Assad on Lebanon Elections, Hariri Tribunal & Peace

President Assad gave a long interview to al-Khaleej March 9 2009 (In Arabic, United Arab Emirates)
The following is my loose translation of a few of the main points. President Assad’s answers to questions about Elections in Lebanon and the Hariri trial suggest that he is putting down a few markers.

Assad: Syria has had good relations with the Emirates, especially during last two years. Syria stands with the Emirates in their policy toward the three Iranian-occupied Islands.

Syria supports a peaceful resolution of this issue. Syria can help because of its good relations with Iran.

On Arab Summits:

The Arab countries should meet to solve the points that they don’t agree on. The visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister was one of a series of efforts to resolve Arab differences. It achieved progress on the issue of repairing relations.

Israel Negotiations

Assad insisted on the conditions for direct negotiations with Israel. The first of which is to give back the land, which is non-negotiable. Assad doubts how trustworthy the Israeli leaders are.

He said if Israel provided all the conditions that Syria asks for, of course Syria will agree to sign an agreement. He distinguished between a peace agreement which

“There is a difference between a peace agreement and peace itself. A peace agreement is a piece of paper you sign. This does not mean trade and normal relations, or borders, or otherwise,” he said.

“Our people will not accept that, especially since there are half a million Palestinians in our country whose position remains unresolved. It is impossible under these terms to have peace in the natural sense.”

The initial signs of this administration are positive and it demonstrates greater acceptance of engagement comparing to the previous administration concerning his pronouncements about Syria and Iraq. “But we want specific, clear words.” (For more on his statement about peace with Israel and the possibility of a resumption of negotiations see this reuters article

On US accusations that Israel bombed an nuclear site in Syria: Assad: Alleged nuclear site hit by IAF has been built over. Syrian president Bashar Assad denounced U.S. claims that a Syrian site bombed by Israel two years ago was a nearly finished nuclear reactor, and said in comments published Monday that the location has been built over. ..

The president answers questions from journalists:

1. How very good relations are between the Emirates and Syria…

2. About the economic environment for investment. “There is weakness in the follow up to investment agreements with the Emirates….”

Lebanon:

What is important is for the Lebanese to reach an understanding and to live with agreement. Agreement brings stability. If there is no agreement between the factions, there will be no stability. The importance of this election comes from whether the winner will take Lebanon toward agreement or not. If they take it towards agreement over everything, I think this is an important turning point that will create stability in Lebanon. And if there is another power that wants to destroy the agreement under “I am the winner” regardless of who it is or which every side it belongs to, there will be one result which is to destroy the stability in Lebanon following the period of stability in Lebanon that was reached following the Doha agreement.

Iraq:

Question: Do you think what happened in Bou Kamal will not happen again (US Special Forces attacking Syrians in a cross border raid.)?

Assad: So long as there is occupation, there cannot be assurances regardless of which administration is in office. But announcing the withdrawal and giving it a date certain gives more assurance and reduces our anxiety, but it is not a complete assurance. This is an important step that the previous administration had not taken.

If the Iraqis are given complete authority to rule themselves, (and I don’t know if this is completely possible) we can say that we are assured.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister came to Syria after the attack on Bou Kamal and before signing the US-Iraq agreement in order to say that they put clear points that prevent Iraq from being used as a base for attacks against any country. And this is good if it is going to be implemented.

Political Reform

Question: Do you believe that political reform in Syria is necessary in order to unite Syria to confront what Syria is going through? And do you think that there will be steps toward political pluralism in Syria and general freedoms, in particular press freedoms. Are you intending to release educated opposition members because of the demands of human rights organizations? This is an issue that has been used against Syria.

Assad: Even if we are 100% wrong and the human rights organizations are 100% right, your demands are rejected because you are outside of Syria and you do not have the right to interfere in Syria’s internal issues. And where were those organizations during the 1,500 people who were murdered in Gaza, and one million and a half were killed in the unfair war in Iraq?

