Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
Alix Van Buren interviewed President Assad for La Repubblica, Italy’s premier Newspaper. Here is the full translation in English.
Is a new Cold War looming?
“The Russians never believed the Cold War ended. Neither did we. It only changed shape. It has evolved with time. Russia is reasserting itself. And the Cold War is just a natural reaction to the attempt by America to dominate the world”.
Assad: “Vedo un nuovo Medio Oriente
Siria pronta a trattare sul Golan”
dai nostri inviati ANDREA BONANNI e ALIX VAN BUREN
“We cannot wait any longer,” says Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria. “President Obama’s America had raised expectations regarding a new Middle East policy. But now, the clock of history is striking a new hour. An agreement between the Middle Eastern powers is redesigning the regional order”. Sitting on a black leather sofa in his presidential study, Bashar al-Assad draws what he defines as the outlines of a new geopolitical scene.
He warns: “This is not a turnabout: we want good relations with Washington. Rather, it is about recognizing reality: the failure by America and Europe in solving the problems of the world, in our region.
“From this failure, there emerge necessarily other alternatives: namely, a new geostrategic map which aligns Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Russia, which are brought together by shared policies, interests, and infrastructure. One strategic region is taking shape which connects the five surrounding seas: the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Arab Gulf and the Red Sea. That is to say: the center of the world”, he explains. And adds: “It is not about renouncing peace: if Israel will return the Golan, we cannot say no. But only a comprehensive agreement, which includes the Palestinians, will guarantee real peace. And peace, sooner or later, will come”.
Mister President, are you outlining a new strategic front as an alternative to a West the influence of which you see in decline?
“I draw a lesson from the mistakes of the past. America and Europe had said “We will solve the problems”. And we waited. Now, we don’t believe any longer in the role of other countries. If someone wants to help, welcome. But the solution is up to us. We must move ahead”.
If Israel were ready to sign a treaty with Syria would you accept? Or do you want an agreement expanded to the Arab world?
“That is an excellent question. Many officers in the West do not understand the difference. If Israel is ready to return the Golan, we can not say no to a peace treaty. However, only a comprehensive solution can guarantee true peace. An agreement limited to Syria and Israel will leave the Palestinian issue unresolved. Rather than peace, it will be a truce. With some five million Palestinian refugees scattered around the Arab world, tension will remain strong. There is popular solidarity with the Palestinians. They will keep fighting for their rights”.
Israel asks that you sever your relationship with Iran, in exchange for an agreement. Instead you are talking about new alliances with Tehran. Is that not a contradiction?
“First of all, let me clarify: peace is a matter that concerns only Syria and no one else. This is my land, my issue. Iran has nothing to do do with my negotiations, nor did it ever oppose them. Therefore, why should I distance myself from Tehran as long as it supports peace? Israel is perfectly aware of the conditions of an agreement. That is what they told Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister”.
What did they tell him?
“Not longer than a few days ago, they said literally these words: “We know that peace with Syria will not happen without the return of the Golan, up to the very last centimeter”.
But isn’t it damaging, mister President, to be too uncompromising?
“Let’s put it this way: if someone stole something from you, would you want all of it back, or would you be satisfied by regaining only part of it? We can accept many compromises: on matters of security, on the relationship. But on the land, no: there is no compromising over the land”.
And what about America? Have you given up on hopes of regaining the Golan through an American mediation?
“America, now, has no influence, because it is doing nothing. However, it remains the only great power. If, and when, it will want to be part of the negotiations, it’s role will be decisive in the final stage, when a guarantee by the international community is needed”.
An initial phase of negotiations has already begun through the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, mediated by George Mitchell, the American Special Envoy. Don’t you regard that as an important step forward?
“Everybody knows that those talks will lead to nowhere. The Arabs know it, the Palestinians know it, even the Americans. In Washington, they say it behind closed doors: they do not trust this Israeli government, which can not make peace”.
In the meanwhile, what signals are you receiving from Obama’s White House?
