saudi Arabia was not in a position to monitor the lifting of the siege and to press for the release of the Palestinian prisoners, as the [agreement] required."

As further evidence of Saudi Arabia's declining status, Al-Shar' mentioned its absence from the conference of countries bordering Iraq, held recently in Syria. "Saudi Arabia was not present at [this conference], held in Damascus a few days ago [and attended by representatives of] the five permanent members of the [U.N.] Security Council, the U.N. General Secretariat, and the Arab League... Saudi Arabia could have [sent] an official from its embassy instead of leaving its seat empty. But it seems that it deliberately left its seat empty, which was very saddening..."

Saudi Arabia is Not Interested in Relations with Syria

Al-Shar' added that Damascus "is interested in maintaining close and strong strategic and fraternal relations with Saudi Arabia, but relations between countries always require [commitment] on the part of both sides... At present, the willingness exists on only one side. We hope that [in the future] it will exist on both...

"On the Syrian [side], nothing has changed. We signed a free [trade] zone agreement with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi products are now seen everywhere [in the Syrian markets]. Even if Saudi Arabia does not need the $200 million [it has gained by selling its products] in Syria, this situation has symbolic significance.

"We insisted [on signing this agreement] so that they would feel that we are serious about the [Syrian-Saudi] economic cooperation. So the flaw in these relations is not Syria's [fault]. You must understand this, regardless of what is being said in some media outlets affiliated with Saudi Arabia...

"There is no sense in sacrificing an historical relationship... [that goes back to] 1970. For 36 years, there has never been any misunderstanding between [our two countries]. Moreover, Syria has never said anything negative about its relations with Saudi Arabia – while the Saudi media has spoken [of Syria] in a negative and even harsh tone. We hope that this will not continue."

We Won't Attend the Peace Conference – Even If Invited –Unless We Know Who is Participating, What the Goals Are, and What Guarantees Will be Given for Accomplishing Them

On the peace conference initiated by President Bush, which is slated to be held in the fall, Al-Shar' said: "This [conference] is more imaginary than real." He asked: "Are [the Americans] stingy with words? They spent $500 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan, but they can't say five words about the conference and explain what it is, who will participate, where it will be held, what its goals are, and what guarantees will be given for the accomplishment of these goals.

"You should know that the 1990-91 Syria-U.S. negotiations continued for seven months before agreement was reached on the Madrid Conference framework, [including] who would participate, where it would be held, how the committees would be grouped, and what the negotiation tracks would be. We received guarantees from the U.S. that it would say nothing to one party without the knowledge of the other party – these [letters of] guarantee [by the U.S.] can be found in the archives of the Syrian Foreign Ministry...

"[The Americans] have kept Syria at a distance, and we are not bothered by this. I cannot say that we will attend a conference when we do not know what its goals are, what they want [to achieve], and on what basis it is being held. Even if they invite us, we will not go before we fill in these gaps and are convinced that it is a genuine peace conference that will lead the Arabs to [the attainment] of their rights and to the return of their occupied territories."

According to Al-Shar', President Bush "is in a serious conundrum. He is reassessing his foreign policy without admitting it, and is implementing the Baker-Hamilton report without announcing it... When he speaks of an international meeting and suddenly charges forward on the Palestinian track, it is as though he is saying to the Arabs and the Muslims: 'I am giving the Palestinian issue preference over all of the other conflicts.' However, I do not think that the Arabs are so naïve as to believe [him]…"

Regarding Bush's statements that Lebanon is important to U.S. national security, Al-Shar' said that "the Bush administration thinks that the entire world is important to [U.S.] national security and that Lebanon is part of the world… The U.S. wants to rule the world, but this goal is not easy to achieve. It is true that the U.S. is the only global superpower, but no one can get everything they want. It did not succeed in Iraq, and it has become bogged down in Afghanistan…

"[The Americans] are perpetually dreaming, but most of their calculations are wrong. Let us not deceive ourselves that this means that they will stop being a superpower… Nonetheless, they will not manage to achieve their dreams and to take over the Middle East, or the world."