Public Sector and Economics:

Assad: The public sector is an important part of the Syrian economy. We need to make improvements to the administration of the sector to get rid of corruption and mismanagement. We support the private sector but not at the expense of the public sector. That has been our policy during the last years. A big portion of the Syrian economy depends on the public sector and if we do not support this sector we will lose a great deal.

Do you have an intention to create a separate ministry to improve the public sector?

We are talking about this. We have many ideas.

Hariri Tribunal

Question: How worried are you that it will be politicized?

Assad: “There are no guarantees; and we do not see that everything in the world is far from objectivity. If the UN itself does not carry out its duties along with the Security Council, there is nothing to guarantee, but if it is politicized, Lebanon will be the first to pay the price. I hope there will not be politicization of the court. There are no guarantees.

Comments (9)


1. Enlightened said:

Shai, Yossi (aka Rumyal) WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THIS, I JUST SAW THE COMMENT WHEN ON FACEBOOK?

“On FOX News LA last night, they covered the protest at Universal Studios where an AIPAC convention was being held. Protesters set up mock checkpoints, complte with toy assault rifles. The news reporter mentioned that though AIPAC usually talks to them right away with their response/rebuttal to the protests, this time they were silent and had no statement and did no interviews.”

The coverage seemed downright positive. I was shocked.

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March 10th, 2009, 10:27 am

 

2. norman said:

Iran seen as target of Saudi overtures to Syria(Reuters)

10 March 2009 Print E-mail
BEIRUT – Bottling its irritation, Saudi Arabia is mending ties with Syria to restore a semblance of Arab harmony before a summit later this month, calm regional tensions and nudge Damascus towards cooling its alliance with Tehran.

After intensive advance diplomacy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will visit Riyadh on Wednesday, along with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, the state Saudi Press Agency reported.

While open to Arab detente, Assad has shown no readiness to sever a bond with non-Arab Iran that has lasted 29 years.

“Saudi Arabia’s top priority is to confront Iran and its agenda in the Arab world. The Saudis want to weaken Tehran’s cards in the Arab world, thus the new approach towards Syria,” said an Arab official with close ties to the Saudis.

“They know it’ll be very difficult to break the ties between Syria and Iran, but by showing the Syrians what they have to gain if they return to the Arab fold, they hope to weaken that alliance,” added the official, who asked not to be identified.

On its part, Syria is keen to cast off any remnants of the diplomatic isolation it endured after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri, a Saudi citizen and protege. Damascus denied any involvement in the killing, now the focus of an international tribunal that began work this month.

Furious with Saudi Arabia and Egypt for joining Western pressure that forced it to quit Lebanon in 2005, Syria hardened its alignment with Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian Hamas militants in shared hostility to Israel and the United States and its conservative Arab allies.

Saudi Arabia tempered its anti-Syrian stance after Damascus backed last year’s Qatari-mediated deal among Lebanese factions and the new U.S. administration spoke of engaging with Damascus.

“It’s about teamwork, concerted Arab action,” Jamal Khashoggi, editor of the Saudi newspaper al-Watan, said.

Syria’s presence “back in the team” would enable Lebanon’s election in June to take place without bloodshed, promote Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation talks and advance prospects for Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, Khashoggi argued.

He said Saudi Arabia wanted Syria to cooperate on Lebanon, where the two countries support opposing political blocs, and think of its neighbour “as an equal, not a subordinate”.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a foe of Syria’s role, told Reuters last week that a thaw in Saudi-Syrian ties could reduce communal tensions and promote stability in his country.

“Half-Men” Slur Rankles
Saudi-Syrian reconciliation efforts have accelerated before an Arab summit expected to take place in Doha on March 30.

But a senior Arab diplomat in Riyadh said it was no easy matter to heal wounds that are personal as well as political.

“Leaders of Gulf Arab countries took great offence at being called ‘half-men’,” he said, recalling an insult levelled by Assad after Israel’s 2006 war on Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Syria will want to take things extremely slowly and cautiously to make sure it does not lose Iran,” the diplomat added, tracing much of Assad’s popularity in the Arab street to his hardline rhetoric and support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

At the same time, Syria cannot ignore the Saudi overtures or those of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has softened the animosity shown by his predecessor toward Damascus and Tehran.

