Posted by Joshua on Monday, April 23rd, 2007
An interview with the Syrian Ambassador
by Shafique Jamal, MPAID1
Wednesday March 21, 2007
On Wednesday March 21 the Syrian Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Imad Moustapha, spoke at KSG. Sponsored by the Dubai Initiative, his presentation “The Middle East: A Perspective From Within” examined both US-Syria relations and Syria’s role in the Middle East. Moustapha (IM) spoke here with The Citizen (TC):
TC: How can Syria help bring peace to Iraq?
IM: We have excellent relations with all political groups in Iraq, including the Kurds and former Baathists.We used to host [Iraqi President] Jalal Talabani and gave him a Syrian diplomatic passport. There are 1.3 million refugees in Iraq. The U.S. should include all of Iraq’s neighbors in the discussions.
TC: What do you think about partitioning Iraq in order to solve the sectarian violence?
IM: The idea of partition is a stupid idea that comes from the neo-conservatives.We are totally opposed to discussion of partition – it will only lead to a bloody civil war.
There is no military solution. Only when the power controlling Iraq, that is the U.S., starts to include all political parties, many of which feel disenfranchised, will there be a resolution. There needs to be a political process. Everything else, including the [troop] surge, the new security plan, is an illusion. The U.S. should realize that all neighboring countries should be involved.
TC: In your opinion, what motivates U.S. antagonism towards Syria?
IM: Syrian relations with the U.S. have been worse under the second Bush administration than in previous administrations. Previous presidents from Nixon to Clinton have visited Syria. This administration has not.
Definitely, the source of hostility is Syria’s refusal to support the second invasion of Iraq. Ever since then we’ve not had much official communication with the U.S., except for after 9/11 and very recently. In fact after 9/11 Syria provided information on Al-Qaeda to the U.S. Then Secretary of State Colin Powel said Syria provided actionable information that has saved American lives.
The willingness of the U.S. to talk to us now about Iraq is because of domestic pressures from the political establishment, and even this is much less than what the U.S. and Syria used to enjoy.
TC: What is the nature of the relationship between Syria and Iran?
IM: We have excellent relations with Iran. Iran has never occupied Palestine, they didn’t kill over a thousand people in Lebanon. If the U.S. has a problem with Iran they should deal with them bilaterally and not by pressuring us with their bellicose attitude.
TC: What do you think is the future of U.S.-Syrian relations?
IM: Communication has been superficial so far, but I do think there is a realistic probability that relations will improve. The U.S. could play a constructive role in the conflicts in the region. It is the only country that can pressure Israel into entering into peace negotiations with Syria. Previous administrations have encouraged this dialogue.
TC: How has Syria changed since Bashar Al-Assad became president in 2000?
IM: We’ve opened up socially, politically, economically. The latest World Bank report in the last three years shows a large improvement in friendliness to business. The relative progress in this area has been the largest.
While we continue to face challenges we recognize that the Syrian leadership has been careful to not cause upheaval. For example look at the case of Russia. Under their reforms a few people became very rich while many did not do very well. So we’ve paced the reforms such that we opened the economy without hurting the less fortunate. The price is that we haven’t seen tremendous levels of wealth, but we’ve also not seen extreme economic inequality. Still our growth rate is at 5% GDP.
TC: In recent months Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has offered to negotiate peace with Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to negotiate.
Some supporters of Israel say that the offer to negotiate is intended as a diversion to relieve the diplomatic pressure on Syria.What is your response?
IM: This is an absurd argument. For the past 15 years Syria has been offering Israel land for peace, and we have always honored our agreements. Why do they really refuse? It is because of the Zionist regime’s ideology, of expansion of settlements, for example. Israel will eventually realize that they can’t continue with a military solution forever, because the military option is bound to fail.
TC: What can Syria do to bring Israel to the negotiating table – what is Syria’s leverage?
IM: There are constituencies in Israel that are interested in peace.We just have to wait for them to have a stronger influence.
Also See: "A Little Less Lonely These Days" By Dan Ephron, Newsweek: "The Syrian Ambassador to the US didn't used to get many visitors. Suddenly, his date book is filling up. What he makes of the new American outreach- and how Syria hopes to gain from it." Read Full interview here.