Syria's Support of Hamas

Regarding Syria's supportive position vis-à-vis Hamas, Al-Shar' said: "Syria's most important achievement in the last two years was [its ability to] see eye to eye with all the Palestinian factions, and to maintain [this accord over time]. There is no hostility between Syria and any Palestinian faction... and there isn’t a single national Palestinian faction that is hostile towards Syria, neither inside nor outside the [occupied territories] – and that is a great achievement. [The only exception] is the Israeli agents [i.e. certain elements within Fatah] who hate Syria...

"It is claimed that the Palestinian problem is being used by Syria as a card. This means that there can be no solution to the [conflicts] in the Middle East without Syria. This is not just because of the Golan, but also owing to Syria's balanced and constant support of all the Palestinian factions. No other country has this unique advantage. You probably noticed that [after the Hamas takeover of Gaza], all the Arabs were against Hamas. But when they saw that Syria was in favor of a Hamas-Fatah dialogue in order to stop this senseless bloodshed, the Arab officials began to reassess their position...

"It is dangerous to support one Palestinian faction against the other, because this is what Israel wants. We must not be aligned with Israel [in our position]. Today, even the British and the Italians are demanding a reassessment of the [European] attitude towards the Palestinians. It is impossible to establish a Palestinian state while this dangerous division between Fatah and Hamas persists...

"Renewing the contacts and dialogue between Fatah and Hamas is no easy [task]. It requires a very great effort. This effort is underway, but do not expect quick results because what has happened [in Gaza] is very saddening. This wound, which is now very deep, will take time to heal."

Al-Shar' blamed the U.S. administration and Israel for the situation in Gaza, saying: "They maintained the siege and refused to have any contact with Hamas... in order prevent any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. And now they [have the nerve] to blame the Palestinians rather than [themselves]... We hear the same song regarding the events in Iraq. [The Americans] say that they rid [Iraq] of Saddam Hussein's nightmare [regime] and rescued it from [the claws of] a dictatorial tyrant. But the problem is that the Iraqis are not interested in a democratic state and do not know how to manage one."

Syria's Position on Iraq Differs From Iran's: Syria Wants a United, Independent, and Arab Iraq

In response to the claim that Syria and Iran are competing for influence in the region, Al-Shar' said: "There is no competition between us, but rather agreement, mutual understanding, and a unified view of things… The tie between us is strategic, [but] it is not blind, and all of the details are before our eyes…

"You know that it is impossible for the Iranian position on Iraq to be identical to the Syrian position, since Iraq was at war for eight years with Iran, whereas Syria was not at war with Iraq… The Iranians are interested in Iraq's independence and security, while Syria is interested in Iraq's unity and its Pan-Arab [identity]."

Al-Shar' continued: "The cooperation between Syria, Iraq, and Iran will lead to a unified vision in order to deliver Iraq from its suffering, emphasize its independent political will, and put and end to the occupation of its lands. In the end, and in the strategic view, our goals correspond [for we both want] a united, independent, and Arab Iraq free of occupation forces of any kind...

"They [i.e. the Americans] speak of a Syrian-Iranian axis involving Hamas and Hizbullah, but it is they who are [responsible] for the axes. The one who invented the concept of axes in the third millennium was Bush himself, when he spoke of the Axis of Evil. In contrast, Syria and Iran never said a word about an axis, and they do not think in this manner."

Al-Shar' added: "We are the moderate ones, and the others, who are called moderate, are [in fact] submissive." According to Al-Shar', "Moderation does not mean submission and agreement with the foreigner's will. Moderation and compromise are, at root, positive words in the Arab lexicon…"

Syria Does Not Want War With Israel – But is Prepared for Any Eventuality

As for the possibility of war between Syria and Israel, Al-Shar' said: "Syria is not interested in war, and Israel knows this. Nonetheless, Syria is in a state of readiness, since it has learned that Israel looks for any excuse to start a war, as it did in July 2006. Thus we must be ready for any eventuality." He added, "When we say that peace is Syria's strategic choice, we are not ruling out other possibilities."

[1], August 15, 2007.

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