Two visiting U.S. officials reported finding “a lot of common ground” during talks in the Syrian capital on Saturday.

“It is our view that Syria can play an important and constructive role in the region,” acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman declared.

He also said the United States wanted “forward momentum” on peace talks between Syria and Israel when both sides were ready.

Damascus halted indirect talks with Israel after the latter launched an offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December.

Syria also urged Arab states to withdraw their collective, Saudi-inspired peace offer to Israel, which has spurned it.

Saudi Arabia wants to defuse the Arab-Israeli dispute partly to deprive Iran and Islamist militants of a potent rallying cry to stir popular resentment against U.S.-allied Arab governments.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called last week for Arabs to agree on how to tackle the “Iranian challenge” on the nuclear issue, Gulf security and “penetration by some outside parties of Arab affairs in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon”.

Any erosion of Syria’s ties with Iran could serve this goal, but Damascus is unlikely to desert its ally without substantial gains in the complex interplay of Middle Eastern politics.

“The Saudis want to loosen the relationship between Syria and Iran, but I doubt they assume they can terminate it in any fundamental sense,” said Neil Partrick, a Middle East expert at the American University of Sharjah.

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March 10th, 2009, 12:38 pm

 

3. Nour said:

I don’t think there needs to be much in-depth analysis of Saudi Arabia’s position. Saudi Arabia basically follows US orders; and they are more likely to be implementing the US’s new approach to Syria. The idea that Saudi Arabia is trying to distance Syria from Iran due to its concern about Iranian influence in the region is not convincing, as Saudi Arabia does not have an independent policy, and we’ve seen the love fest displayed by the Saudis whenever they meet with Ahmadinejad.

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March 10th, 2009, 2:26 pm

 

4. jad said:

Political Reform:
What an answer!
(Even if we are 100% wrong and the human rights organizations are 100% right, your demands are rejected because you are outside of Syria and you do not have the right to interfere in Syria’s internal issues.)
This is not a convincing answer, it’s a dilemma.
What is the difference of someone telling you that your acts are wrong regardless of his physical existence inside or outside Syria?
If you have a problem deals with it, this is the point.
When did our reaction become ‘in spite’ of what others tell us or ‘in spite’ of our own benefits?
Aren’t we mature enough to know what the right thing to do is?

Mr. President;
It is unfair to jail someone because he has different views than yours.
It’s unfair to put intellectual and peaceful opposition’s people who did nothing but asking for what is right from inside Syria in jail for years and years.
It’s unfair not to let people talk peacefully and be creative in their thinking when their ultimate goal is the benefit of Syria.
When you know that you are wrong it’s courage to do the right and self correct instead of being stubborn on the wrong side.
We all, oppositions and pros, want one thing in common a Strong and Healthy Syria as our country.
——–
Public Sector and Economics:
Corruption, Taxes, Industries, Agricultural, Environment, Water and natural resources should be deal with as packages; you can’t have a healthy economy looking at one sector and one ministry forgetting all others.
Are we seriously implementing any of the new laws you signed in the last 9 years? If not, Why?
In that interview Mr. President said that he doesn’t like to rush things, how long does he think people at the bottom of our society can hold living in poverty and have no hope for a better future. Things can be done faster if we plan them right.
——-
Hariri Tribunal
Did the Syrian investigation group you initiate get to any result? What happen with it? Where is the work they supposed to do? Why aren’t they working with the tribunal as helpers?
Don’t you think the Lebanese people deserve to get an answer for what happened to their beloved ones who died and injured?
It’s fair for them and fair for Syrians as well.
Isn’t that what God and all his religious taught us to do?
They deserve to live in peace regardless if they are pro western, pro Syria or pro Iran.

