The following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shar'. The interview, conducted by Sanaa Al-Sa'id, appeared in the Egyptian opposition weekly Al-Usbu':
Islamic Jihad H.Q. in Damascus Will Not Be Closed
Question: "Colin Powell recently criticized Syria and defined the Damascus-headquartered Jihad movement as terrorist. What is your position, particularly after Washington asked Syria to close Jihad headquarters…?"
Al-Shar': "Activity in the Jihad movement's headquarters is limited to the media aspect, and those who work there have no connection to military activity or operations planning. The leaders of the Palestinian [battle] field are in the field... Anyone living on Syrian soil cannot plan operations to be carried out on Palestinian soil..."
Question: "From this, can it be concluded that Syria will not comply with the American request...?"
Al-Shar': "We can comply with this only in one instance: [when] the Palestinians return to their homeland Palestine... We hope that the U.S. will agree to this and will pressure Israel so that the Palestinians will return to their homeland, in accordance with [U.N. General Assembly] Resolution 194."
Russia Promised Sharon to Refrain from Sending SAM-19 Missiles to Syria
Question: "What truth is there in the claim that Russia complied with Sharon's request to refrain from giving Syria SAM-19 missiles, which means Russian submission to Israel with whom it has advanced military relations, and thus Sharon brags that America and the countries of the world obey his demands?"
Al-Shar': "I will not respond to questions of this kind, but I will say only that Sharon boasts about everything. He summoned the American ambassador and told him that Syria must close the offices of the Islamic Jihad and thus saw himself as a victor... Evidently, the only thing Sharon enjoys right now is complaining about Syria to the U.S. ambassador to Israel. I say that this complaint made no echoes, because the offices of [the Islamic Jihad] are nothing but information offices, and whoever works in them has a legitimate right to express the hopes of his people. With regard to the lie that they are capable of carrying out operations... they [Islamic Jihad in Damascus] can plan no operations against Israel while they are abroad, far from the soil on which the operations are carried out."
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441
Question: "What about Syria's vote in favor of Resolution 1441? Do you think that there is a possibility that Syria will be taken off the list of countries sponsoring terrorism that the U.S. put years ago?"
Al-Shar': "This decision is in America's hands. When we voted on resolution 1441, we did not do it in order to get anything from America [in return], but out of conviction and because of our national [Syrian] and Pan-Arab positions. We voted in favor in order to remove the war from Iraq and to clear the Resolution of its military content, and to [prevent] the automatic blow that could have been landed on Iraq and on the entire region."
Question: "What is your response to those who say that Syria does not want to see an invasion of Iraq because it fears for itself, and fears the possibility that its turn will be next?"
Al-Shar': "It is no shame for a man to stand alongside his brother because he is next in line. On the contrary, fundamental Pan-Arab thought states that you defend your brother because you are a direct or an indirect target, and if you are not a target [at present] then you will be a target tomorrow or the next day. Therefore, this should in no way be seen as a breach of the Syrian position. It is exactly like a man telling an official that he does not steal because he fears the law. This is a good thing. If fearing the law is a deterrent preventing him from stealing, this is what we want."
Question: "But to many, it would seem that countries such as France and Russia have changed their position and backed down before America. It could have been expected that countries such as France, Russia, and China would use their right of veto to prevent the ratification of Resolution 1441."
Al-Shar': "The use of the veto means complete rejection of American policy, and they do not completely reject U.S. policy - they need [America]. Yes, they need the segregationist and tyrannical American policy."
Question: "What is your response to the charge that by voting for the resolution Syria placed American interests above Arab interests?"
Al-Shar': "These are empty words, useless words. Syria's vote in favor of Resolution 1441 was to strengthen the peace camp in Washington and to prevent a strike on Iraq, at least in the initial phase. What Syria tried to do with its vote on this resolution was to build a barrier against any military attack on Iraq."
Question: "There is another interpretation: had Syria known for sure that the Arab countries would not accept Resolution 1441 and that Iraq would refuse to cooperate - it would have abstained. [According to this interpretation,] what dictated Syria's voting was its conviction that the Arabs would ratify the resolution and Iraq would cooperate with it."
Al-Shar': "To this, I must add that President Saddam Hussein said, a week before the passing of Resolution 1441, that he accepts any new Security Council resolution that does not include military action against Iraq and preserves Iraqi sovereignty, and this is what we stressed in our talks with Security Council members so that the necessary changes would be made in the resolution. And this is what happened."