“I would like to draw a distinction between President Obama, who has authority, and the United States as a State. The President has good intentions. The climate between us has definitely improved: the veto was lifted to our access to the World Trade Agreement. Sanctions were partially softened, though they were reconfirmed. Yet there are institutions such as Congress, lobbies, that weigh in our relationship sometimes in a positive way, other times in a negative way. And, in the end, it is results that matter”.
Yet America and Israel accuse you of having provided Scud missiles to Hezbollah, your Lebanese ally. Is it so?
“Of course not, it is not so. Does anyone believe in those accusations? No one, not even the Americans. It is propaganda by Israel, which hasn’t provided the slightest evidence. The point is that Israel has a problem of image. Its image was tarnished these past two years, by its treatment inflicted on Palestinians, by its military offensive and its embargo against Gaza, by its refusal to freeze settlements, or to adhere to American and Arab peace initiatives. The accusations hurled against us are meant to be a distraction to slow down the relations between America and Syria. In the meanwhile, we continue to work for peace. Sooner or later, it will come”.
What makes you so sure about it?
“Listen, it will not happen in the near future. Israel, right now, is not ready for an agreement. It can not do it. The Israeli society has moved too far to the right. It is a process that initiated back in 1967; then, it deepened with the rise to power, simultaneously, of the right in America and Israel: with Bush and Sharon.
Besides, there is the need for a true leader, one capable of leading the society. Not just an employee, whose only interest is to be re-elected every four years”.
Then, what is the reason for your optimism?
“It is because Israel has lost one of its most important deterrents. From the very beginning, it relied on military strength. They always repeated “it doesn’t matter if they don’t like me: It is important that they fear me”. Well, notwithstanding Israel’s military might, the Arabs don’t fear it any longer”.
Mister President, does the picture that you are depicting justify a re-evaluation of your strategic alignment with Washington?
“If you are talking about strategies, the fact is that America follows an empirical approach, that of “trial and error”. I, instead, have a strategy, and it is led by our interests. My relationship with the United States must be seen through that lens”.
So what does your world look like, as seen through that lens?
“I see an epochal change not limited to the Middle East. Countries such as China and Brazil will no longer wait for America to assign them their roles. In our region, I see what many do not see or want to understand: the rise of new alliances inspired by shared interests; Policies, interests and infrastructures coincide. It is a new map, strengthened also by territorial contiguity. You will find regional and emerging powers [participating]”.
Which powers are you referring to?
“Syria, Iran, Turkey. But also Russia. These are all countries that are linking themselves to one another, even physically, through gas and oil pipelines, railways, roadways, systems for transporting electricity. One large perimeter links five seas: the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Arab Gulf and the Red Sea. We are talking about the center of the world. From South to North and from East to West, any one who wants to move has to cross this region. That is why this region has been plagued by wars for thousands of years”.
Are you saying that now one must deal with a triple alliance: Syria, Iran, Turkey?
“Precisely. There must be a good relationship between us as neighbouring countries. That is the lesson we draw from history: what did 80 years of conflicts with Turkey bring us? They led to nothing. Instead, look at the results today. If it weren’t for this new relationship between Syria, Iran and Turkey, what situation would Iraq find itself in? What about the region more generally? It would be much worse than it is today – believe me”.
Yet one of the first moves undertaken by the front that you are describing, namely the diplomacy blitz by Turkey and Brazil regarding the Iranian nuclear program, raised skepticism in America and Europe. How do you explain that?
“I am skeptical about that skepticism. It raises the suspicion that the West is motivated by a different agenda, that it doesn’t want to solve this issue. The region is following these developments with anxiety because the measures that will be imposed on Iran will be imposed on others as well. You see, the future of energy is nuclear, besides the renewable sources. One day, I will have nuclear energy, at least to produce electricity. It is my right, guaranteed by the Non Proliferation Treaty”.
Iran today is regarded as a serious threat by the international community. And the harsh repression of its domestic opposition following last year’s elections hasn’t certainly changed that belief. Don’t you think that the alarm of the West is justified?
“Some accuse me of having struck an alliance with the devil. But it is not so. My alliance is with a country which is important in the region, and that is what matters. It is a neighbour. And one must have good relations with its neighbours, that is, if you want to solve a problem”.
But can one cooperate with a neighbour that denies the very existence of Israel, and keeps advocating its destruction?
