"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)

Lübnan Marunîleri / Yasin Atlıoğlu


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sharaa in Iran

SOURCE: Arabic News

Syria's First Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said in Iran today that his talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were "constructive, favorable and positive," and that he submitted a message from President Bashar al-Assad to President Ahmadinejad on the latest regional developments.

In a meeting with al-Sharaa, Ahmadinejad said that in response to the US repeated calls for talks with Iran on Iraqi issue, Iran will do so provided that the interests of Iraqis and the entire Muslim world to be guaranteed.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

President Assad's Interview with PBS US TV Network

President Bashar al-Assad’s Interview with Charlie Rose

Source: SANA

Journalist: It is a remarkable time in the Middle East and there has been change in Lebanon and change in Iraq in a significant way. Tell me how you see this change and the role you would like to see Syria play?

President Assad: First of all, I couldn't see Syria apart from its neighboring countries and apart from the region in general. We can't see the region separately from the world. Secondly, I would distinguish between what we hope to see in the future of our country and our region and what is going on. I think what we would like to see is like any country: peace, peaceful life, prosperity, better standards of living, the reform that we have been talking about for years in our country. But this is our hope. Actually if I talk now about reality, it is going in the opposite direction: more extremism, more terrorism, less job opportunities for ordinary people; and this means worse economy now and in the future. But this does not mean to lay all the blame on others, like if you talk about the war in Iraq, if you talk about the West in general. We have a role to play and we are going to play our role but there is a difference between when you lead, let us say, the ship or when you drive the car, there is somebody else who is sharing this car with you. So, we have a lot of obstacles; some of them are related to us and nobody else and some are related to the international situation. So, we are mostly talking about reform on the political, economic and cultural levels which are important as a basis for any reform.

Journalist: When times are changing, every leader wants to be understood. Tell me how would you want to be understood by the American leadership and the American people?

President Assad: They have to understand me by understanding my culture as a person. If they want to understand me as a president, they have to understand whom I represent; and this is related to the culture of my people. So, this the problem with the west: If I want to make an analogy to two computers with different systems – if we talk about windows – we notice that they do the same job but they have different systems. So, you have sometimes some software to make the translation between the two systems. We do not have to talk about the events; we have to explain and analyze these events and translate them from our culture to another culture. That is what we want from the media in your country and from the politicians. That is how they can understand, and then they will understand that we need peace, we need prosperity and we need reform.

Journalist: You have the same interest for stability in Iraq as do the Iraqi citizens and as do the United States?

President Assad: Exactly! If we put aside the interest of the United States in Iraq, we have an interest in having stability because any effect in our region will be like domino effect, especially if we have chaos. If what is going in Iraq is bad, this will have bad effects on Syria.

Journalist: In your judgment and I will get to Iraq later on in this conversation; a civil war in Iraq will drag in Syria, Iran and Lebanon.

President Assad: And Central Asia.

Journalist: And Saudi Arabia.

President Assad: And the Gulf and the Middle East, because we have the same mosaic of society, and part of this chaos will be based on the matrix of our society. So, this will have an effect all over the region.

Journalist: May I just take a moment to talk about your personal journey? You were in England studying ophthalmology and your brother, who was on the track to be a leader in Syria, passed away in a tragic car accident in 1994; you get a call from your father to come back. What did he say?

President Assad: Actually, I called him, because I knew before him when somebody from my family and relatives called. I called my father from London to tell him that they told me such bad news.

Journalist: Did you have to tell him about your brother's death?

President Assad: I had not known that there was death. I just said that there was an accident. So, I did not have any information; it was just right after the accident and I came back the same day to Damascus.

Journalist: Knowing that your world has changed?

President Assad: Not exactly, but on the same day I felt this when I came back to Damascus and I took the decision to come back.

Journalist: You then had a six year period of involvement in various aspects of government; the military aspect for instance. Your father could teach a master class in politics of the Middle East, tell me what did you learn from him?

President Assad: You will be surprised if I tell that we never talked about politics. We lived like any ordinary family; and since we were young he was very keen to keep us away from public life inside our house. But actually in our region when you are a son of a president then you are a public figure, whether you want this or not. So you will be in touch with the people and public problems; you will learn from people and you will have the chance to analyze your father as a president from the political positions and decisions, and from his personality as a person in his house.

Journalist: So, I change the question: from watching him what did you learn from this man who dominated Syrian's life?

President Assad: Normally, like any son, you learn the principles, this first. Second, you learn the way he deals with crises, because we have been in crisis for decades. So, you learn how to deal with crisis and how to be patient with these crises, this is the most important thing you may learn.

Journalist: Now you have been a president for five years; your father died in 2000, what has been the most surprising thing for you as you came to power in Syria with all of these changes around you?

President Assad: The most surprising thing was how the developed countries, in particular the United States, have this high technology which they use in order to receive and send information, this is on one side. On the other side, how much information they have but how much knowledge they need to analyze the information. I think that these developed countries have all the means to know more about our region at least – I'm not talking about the rest of the world - this is very surprising.

Journalist: You think that the United States for example with all its technology does not understand you, Syria, and the region?

