Following are excerpts from an interview given by Former Syrian Vice-President Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, which was broadcast on Al-Arabiya TV on December 31, 2005.
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: Some people wanted to blame (Ghazi Kan'an) for the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, while Rustum Ghazale has been forgotten. Ghazi has made mistakes in Lebanon. No one disputes this. But he was polite when making the mistakes, and he was polite when backing down.
Rustum Ghazale behaved as if he were the absolute ruler of Lebanon. Once, I found out that he had cursed Prime Minister Al-Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Beri, and Walid Jumblatt. I said to President Bashar: Why do you keep him in Lebanon? He is causing damage to you and to the country. He is behaving irrationally towards the Lebanese leaders. He is cursing the prime minister, cursing this, that, and the other... He said to me: He also wronged (former Lebanese PM) Najib Miqati and Sleiman Franjiye. I said to him: They are his own friends, and yet he wrongs them. How come? He said to me: It is Ghazi's fault because he recommended him.
I said to (Bashar): Rustum Ghazale took 35 million dollars from Al-Madina Bank. I am sure you know about this. He said to me: He is indeed a thief. Look at what he did where he lives. He has built a palace and a commercial center. Brother, you are the army commander and the president of the republic, you know that one of your officers has committed such thefts. Why do you keep him? He repeated the story about how Ghazi Kan'an had recommended him.
After the assassination of Prime Minister Al-Hariri, I met with (Bashar). It was February 28, 2005. I said to him: Bring this criminal and cut off his head. It was he who created this situation in Lebanon.
Interviewer: You said this to President Al-Assad about Rustum Ghazale?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: Yes.
He said to me: In any case, tomorrow... Next time there are personnel changes, I will remove him. But he didn't.
The president addressed the Parliament, and said mistakes were made in Lebanon. I said to him: I want to protect you. You should set up an investigation committee. Bring over the officers who committed violations in Lebanon, court-martial them, bring them to trial, and have them bear responsibility for the mistakes in Lebanon. Why should the country be held responsible? Why should you be held responsible? He said: It is impossible to hold anyone accountable now - only after the (Ba'th Party) convention.
(I said to Bashar:) Bring over the Foreign Minister (Farouq Al-Shara'), who got you into the mess of Resolution 1559, and send him home. He said: I cannot hold anyone accountable before the convention.
In our last meeting we talked about his relations with the Syrian leadership, and about the situation in Lebanon. I advised him to leave (Lebanon). I reiterated this when he told me that the protection of the Lebanese security service has been removed from him. His agreement with President Lahoud provided him with 60 or 40 bodyguards. They removed them and left only six. I told him this was a sign. You should leave.
Interviewer: Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, who killed Rafiq Al-Hariri?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: In order to answer this question, we must wait for the results of the investigation. There is an international investigation. All parties recognize and supported this investigation. Therefore, it's premature to name this or that group.
But I would like to mention that the political attacks against Prime Minister Al-Hariri left their mark on the Lebanese people. In any case, we must wait for the investigation. If you ask whether the relations were good between the Syrian leadership and Prime Minister Al-Hariri... This question may shed light on the problem between this man and the Syrian leadership.
Interviewer: Before we go into this issue, Mr. Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, I would like to know – since you are familiar with what is going in Syria: Did any Syrians, in Damascus or Beirut, threatened the former prime minister prior to the assassination?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: Yes. Many threats were directed at Prime Minister Al-Hariri.
Interviewer: Death threats?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: When the head of the Security Services says to his guests, while playing with his pistol...
Interviewer: You are referring to Rustum Ghazale?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: Yes. When he says: I will do this and that. There were many threats, in Damascus as well as... Harsh words were used regarding PM Al-Hariri.
Once he was summoned to Damascus - and I have heard this myself from three sources: President Al-Assad, PM Al-Hariri, and Ghazi Kan'an. PM Al-Hariri was spoken to in very harsh terms there.