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March 10th, 2009, 5:07 pm

 

5. Observer said:

In reality, KSA, Egypt, and to a lesser extent Jordan will have to offer Syria a position of leadership in the Arab world for it to truly move away from Teheran. The alliance with the resistance and with Iran gives it a role that in reality is not truly commensurate with its actual power and size on the regional arena.
If KSA gives money, the Syrians will take it and give back token issues, if it is withdrawal of the peace initiative, then Syria will likely show vindication for its position but if the withdrawal is not translated into a full embrace of the resistance movements then it is as hollow as the initial proposal of total peace for total land return.
KSA will have to supplant the role that Iran and the resistance are filling and which is hugely popular in the Arab world. It will have to be the vanguard of both Arab and Muslim aspirations. It will have to show that it is ready to stand up even to the US when it comes to Arab interests and to stop being the unconditional ally for the US in the region. It will have to recognize that the Iranian nuclear program is a fact of life and that no amount of alliances and summits is going to make it go away. Even if unity in the Arab world is pushed through as it was during the preparation for the 73 war, the degree of true cooperation on the long term will not be present as there is so much distrust and so much fear of losing one’s position of power.

In my opinion, one of the major allies of Iran and Syria in this current situation and may be their salvation is the combination of Avigdor Lieberman and Bibi Netenyahou. Their hard line positions may leave KSA and Egypt no wiggle room to finess a complete surrender to Israel.

I may be wrong for the love of the CHAIR has made Arab regime do the unthinkable in every Arab country.

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March 10th, 2009, 5:35 pm

 

6. Shai said:

Can you guess who said the following: “… what he declared during his election campaign will be different from what he will do when the practical stage arrives.” Ok, obviously the “he” is Netanyahu, but who said it? According to the article in Ynet, top members of the Likud party. Gee, how non-shocking…

Report: Netanyahu rep met top Syrian official: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3684417,00.html

Where’s AIG when we need him? :-)

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March 10th, 2009, 7:05 pm

 

7. Shai said:

And now the confirmation…

Likud MK (Ayoob Kara) confirms he met Syrian official in U.S.:
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1070036.html

Alex, the question is not IF Netanyahu will return the Golan, but IF Lieberman will be invited to the ceremony… :-) (I’m kidding, right now it certainly seems much more like a lull-Washington move, but let’s see.)

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March 10th, 2009, 8:37 pm

 

8. why-discuss said:

VIEW Video on closedzone.com

RAMALLAH, West Ban.compk — An Israeli creator of the Oscar-nominated “Waltz with Bashir” released a short film Wednesday about the effects of his country’s Gaza blockade on Palestinians.

Yoni Goodman said he hoped the 90-second animated film, “Closed Zone,” would draw attention to the plight of Gaza’s civilians.

“People talk about Hamas, but there are many civilians there who are not Hamas supporters but who are suffering from this blockade,” the animator said.

Israel has kept Gaza’s borders largely sealed since the Islamic militant Hamas took over the seaside territory in June 2007. Since then, Israeli has heavily restricted Palestinians from leaving Gaza and limited the goods that can enter.
The closed borders are a major issue in both peace talks and proposals to reconstruct Gaza after Israel’s three-week offensive ended in January. Both Palestinians and international aid groups say the borders must be opened to allow in much-needed living supplies.

Goodman said he began the film before Israel launched its offensive against Gaza’s ruling Hamas militants in December, but the conflict affected the story.

The film, a combination of animation and real-life scenes, follows a boy chasing a blue bird while large hands block his way. The hands cut Gaza’s borders in the ground with a giant cookie-cutter, then prevent the boy from crossing.
Story continues below

At one point, missiles arc over the boy’s head, exploding in a city on the horizon.

The film was commissioned by the Israeli human rights group Gisha. Goodman said that as an Israeli, he hoped the film could challenge the view that most Israelis favor violence.

“I want people in the West to see it, to see that there are people in Israel who are against war, who want peace,” he said.

Goodman was animation director for “Waltz with Bashir,” which followed a soldier struggling to recall suppressed memories of his involvement in Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon. The film won a Golden Globe award and was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film.

“Closed Zone” has been released on the Internet at closedzone.com and on YouTube, but Goodman hopes it will have wider distribution.

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March 11th, 2009, 9:37 am

 

9. ariadna said:

“Goodman said that as an Israeli, he hoped the film could challenge the view that most Israelis favor violence.”

In that case the film is piece of zionist propaganda contradicted by all opinion polls in Israel

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March 22nd, 2009, 3:59 am

 

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