President Assad: As I said earlier, when you don't understand the culture, you don't understand the politics, especially in our region. If you don't understand the culture and the politics, you don't understand what decision we take as leaders and why, and what we say and why. That is why we always have misunderstandings when we conduct a dialogue with many delegations coming from the West, especially the United States. They ask us questions that show how they misunderstand our vision and our beliefs and goals.

Journalist: And in fact this is a very diverse society consisting of a variety of different beliefs.

President Assad: And sects and religions.

Journalist: If you sit down with George Bush, you would try to explain Syria to him.

President Assad: Exactly, and the Middle East because it is part of the Middle East. And I would explain to any American, as we do, why they failed in Iraq, why the situation is getting worse.

Journalist: Why is that? Why did, in your judgment, the United States fail? First tell me, why didn’t you join the coalition when they asked you? You must have felt a lot of pressure. Your father had supported the war in 1991.

President Assad: There is a big difference between the two wars. The first war was to liberate Kuwait, and we supported the liberation of Kuwait. We were against the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam. But what the United States is doing now is what Saddam did to Kuwait. They invaded Iraq. This is first. As a principle, we are against occupation. Second, I think some in the United States, politicians or decision makers, based all the situation of invading Iraq on their ideology and some notions that they would win the war if they win some battles. And I was honest with them. Before the war, I received many delegations, some of them from the Congress and some of them from the Administration, and I told them: "you will undoubtedly win the war, and I mean here the first war: the military part of it".

Journalist: You mean they will topple Saddam.

President Assad: Exactly. There is no doubt about that. But after you occupy Iraq, you will have chaos, resistance, and you will have a swamp. You are going to sink in the swamp. And what I said is happening everyday. So that is, I think, the reason why they failed. You have the misinformation too. May be they have different goals… I don't know. But this is the main reason.

Journalist: What do you think is going to happen in Iraq?

President Assad: If they withdraw or not?

Journalist: If they stay.

President Assad: If they stay. Now we have a pilot project. If you put principles aside, let's talk about it as a pilot project. They have been there for three years. What happened? We don't have any evidence that the situation is getting better, but we have all the evidence that the situation is getting worse. So, what is going to happen after three years won't be different from the previous three years. This is logical.

Journalist: Let me tell you what they would say, the vice-president or president will say, "we have made a mark; we have made a progress and we've had elections and we're now negotiating with the parties, not the United States, to create a government. That hopefully will bring stability, but each election has taken place as anticipated.

President Assad: If you want to judge me as president, what I have done, you should first know what the people want. This is first. So, who asked the Iraqis what they want? Second, if you talk about achievements, it is not what I say about achievements but what the people say about something I achieved for them. So, first of all, let the Iraqis have their say in that. I wouldn't listen to any official or any person from outside Iraq because Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. So you have to ask the Iraqis first not any other person. But nobody asks them.

Journalist: You don't doubt that most Iraqis are happy to see Saddam Husain gone?

President Assad: If you talk about minority or majority, I don't have a clue. But there is a big difference between Saddam being gone and my country being occupied. So there is no sense of linking the two things together. If we say Saddam has gone because he is a dictator. So what? He killed hundreds of thousands. But how many did this war kill? Nearly two hundred thousand. So I want to get rid of this dictator to protect you but at the same time killing another two hundred thousand. There is no logic. So what if he is gone?

Journalist: So this is too heavy a price, you think?

President: Exactly. At least whatever price you want to pay, who is going to pay the price? It is the people, the Iraqis. So you have to ask them if they want to pay the price or not. If they say they are ready to pay the price, this is their country; they have the right. But I am not the one as a Syrian, American or any one in the world to talk on their behalf that this is a good price or a good result. They are responsible for this.

Journalist: At the beginning, you said that there was cooperation after 09/11 between your government and the US government. There was intelligence shared because your government, because of its observation of the Syrian Muslim brotherhood, understood their relationship with al Qaeda, understood organizations and provided helpful information. There was even talk of a backdoor policy in terms of the CIA sharing information. It was said that information from your government was helpful to the American government in preventing some attack in Bahrain and other places. Why did that stop? What happened?

President Assad: Actually, first of all I took the initiative after Sept.11th to help the Americans. Why? Because we have the notion for decades that this terrorism, if it attacks, let us say, in your country in the United States, in East Asia, in Africa, some day it will attack Syria. So terrorism is like the internet, has no borders.

Journalist: And you have the same fear of terrorism that the United States does?

President Assad: Exactly, because what happened in New York may happen in Syria. So that is why we said we have to move now because we tried in the eighties to convince some European countries that we have to make coalition against terrorism. At that time nobody cared about what we said. Because now after the eleventh of September most of the world is convinced about this idea, we said let us move. So we started this cooperation and we told them. I told one of the CIA officials, you have the information, but we have the knowledge because as you said we defeated those.

Journalist: Muslim Brotherhood.

President Assad: Exactly. But it is not a matter of organization as you call it or person or group. It is a state of mind. We have to know the culture to know how to fight the state of mind, because those terrorists use any cause and assume it as a mantle to make terrorist acts. So we know what mantle they assume and we know how to fight this and how to deal with it. They committed many mistakes in the United States regarding the security issue. But this was not the main reason. The main reason is that you cannot have the good, normal and sophisticated kind of cooperation between the intelligence and at the same time you have animosity in the political field. So we either have normal relations across the board as a package or let us stop this cooperation.