“In politics, many things are said. But it is the actions that count. If Iran truly wanted the destruction of Israel, then why did it support our peace negotiations in 2008 with Israel, mediated by Turkey? Actually, the Iranians are more moderate than many want to see”.
What is Russia’s part in all of this? President Medvedev just came to Syria. It was the first visit by a Russian Head of State since the time of the Bolsheviks. Is there further news on the horizon?
“Medvedev’s visit will help you to understand the magnitude of the change. Everyone wants to play a role in this region. Russia too has its interests. If you follow its movements, you will understand the message. After his visit to Damascus, Medvedev went to Turkey, where he signed contracts for billions of dollars, he lifted visa requirements between the two countries. We did the same with Turkey”.
Yet Moscow will also deliver you new weapons, while America is providing Israel with a new anti-missiles system. Is a new Cold War looming?
“The Russians never believed the Cold War ended. Neither did we. It only changed shape. It has evolved with time. Russia is reasserting itself. And the Cold War is just a natural reaction to the attempt by America to dominate the world”.
Did you challenge America in Lebanon? Do you believe you won the Battle for Lebanon?
“The terms that you are using are not my own, nor do they correspond to my way of thinking. Other people talk about challenges and battles, only because Lebanon was divided in two camps: one used to support the United States, and the other one used to support the other option which is against Israel. We can only win if we have good relations with every Lebanese. As you see, it is not a war of influence between Syria and the United States”.
Mister President, you received two visits by the Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad al Hariri. Did you discuss with him, in private, about the assassination of his father, the late Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri, of which you are accused?
“I am always a frank person. I told him, “You have to be frank with me, even if you believe that we did it, or that we were involved. Be frank about it”“.
And what was his reply?
“He came as a Prime Minister, and when dealing in his official role as a Prime Minister of Lebanon, the issue is no longer personal. It becomes a national issue. He has to express an official position. He has to wait for evidence (by the Special Tribunal)”.
And what is the verdict that you expect from the Special Tribunal?
“Our cooperation is our best defence, our means to prove that Syria is not involved. I am convinced that we are innocent”.
Syria’s Assad says US has lost Mideast peace influence
AFP, 24 May 2010
The United States has lost its influence in the Middle East peace process despite the hopes raised by President Barack Obama, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published Monday.
Assad was quoted as telling the Italian daily La Repubblica that Washington “has no influence because they don’t do anything for peace. But they remain the greatest power.”
“Obama raised hopes but we cannot wait any more,” he said, adding that a “new era has been born” in the Middle East including an understanding between its major powers that was reshaping the region.
He pointed to a similar phenomenon throughout the world, with countries such as China and Brazil refusing to wait for the United States to “hand out roles”.
Assad said there had been a realisation that the United States and Europe had failed to resolve the problems of the Middle East, noting that Russia was trying to rebuild its own role in the region.
On relations with Israel, the Syrian leader said that if Israel was ready to return the Golan Heights to Syria “we would not be able to say no to a peace treaty”.
But he added that any deal would have to include a complete solution of the Palestinian issue and that he thought Israel was “not ready for an accord at the moment”.
Washington Just Lost the Middle East in a Big Way
Sharmine Narwani Senior Associate, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University
Posted: May 24, 2010 03:21 PM
It’s official. There is no longer any serious “cost” for defying the United States in the global arena. Unable to win wars or deliver diplomatic coups – and struggling to maintain our economic equilibrium – Washington has lost the fundamental tools for global leadership. And no place does this impotence manifest more vividly than the modern Middle East.
Our pointless and protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be the last time we will launch a major battle in the region. That massive show of flexing brawn over brain burst a global perception bubble about our intentions, capabilities and reason.
This credibility was compromised further with our irrational support of Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2008/9 respectively. And by the double standards employed over Israel’s violations of international law and its illegal nuclear weapons stash – particularly when viewed against the backdrop of our startling rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program.
But nothing highlights our irrelevance more than two recent developments:
1) The US’s inability today to convene even perfunctory peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, let alone push through a negotiated solution – and this after 19 years of a “US-sponsored” peace process.