The No Fly Zones are Illegitimate
Question: "Can it be said that Syria's vote in favor of the resolution was aimed at controlling the situation in the near future and allowing an opening for acting with the other parties, such as Russia, France, and China, so that America could not artificially create a claim to accuse Iraq of violating the resolution and strike it?"
Al-Shar': "I will say that we, for example, cannot accept the American logic that says that Iraq's opposition to American aircraft in its 'no-fly zones' violates Resolution 1441, as America recently claimed. This is idiocy and is remote from the simplest rules of logic and international law. We are facing a country [the U.S.] that is threatening another country [Iraq]. Is it conceivable that when this country defends itself, it is thought to be in violation of international law? Nothing like this happened even in the Middle Ages."
Question: "Especially since the 'no-fly zones' are illegitimate, because the U.S. imposed them, independently of the U.N.?"
Al-Shar': "Yes... The 'no-fly zones' were imposed outside the legitimate international framework, and therefore Kofi Annan determined that Iraq's opposition to the American and British planes above its 'no-fly zones' did not constitute a violation of U.N. Resolution 1441."
The U.S. Fears International Law and Abides by It
Question: "But we must not forget that the American congress empowered Bush to attack Iraq."
Al-Shar': "Yes, but the vote of the Congress was based on the need to exhaust all other means before entering into war, which should be the last resort. Even the Democrats supported the decision based on this thought. Therefore, [the resolution] was taken out of the hands of the extreme Christian Right, because how can [the U.S.] go to war without listening to others, primarily to the mass demonstrations that marched in London and America? Therefore, they should have turned to the U.N. This need, in and of itself, is useful, because it reveals that the Americans fear [international] law and thus abide by it. This is good in itself, and is an important development in the international arena."
Question: "Many fear that America will continue with the campaign of inventing pretexts, and will accuse Iraq of sabotaging the inspection operations - which is likely to permit it to go to war against Iraq under the auspices of the U.N. My question is whether you think this is about to happen?"
Al-Shar': "The answer to this point is neither 'yes' nor 'no.' The answer depends on an essential point - the inspectors' report. They must submit their report to the Security Council, not to America. This comes first. Besides that, all Security Council members must discuss the inspectors' report, not just the permanent members or America. [When they say] 'all the members,' Syria is one of them. They cannot, under any circumstances, ignore the 10 non-permanent Security Council members, as they have in the past. This is a mistake we will not allow again."
WMD and Colonialist Policies
Question: "How can the Arabs exit the vicious cycle of the illusion of [non-conventional] weapons in their hands, and the actual nuclear arsenal in Israel's possession to which America turns a blind eye? We have seen recently how North Korea confirmed its secret nuclear program, but the U.S. does not punish it and makes excuses for it, [saying] that each party requires a different response that suits its strategy."
Al-Shar': "The double standards underpin colonialist policy. In the London and Paris press they spoke a lot about upholding human rights, but acted differently to peoples of other countries in the 18th and 19th centuries... Yes, they upheld human rights in London, but carried out the most loathsome of deeds against human rights in the regions of their colonialism. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted it when he spoke critically of the colonialist past last week."
The U.S. Uses a Double Standard Policy Regarding WMD
Question: "Can it be said today that colonialism has returned, and is represented by America?"
Al-Shar': "But now there is greater awareness, both in public opinion and in the governments of the West, about how using double standards will cause their daily policy to lose credibility, and so will the strategy they espouse... Today the matter of double standards is discussed [everywhere], be it regarding Palestine, Iraq, WMD, etc. The double standards are clearly revealed, since war is the means of disarming Iraq, while with Korea they use dialogue."
Question: "Even though North Korea openly acknowledged that it possesses secret nuclear weapons?"
Al-Shar': "Yes, and this is in addition to what is happening with Israel, about whose possession of weapons of mass destruction there reigns complete silence... [however] our optimism stems from the fact that there are [some] first signs that the world is tending to reject the double standards [policy]."
The Road Map
Question: "One thing leads to another: My question is, what about the peace plan called the 'Road Map' that the U.S. submitted as a means of settling the Palestinian issue, which is to be announced on December 20 at the [European] Quartet Meeting?"
Al-Shar': "In my assessment, there is no 'road map'; it is another illusion put into the heads of some Arab countries. The map exists only in the media. In reality, there is an attempt to fill the [political] vacuum, and nothing more."