Journalist: So, in return for the exchange of information and helpful knowledge, what did you want them to give which they did not?

President Assad: At least do not be against us. We don't want anything from them. But not to be against Syria, first of all in the peace process. We talked about peace. We need peace. But his administration does not care about peace or the peace process.

Journalist: Which peace process?

President Assad: The peace process between Syria and Israel that started in 1991. It is paralyzed now. We have daily blood shed in our region: in Iraq, in Palestine and in the occupied territories in Syria and Lebanon. They tried to make an embargo against Syria while they wanted us to help them in the security issues. They tried to prevent any kind of support from European countries to Syria. They work against the association between Syria and the E.U. They prevented even private companies from coming to Syria and helping in the development in our country. Journalist: They would do this, in your judgment, because you didn't join in the coalition to fight in Iraq?

President Assad: Exactly. That is something we wouldn't do.

Journalist: Here is what else they will raise: they would say that part of the problem with you is your support of Hizbullah. We in the United States, they say, believe Hizbullah is a terrorist organization and we believe it provides weapons to the Palestinians and to terrorist organizations that are part of the Palestinian community and you don't stop them. You support them, encourage them and don't stop them. You support them in Lebanon as well.

President Assad: First of all, wherever you have occupation, you have resistance; we don't make it in Syria. This term, terrorism, I don't know if it is clear. This is the reality and they have to understand this reality weather they like it or not. It is reality.

Journalist: What reality?President Assad: That whenever you have occupation, you have resistance. Hizbullah, Hamas and Jihad emerged, I think Hizbullah in the mid-eighties, Hamas and Jihad I don't know when, but because of the occupation of the Palestinian territories and Lebanese territories. So this is something Syria didn't make. But if you ask about the support of the whole region, the people support the resistance. If somebody in the world or in the United States called them terrorists, it is a label but we don’t recognize this label.

Journalist: Let me understand. If the USA says Hamas is a terrorist organization and you say that is not the way we perceive them, so no matter how much they have done with respect to Israel, no matter how many suicide bombings and terrorist activities, you don't identify Hamas as a terrorist organization?

President Assad: If you want to see the picture you have to see the whole picture. If you talk about violence, let us talk about four thousand Palestinians killed during the last five years while on the other side, the Israeli side, few hundred are killed. So if you want to talk about the violence and you call this violence terrorism, Israel killed more Palestinians than the Palestinians killed Israelis. This is first. Second, you have to see both sides. They talk about Hamas and what they did in Israel but they don't talk about Israel and what they did in the Palestinian territories. They assassinate people from time to time in public, and they say it, "we are going to kill". So, this is the whole picture. Anyway, it doesn't matter what label we put, if we want to have a solution we have to deal with the facts not with the terms. Whether they are terrorists or not; this is not the problem. We have to deal with the facts and the fact is if you don't have peace, you will have more bloodshed. So we don't support violence in Syria. This is part of the story.

Journalist: You don't support Hamas if Hamas is engaged in suicide bombings; you don't support it. If Israel is engaged in acts of occupation that are destructive of life, you don't support it.

President Assad: By the word " we don’t support" I mean we don't encourage. We support them politically because they have the right to have their own state, they have the right to have their land back, and they have the right to implement Security Council Resolutions. That is what we support.

Journalist: But here is an interesting thing. Hamas, for example, just won the election and now they are trying to form a government. Your country, Saudi Arabia, other Arab League members met in Beirut with a peace plan with Israel that supports the right of Israel to exist. Correct?

President Assad: Yes, you mean the Arab initiative?

Journalist: Yes, the King Abdullah initiative.

President Assad: Yes, exactly.

Journalist: Hamas does not accept that. It does not accept the right of Israel to exist.

President Assad: Let me explain this. For example, Syria. Let us talk about Syria. We started the peace negotiations in 1991 with Israel. We said when Israel withdraws from our lands we recognize Israel. So when you say recognize you say it when you achieve peace. Anyway, when you have peace talks with Israel, this means you recognize the reality of Israel. But when you say verbally that we recognize it politically, that will come as a result of the peace. So, the position of Hamas is like this. They used to say we accept Israel but now they don't say it. Recently, Hamas has become very pragmatic, very realistic.

Journalist: They have not changed any of their principles verbally.

President Assad: They said if you want us to do something, then for what? For example, when we started our peace talks with Israel, it was to get our land back. Now there is nothing to offer from Israel. If you want Hamas to do something, Israel has to say we are ready to give something. They have to meet half way.

Journalist: But shouldn't Hamas say we recognize the right of Israel to exist. We are prepared to negotiate in the same way the Palestinian authority was doing?
President Assad: I will tell you. There was something like we did. I will go back to our experience. I think both sides have to recognize the UN and the Security Council resolutions. This is the solution. According to those resolutions, you have an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. So it is a very good idea. Both of them will have a state but through Security Council resolutions.

Journalist: We cannot treat this without including all of it, as you pointed out. Israel is electing a new leader in a new party next week. It is said the likely candidate to win is Ehud Olmert. It is said that he wants to withdraw from settlements on the West Bank but to be firm on the boundaries of Israel in the next ten years, partly with a fence. It is said that if Olmert becomes the Prime Minister and his party in coalition is the majority, he wants to firm up Israeli boundaries including a fence that is already on the way, and he wants to withdraw from the West Bank settlements.