Interviewer: Are you referring to his short meeting with President Al-Assad?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: No, months before that. Months before the extension of Lahoud's term in office. He was spoken to in extremely harsh terms. I learned about this from the president.
Interviewer: Who spoke to him this way?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: President Bashar Al-Assad. He told me about this himself. I had an appointment with him. I said to him: You are speaking to the Lebanese prime minister.
Interviewer: He was spoken to this way when he was still prime minister?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: He was still prime minister, and this was in the presence of Rustum Ghazale, Muhammad Khalluf, and Ghazi Kan'an.
How can you speak this way to the prime minister of Lebanon? How can you speak this way in the presence of junior officers? Then he understood that it was a mistake. He asked me to call PM Al-Hariri, and meet with him, and to resolve things with Al-Hariri.
Interviewer: Could you tell us something about the content of the conversation, and in what way it was harsh?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: It was harsh... (Bashar said to Al-Hariri:) "You want to decide who the next Lebanese president will be?! You want to... I will not let you. I will crush anyone who tries to oppose our decision." That's how harsh it was. I don't remember the exact words, but it was extremely harsh.
Al-Hariri left, his blood pressure shot up, and his nose began bleeding. Ghazi Kan'an took him to his office, and tried to calm things down. This fact is well known.
Once, when the leadership discussed Resolution 1559, PM Al-Hariri came under attack.
A few days later, Mohsen Dalloul came to see me, and I asked him to tell the late Abu Bahaa (Al-Hariri) to leave Lebanon, because he was in trouble in Syria.
Interviewer: How long before his assassination did this take place?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: A few months. Of course, it did not occur to me at any moment that Syria could possibly assassinate Rafiq Al-Hariri.
Interviewer: Is it at all possible to believe the claims made at one point that a Syrian security agency could assassinate PM Al-Hariri without President Bashar Al-Assad knowing about this?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: We must wait for the investigation, but in principle, no security agency, or any other agency in Syria, could make such a decision on its own.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, President Bashar himself refuted the allegation against Syria, refuted the allegation against Syria, and said: "If any Syrians are involved, it means I'm involved." A security agency that is involved in such a thing on its own? That's impossible. Is any security agency really involved? The investigation will determine that.
Interviewer: Besides Rustum Ghazale, who else was inciting President Al-Assad against PM Rafiq Al-Hariri?
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: First and foremost, the Lebanese circle: President Lahoud, Jamil Al-Sayyid, the security agencies... Some Lebanese who were harmed by Al-Hariri. The most serious incitement was coming from the Lebanese side.
I will give you a simple example. Jean 'Obeid is known to be an old friend of Syria. He opposed the decision to extend (Lahoud's) term in office, because he was one of the presidential candidates. A Lebanese intelligence report reached Damascus, alleging that ‘Obeid, who was the Lebanese foreign minister, met at night with the American ambassador in a car, in order to conspire with him. We believed the report, and cut off ties with 'Obeid. This is an example of what was happening.
Jean 'Obeid was the foreign minister. If he wanted to meet with the American ambassador, he could invite him to the ministry or to his home. Why in a car? Is Jean 'Obeid so stupid that he holds such a meeting in a car?
Interviewer:Do you accept the theory about Ahmad Abu 'Adas - the theory about a suicide bomber blowing himself up – a bomber belonging to a fundamentalist movement? These claims were made in the beginning.
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: Whoever came up with the Abu 'Adas theory is a complete idiot. Whoever came up with the theory about (Australian) pilgrims is also a complete idiot.
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: What organization or individual is capable of bringing 1,000-1,500 kg of explosives? Not Ahmad Abu 'Adas ("lentils") or Ahmad Abu "Humous". Behind such a huge operation there must be some agency. What apparatus? That's for the investigation to determine.
Abd Al-Halim Khaddam: I am a lawyer. The (Mehlis) report is technical and professional. (Mehlis) published the essence of what he had. He could not publish all he had, because this might harm the investigation. Mehlis is a professional and a well-known judge. His report is professional and good. He avoided politicizing the investigation, although the crime was a political one.