President Assad: That will take me back to what I said in the previous answer: the solution is through United Nations or Security Council Resolutions. Security Council resolutions define the borders by June 1967. So the fence is much far behind. I mean behind Palestinian territories. So this won't lead to any solution. The facts proved that this fence wouldn't do much to Israel, so I will advice any rational Israeli to go back to these resolutions. This is the main solution. You may sometimes win some political, security and military battles but eventually you need the stability and it happens when you have normal relations. The fence won't give you normal relations. It is a matter of people not governments.

Journalist: But you can't have normal relations unless Hamas is prepared to recognize the right of Israel to exist. You, your country and Iran are providing economic support to Hamas, yes?

President Assad: No, we don't support Hamas. First of all, we support the Palestinians. What do we support? We support their rights as I said. We used to support Hamas because we saw that Hamas represents the will of Palestinians, and this is democracy. The latest elections proved that we were right.

Journalist: That they have popularity.

President Assad: Exactly. Now they are elected. If you want to call them terrorists, then call them elected terrorists. It doesn't matter. But they are elected. They represent the Palestinians. You can't say all the people are terrorists.

Journalist: Do you think that Hamas, which now controls the government, they won the elections, they are a majority, is prepared to recognize the right of Israel to exist?
President Assad: If it is mutual, yes. But if you talk one way, then no. It should be mutual. What about Israel? Do they recognize the Palestinian state? We should ask them the same question.

Journalist: How to do that?

President Assad: Through United Nations resolutions. President Bush, two years ago, I think, or may be a little bit more talked about two states: Israeli and Palestinian.

Journalist: He was the first U.S. president who talked about the right of Palestinians to have their own state.

President Assad: That is what we want and what Hamas and all Palestinians expect. So nobody said they are going to have their own state and they are going to make the Israeli state vanish. We haven't heard about this.

Journalist: What is your government, or what are you encouraging Hamas to do?

President Assad: To hold on to the rights of the Palestinian people, which are political rights. This is very clear. These rights are the refugees’ right, because we have half a million refugees from Palestine in Syria and five to six million in other Arab countries who are not allowed to go back to their territories, the right to have a state and the right to have normal relations like any other state.

Journalist: If the Israelis, and the Americans, say they will never give up Jerusalem, will never allow the right of return, will never completely go back to the 1967 borders, is peace then impossible?

President Assad: It is… because you make peace through dialogue, through taking into consideration the rights of everybody, through making compromises and through implementing what the international community wants through the Security Council resolutions.

Journalist: Your father came very close to negotiating with the Israelis a peace treaty between Syria and Israel with the Golan Heights being returned to Syria and some rights of the Israelis… very close!

President Assad: That was during Rabin’s government; and actually Rabin was very serious in his efforts to make peace with Syria before his assassination; and if we are to use numbers, we say approximately 80% was achieved. The rest was some details about water because we resolved the security arrangements. What was left was some details, which means we indeed were very close, but the assassination of Rabin cancelled and stopped everything.

Journalist: Let me move to Hizbullah. American officials have said to me the reason Syria is on the list of countries that support terrorism, and therefore come under criticism from America, is because of your relationship to Hizbullah. This is because they believe Hizbullah is a terrorist organization notwithstanding the fact that it won elections in Lebanon.

President Assad: You should always go back to the majority of the people. There was a poll a month ago in Lebanon about how many of the Lebanese support Hizbullah. The poll showed 80-85 percent support Hizbullah. So it is not a matter of Syria, nor is it a matter of what you label Hizbullah, but rather it is a matter of the people. That is what I want some of your officials to understand; it is not a matter of Syria. We support the Lebanese people. They had Israeli occupation for twenty-two years, and that is why they had Hizbullah and different organization.

Journalist: But the Israelis left under Ehud Barak?

President Assad: Exactly. But that happened without a peace treaty. They should have signed a peace treaty with Syria and Lebanon and everything would be normal. But now every Lebanese is worried about another attack by Israel; and Israeli aircraft continue to violate the Lebanese airspace everyday. So there is no peace actually. Israelis only withdrew militarily.

Journalist: But do you consider Hizbullah as a terrorist organization?

President Assad: No. It never attacked any civilians. It only defends its country; and it is not interested in launching attacks inside Israel. It only defends the Lebanese borders, and this is its right.

Journalist: So there are no attacks by Hizbullah?

President Assad: No. There aren’t any.

Journalist: Is that because of the urging of Syria and You?

President Assad: We need stability in general, and we need stability in Lebanon. That is why we always play a role to have stability, but when you want to play this role you need cooperation. For example I received a telephone call from Mr. Anan last week about the southern borders in Lebanon where he asked me to play a role because they heard some rumors about some conflict. I said we are ready and we need stability, but who is going to put pressure on Israel. This is because you have two sides and you cannot talk about one side only. When you talk about borders, about two countries, you should talk about two sides.

Journalist: Has the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon meant that Iran has more influence with Hizbullah than Syria?

President Assad: Our influence is with the Lebanese as a whole and not only with Hizbullah. Hizbullah represents a big part of the Lebanese, and Iran has good relations with it and with many Lebanese. So, I would not say our influence in Lebanon is becoming weaker, nor would I say the Iranian role is becoming stronger. I think it is still the same situation but in a different way. Syria and Iran have different ways of tackling the Lebanese problems now.

Journalist: Why did you withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon?

President Assad: Actually we started that five years ago, and precisely in the year 2000. We did that because the situation in Lebanon became more stable between the end of the civil war and 2000 when we started withdrawing. By then Israel had withdrawn from the largest part of Lebanon in 2000 and because when you have your army outside your country it is expensive politically, economically and in other aspects.

Journalist: But it was an occupation?

President Assad: No. We entered Lebanon upon a Lebanese request.
Journalist: You in no way consider the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon an occupation?

President Assad: No, I do not. If it was occupation we should have had resistance against it. We were not occupiers. But how did the Lebanese fight Israel for twenty-two years and did not fight Syria? That is because we were not occupiers.

Journalist: Most people suggest that the decision to withdraw the majority of Syrian troops from Lebanon came after the assassination of Hariri.

President Assad: That is true. We started in 2000 withdrawing from Lebanon because we had to. Before the assassination of Hariri, there was resolution 1559, issued at the end of 2004, which asked all foreign troops to leave Lebanon. Before that resolution 63% of our troops withdrew from Lebanon, but we took the decision to completely leave Lebanon after the assassination of Hariri.

Journalist: Because?

President Assad: Because part of the Lebanese thought that Syrian assassinated him. They stood against Syria after being our allies. That is why we withdrew; we cannot stay in Lebanon when some Lebanese are against Syria.

Journalist: With respect sir, perhaps the UN investigators think that, and the world opinion thinks that, Syria to a large degree has something to do with the assassination of Hariri.

President Assad: This is because some of the Lebanese said that. They tried after the assassination to accuse Syria. There is no logic in that. Rafic Hariri was a friend of Syria and supported Syria in the most difficult task for him which was the extension of president Lahoud’s term in office. Hariri was against it, but he did it for Syria.

Journalist: And by doing it he was challenging Syria?

President Assad: No. He agreed to do what we wanted.

Journalist: Tell me what happened in the famous meeting between you and him before he was assassinated.

President Assad: We talked about the extension and we told him “we think the extension is necessary now”. He said I am not with that decision, yet at the same time I will be with Syria. He was very good, and that is what happened. I told him “we do not want to embarrass you in this subject, you have the right to say yes or no.” If he said no it would have been difficult for Syria to do it or convince the others to do it. I said to him “you can tell us in two or three days”. Two days later he said I will be with Syria and do it. That is what happened in that meeting.

Journalist: This is not the first time you hear what I will say now. The story that has been rumored says that you threatened him… that “I will bring down Lebanon on your head.”

President Assad: We condemn the crime...

Journalist interrupting : The assassination was a crime and you condemn it because it was not good for Syria?

President Assad: Exactly. But if we put this aside; If you would do such a bad thing would you threaten? You would not. Second, if you threaten him, you threaten somebody in order to make him do something, and if he doesn’t do it you may do what you said, but if he does it why harm him? If he does what you want, why harm him? It is a contradiction.

Journalist: It is said that he came back and told his son that you threatened him!

President Assad: That is not true. We heard later that he said that somebody from the Syrian Intelligence put a gun to this head, but Hariri himself told me that some officials in the West told him that they were angry with him because he stood by Syria. He told me that, but may be he told them he did that for this reason. Actually, neither me nor anybody else in Syria threatened him.

Journalist: Do you believe that anyone in Syrian Intelligence, anyone, had something to do with the assassination of Hariri?

President Assad: No, for one reason: such kind of operations needs a big team because it is very sophisticated. One person cannot do it; there must have been a team, an organization, another country’s intelligence
Journalist: But that is just the point the UN investigators have suggested: This was a very sophisticated effort and took people who know something about assassinations and conspiracy. Perhaps the theory was between Lebanese and Syrian Intelligence.

President Assad: First of all, it’s not part of our history to have assassinations. We were in Lebanon to prevent this kind of assassinations and we lost more than ten thousand soldiers for that purpose. Second, what do you get? If a government does such a thing you should ask, “what is the interest?” There is no such interest in what was going on. Third, and as you said, because it is sophisticated you need an apparatus. This means it wasn’t a single person. It is more than that. Yet, if there is anyone who is involved, he is going to be labeled as a traitor as I said previously. Such traitor will be punished. But there is a difference between a traitor and the apparatus or government behind him. So far, there is no clue or evidence that any Syrian is involved, neither in intelligence nor in the government or outside the government.

Journalist: You are going to have a conversation with the UN investigators in the next couple of weeks. It is a conversation and not an interrogation, and you are going to tell them essentially what you were telling me.

President Assad: Exactly.

Journalist: If they present evidence to you that a member of you family, whether it’s your brother or your brother-in-law, is involved and you believe it, what will you do?

President Assad: First, let me tell you that I am sure there is no such evidence. I am sure 100 percent. Second, if we assume that anyone, Syrian or not, is involved and they have evidence they should put it in the report. This is their job. So why ask me? Why present the evidence to me? They have to put it in the report.

Journalist: Has all of this in any way jeopardized your leadership and power in Syria?

President Assad: No. Maybe at the beginning it distracted everybody, including me. Everybody was saying, “What the hell was going on in Lebanon and the region?” But in a short time everybody was talking about a play, and if you ask anybody in Syria now he will tell you it’s a game.

Journalist: But who is playing the Game?

President Assad: If you go back to the two Mehlis reports, you’d find they were prepared in advance. The two witnesses were fake. The first didn’t confess and we had clues and presented them to Mehlis, while the second came to Syria and said he was forced to say things this or that way. It was a play. That’s why most people in Syria know that everything about the reports was political. There was nothing about having a professional investigation. Maybe recently with the new commissioner we hope things would go better as we see it now, but we have to wait and see.

Journalist: There is an election coming in 2007. The Secretary of State of the United States goes around the Middle East promoting democracy; the president promotes democracy as well. They say the way that did not work was supporting regimes that are not democratic, and so we have to change. How do you see that? They constantly say democracy is the answer for the Middle East.

President Assad: Definitely, democracy is necessary for the entire world, but not in that context. If you want now to talk about the credibility of those who say such statements, let us take an example: If I look east I find Abu Ghreib, and if I look west I find Goantanamo.

Journalist: Certainly these are not the things that America is proud of.

President Assad: What is the relation between democracy and occupying a country like Iraq? What is the relation between democracy and having five to six million Palestinians outside their country? There are many things that harm the credibility of those people. Yes, we need democracy but our democracy. And if you say what is the meaning of our democracy you have to go back to culture. It should be step by step and should be internal by dialogue among the people of this country and society, and the Middle East at large. Any imported democracy, regardless the will behind it, is going to be a failure.

Journalist: Do you think there will be a democracy in Iraq?

President Assad: That depends on how I see it now. Is democracy more important than chaos? What is it based on? Is it based on better economy, on safety? What are the benefits of democracy if you don’t have the essential things in society? Democracy isn’t everything. It is a tool you use to have a better situation. You don’t use it to only say you are democratic.

Journalist: There is no democracy in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, They had elections but…

President Assad: Elections are the end result of democracy. Democracy is how people think and accept each other. In mixed societies like ours you would have different democracies than what you have in your country.

Journalist: Another issue in this region is Iran’s efforts, as perceived by many people, to have a nuclear weapon. Do you believe they want a nuclear weapon?

President Assad: No. They said publicly they have no interest in having nuclear weapons. I think Iran is a strong country without nuclear weapons. Secondly, we do not think the Middle East needs more troubles. Thirdly, we submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council to make the Middle East a zone free of Weapons of Mass Destruction. That is how we see it as Syria.

Journalist: The new President of Iran visited you here and you visited him in Tehran. What do you make of a man who says there was no Holocaust?

President Assad: If you ask may people in the region they would say to you that the West exaggerated the Holocaust. People say there was a Holocaust but they exaggerated it.

Journalist: You don’t believe that though, do you?

President Assad: It’s not a matter of how many were killed, half a million, six million or one person. Killing is killing. For example, eight million Soviets were killed, so why don’t we talk about them? The problem is not the number of those killed but rather how they use the Holocaust. What do the Palestinians have to do with the Holocaust to pay the price?

Journalist: Even people that I know in Iran say they don’t believe what the President is saying. There are people who believe it…

President Assad: In my country you’d see two opinions as well.

Journalist: I want to make sure I understand what you believe. You believe there was a Holocaust where the anti-Semite Nazis killed millions…

President Assad: We, Arabs, are Semitic too. Definitely there were massacres that happened against the Jews during the Second World War, but I’m talking about the concept and how they use it. But I don’t have any clue how many were killed or how they were killed, by gas, by shooting... we don’t know.
Journalist: Part of the Nazi policy was to exterminate the Jews. This is not just a massacre.

President Assad: We see what’s going on in Palestine the same way, but you don’t see it the same way. During the Second World War we didn’t live in Europe; we were far and we don’t see it the way the Europeans see it. What happens in Palestine affects us directly, yet you do not see it the same way we see it. Six million Palestinians are outside their country and other tens or hundreds of thousands were killed in the last decades.

Journalist: Let me talk about your future and reform. Give me a sense of what you want to do. Clearly you said you want economic reform before the political reform and you look at the Chinese model. For them, the Chinese, there is a booming economy which benefits their people.

President Assad: I didn’t invent reform. Reform starts from the challenges that you have. Our reform starts from the challenges, problems, obstacles and complaints before us. If you sit with any Syrian, you’ll mainly hear about the question of better living standards and more jobs. Syria is about 18 million people and 60 percent of them are under 25 years old. 300,000 babies are born every year and 200,000 need jobs every year. The most dangerous challenge for our country is to offer jobs for those young people. Second, the political reform is linked to economic and cultural reforms and to upgrading the whole society. But you need to have priorities. I do not mean by priorities a sequence, where I do the economic reform first then the political and so on, but rather to move in parallel terms.

Journalist: But the central point is to create jobs.

President Assad: We should focus on the economic field first because it can’t wait; people are hungry because there is poverty and people want to make sure that their children go to good schools and that they have a good medical system. People can wait for other fields. In spite of that we are moving in all the fields together. People can wait for other fields. In spite of that we are moving in all the fields together. But what has changed in the last five years? In the first place our priority was economy then politics, but now after 9/11 events and the way they dealt with terrorism our priorities have changed.

Journalist: How did that change your priorities?

President Assad: First, our priority now is security because in the last two years we started to have more terrorism after we hadn’t seen it for two decades. Second comes the economy and then other fields. Now everybody is worried about their security. This change in priorities is not good for us, and it isn’t something we want but rather something we cannot ignore. This change of priorities won’t stop reform. More important than this is the state of mind. When you talk about democracy for example it is a state of mind to accept the other. When you have terrorism this is based on extremism. When you have extremism and terrorism you won’t have democracy because extremists and terrorists do not accept the other. That is why I said earlier that democracy is about how to accept the other opinion. That is how we were affected by the war on Iraq and the war on Afghanistan.

Journalist: Let me talk about the Shiite crescent. King Abdullah says there is, from a political perspective, a Shiite crescent from Iran to Iraq to Hizbullah. They talk about that linkage as something to fear.

President Assad: Exactly. If you use this term, regardless of the sects you put under it, it means you destroy the region. This is very dangerous, and we said no, let us talk about diverse societies. That is how we lived for thousands of years or more.

Journalist: And that is exactly what is happening in Iraq today: sectarian violence and militias from one sect fighting militias from another.

President Assad: Exactly. When you talk of Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs and Kurds you are disintegrating the country.

Journalist: And disintegration will spread across the borders…

President Assad: We have the same mosaic in the whole Middle East and all are linked together.
Journalist: But you believe America does more damage to stability by staying than leaving because the argument goes the only thing standing between all-out civil war is America’s presence in Iraq today.

President Assad: First, whenever there is war there are very bad side effects no matter what its causes are or where it is. Any war is something bad for any region, and the invasion of Iraq is a war. Second, they committed a lot of political mistakes. Now we have an accumulation of political mistakes through the last three years. That is why you have these results.

Journalist: Do you believe the moderate Islamic community has done enough to identify and criticize within Islam the extremists like al-Qaeda and others who many say are blasphemous to the Qura’n. Many people say the world wants more of the moderate Muslims to speak out.

President Assad: This is true. In general you fight extremism through moderation, but you cannot separate moderation in Islam from moderation in politics or moderation in society. The same applies to extremism. So if you have a very sore political issue, you will have a very sore society. You will have extremism in society and extremism in religion. So what you say is correct, but you need a climate to help.

Journalist: How do you get that climate?

President Assad: Through just political stands regarding the different issues in hot spots around the world. Second, by spreading culture and culture means dialogue. Third, by developing economically. Through economy you can reach farther than through any other means. The last resort, if necessary, is the intelligence cooperation but not war. War, wrong political stands and unfairness will lead people to lose hope. When they lose hope at least they won’t be moderate.

Journalist: Finally, I want to end with a sense of the relationship with the United States. Do you believe the United States wishes your government good or not?

President Assad: I wouldn’t talk about the United States but rather about the administration. They have two wings, and may be more. Each wing sees the situation from his way and from overseas through some research centers, and that’s why they don’t know anything about our region, as such there might be one, two or a thousand viewpoints about the region and they won’t see reality at the end. This is the case. Some people wish bad things, some people wish very bad things, and some people wish to have dialogue and cooperation with Syria.

Journalist: What about the Secretary of State and the president?

President Assad: We never met.

Journalist: Do you like to?

President Assad: We’d like to have cooperation with the administration, with people who take decisions.

Journalist: Help me understand right now. What would be a kind of quid-pro-quo, what would be an appropriate dialogue?

President Assad: First of all, as American officials you have to talk with me about your interests, and as a Syrian official I have to talk with you about my interests. If you ask them about Iraq they would say, “we want stability, we want to support the political process, and we won’t stay in Iraq,” and in Syria we want stability, support the political process and don’t want to see any foreign troops there. So, we share the same titles with the Americans, and that is why we can find common interests.

Journalist: And if they say Hizbullah is an issue?

President Assad: No. Hizbullah is part of the peace process. If they say they need peace we say we want peace. When there is peace you won’t have any problem with Hizbullah or Hamas. So, the problem is not the organizations but rather the peace process. If they don’t like these organizations they have to find a solution, and the solution is through peace.

Journalist: If there is peace and there is a change in Iraq, and if somehow politics and security work in Iraq, you would hope that there could be a renewal of the relationship with the United States, and therefore there will be no sanctions or restrictions and economic trade would flow between American companies and consumers in Syria.

President Assad: No one in the region wants bad relations with the United States. It is a great power and the most advanced country in the world. It is very beneficial for us to have good relations. In politics we depended on them for a long time to achieve peace and we want to depend on them in developing our country in many different fields.

Journalist: And you want to go back to the point where you were sharing intelligence information and cooperation in fighting against al-Qaeda?

President Assad: Exactly, but we should take into consideration our interests. The problem with this administration is that they talk of their interests only and don’t talk of the interests of other countries. This problem is not only with Syria but also with many countries. But if you talk about the end results, they haven’t achieved their own interests. Four years after the 9/11 events what has the world achieved? Did it achieve any better? I cannot see that. They have to deal with the facts instead of wasting time discussing wishful thinking and titles and slogans.

Journalist: George Bush will leave office in 2008. Will Bashar al-Assad be in office in 2008?

President Assad: You should ask the Syrian people and not me. But I would like to spend my lifetime working for my country. It is early to talk about this.

Journalist: I close on this, but here is the dilemma in understanding you. You are as James Bennett said to many people, “you are an enigma.” They say on the one hand you are a dictator and on the other hand not in control; they say on the one hand you want to reform and on the other hand you are a captive of your father’s advisors.

President Assad: This is because they see reform as one word and as one world. There are hundreds and thousands of reforms according to each country. If they understand us and our circumstances and history, they will understand what reform I’m talking about. But when they see me going with reform in a different direction due to my own circumstances and facts, they will think he is talking about reform but going in a different direction. I have my own reform which is different from your reform, and if you are democratic you should accept my reform. That is why they say I am enigmatic, but we invite them to come and see that we are very clear; and I think we are the clearest among the countries of our region. We are not enigmatic at all. We are very clear.

Journalist: Thank you very much for allowing us to visit you here in Damascus.

President Assad: You are welcome in Syria.

Türkiye-Suriye İlişkilerinde Jeo-kültürel Boyut (Yaşar Kalafat- TÜRKSAM)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Final Communiqué of the Syrian Kurdish meeting on Democracy and Freedom in Syria

SOURCE: Kurdish Media

Washington, D.C. – on March 12, 2006

In the Conference that was called by the Kurdish Front for Promoting Democracy and Freedom in Syria, which was held on March 12, 2006 in Washington D.C., and was attended by representatives of Kurdish political parties, movements, personalities and intellectuals from Syria, adopted the following principles and positions, after discussing, analyzing and reviewing the future of Syria:

1- The Kurdish people in Syria live on their historical lands and are an indigenous people of the country.

2- We demand that the New Constitution of a Future Democratic Syria be a Secular one that contains specific articles concerning the status of the Kurds as an essential national group along the lines of the Arabs of Syria, and that recognizes their national rights on the basis of the “Rights of Peoples to Self-determination”. Furthermore, that the Syrian Constitution be a pluralistic one that recognizes the rights of other national groups in Syria as well.

3- The Kurds support the process of democratic change and the abolishment of the dictatorial regime in Syria. We, further, demand free and fair democratic elections in the country, and the elimination of all the traces and consequences of national oppression practiced against the Kurds. We also demand that the victims of such policies be compensated.

4- Cooperation with all the Democratic Opposition Forces in Syria, and advancement of joint efforts for change, based on the principles of mutual respect and recognition of mutual rights.

5- Cooperation in combating terrorism, regionally and internationally, and developing cooperative relations with forces of Democracy and Freedom in these efforts.

6- Working for introducing deep and comprehensive societal changes in Syria, including respect for freedom of religion and beliefs, as well as the right of women.

7- Supporting the People of Lebanon and their current democratic movement that aims at achieving independence and liberating themselves from Syrian hegemony.

8- Supporting the political process in Iraq for achieving democracy and strengthening their people’s will in establishing federation and pluralism. In addition to supporting the Democratic system in Iraqi Kurdistan.

9- We demand that the New Syria commits itself to respect all international treaties and documents adopted by the international community, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

10- We present our special thanks to the Organization of Syrian Kurds in the United States and Canada for arranging these meetings and emphasize the necessity of future cooperation.

11- The Conference proposed and recommended, to the political parties, movements, intellectuals, civil society groups and women organizations in Syrian Kurdistan, the necessity of achieving a common platform for the national rights of the Kurdish People and the general democratic rights of the country. It further emphasized the necessity of formation of a common representative structure, by the Syrian Kurds inside and outside the country that can express and represent the national rights and demands of the Kurdish people.

12- The Conference salutes the Second Anniversary of the Kurdish uprising in Syria and express our esteem to the memory of all the martyrs, especially Sheikh Mashooq Al-Khaznawy.

13- The Conference positively appraised and welcomed President Bush’s Initiative for Democratic Change in the Greater Middle East Region

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Syria kills 'Islamist militants'


Two Islamist militants have been killed in armed clashes with Syrian forces north-west of Damascus, the official Syrian news agency says.

Mohammed Ali Nassif and Yasser Adawi, members of the militant group Jund al-Sham, were killed near the mountain resort of Zabadani, Sana said.

There were several clashes between Syrian troops and militants last year.
In December, two alleged members of Jund al-Sham were shot dead near the northern city of Aleppo.

One member of the Syrian security services was slightly wounded during the raid near the resort, 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Damascus.

"Rifles, books, statements inciting extremism and terrorist acts as well as a computer were confiscated from the terrorists' location," Sana added.


Syrian forces have been tracking Tanzim Jund al-Sham lil-Jihad wa al-Tawhid (Organisation of the Soldiers of the Levant for Jihad and Monotheism) since November 2004, when a member was killed attempting to plant a roadside bomb.

The group's leader, Abu Umar, was killed in a raid on an apartment in southern Damascus in June, Sana reported at the time.

It is not known whether Syria's Jund al-Sham is the same group as one that operates under the same name and said it had carried out a bomb attack on the Egyptian Sinai resort of Taba in October last year which killed 34 people.

A namesake also said it was behind a suicide bombing on a theatre in Qatar in March 2005 which killed a British teacher.