2) The US’s inability to achieve a resolution with Iran over its nuclear program. The only breakthrough in this long-winded effort to tame Iran’s nuclear aspirations was struck by Turkey and Brazil last week.
In short, the US seems incapable of resolving even a traffic dispute in the Middle East. It is Qatar that stepped in to broker a deal between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government in 2008, and is knee deep in negotiating a solution to the conflict in Darfur. Syria helped gain the release of prisoners in Iran and Gaza. And now Turkey and Brazil have cajoled Iran into accepting an agreement that the US, France, England, Germany, Russia and China could not…..
The Iran Nuclear Fiasco
After pushing for the nuclear swap deal with Iran since last October, we did an about turn and scorned the very same “confidence building” measure we had touted while simultaneously accusing Iran of bad intentions and negotiations trickery.
And we openly sneered at the valiant effort of two important UN Security Council member states – one a NATO-member and the other the largest economy in our Latin American backyard – to troubleshoot on behalf of the global community. The very next day, we childishly chose to undermine this important breakthrough by announcing an agreement on UN Security Council draft sanctions against Iran.
The fact is that no-one other than England, France, Germany and Israel seems to want us to win this fight anymore. This is increasingly being viewed as a David vs Goliath standoff, with Iran as the David, and its nuclear energy program a sacrificial lamb that is meant to appease our substantial ego as the world’s remaining superpower.
Pundits and analysts are even starting to argue for making room for a nuclear Iran – all thanks to our unwavering scrutiny of this issue: here and here.
Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna said in Tehran two days after the nuclear swap deal was struck: “India praises Iran for fighting for its interests… We are both developing nations and we should make use of each other’s capabilities and experiences in order to make progress.”
These so-called “Middle States” like Brazil, India and Turkey are regional economic and political hegemons with collective clout – certainly more so than the waning authority of our European partners who are dealing with weak economies and uninspired geopolitical thinking, much like our own. …..
U.S.-Syria Relations: Rollercoaster Diplomacy
By George Baghdadi for CBS
May 24, 2010 7:55 AM
This story was filed by CBS News’ George Baghdadi in Damascus. Click here to read more on Syria in “World Watch”.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be rightly baffled by Washington’s jumbled, somewhat indecisive approach to renewed engagement with his country.
One the one hand, the Obama administration has given some clear signals suggesting it wants better ties with the Arab state in the heart of the Middle East. On the other, the White House has made some moves which suggest exactly the opposite.
Washington’s ties with Damascus have been strained by Syria’s three-decade alliance with Iran and U.S. allegations of meddling in the affairs of Iraq, Syria’s neighbor to the east.
Syrian support for the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, have also proved a stumbling block. Both factions, considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. government, are seen in Syria – and the wider Arab world — as legitimate resistance movements and political parties.
Former President George W. Bush imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria in May 2004.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus has been without an ambassador since February 2005, when the Bush administration recalled Margaret Scobey in response to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria’s foes in Lebanon accused Damascus of being behind the bombing, allegations Syria has repeatedly denied.
Since taking the oath, President Obama has cautiously sought to improve ties with Syria, and U.S. lawmakers have made a flurry of visits to Damascus.
Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad, a leading figure in Syrian foreign policy, also visited Washington.
Sen. John Kerry wrapped up an undisclosed two-day trip to Damascus this weekend for talks with Assad to try and breathe some life into the stumbling peace process, “as part of his capacity as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” according to one U.S. Embassy official in Damascus.
The source refused to go into the specifics of the discussion.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem welcomed the visit, which was not made public earlier by the Syrian state-run media, and said Damascus would do whatever it could to help push peace in the Middle East.
The visit was another positive signals from the U.S.
Earlier this month, despite the sanctions, the U.S. government approved a plan to upgrade Western aircraft in Syria’s passenger jet fleet, which includes American-made Boeing 747 and French Airbus 320 jets — both of which require U.S. parts. That was another encouraging step.
Perhaps most symbolically, Obama nominated in February career diplomat Robert Ford to be America’s first ambassador to Syria in five years, though his appointment has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
However, hopes of rapprochement between the U.S. and Syria were dashed this month by a blunt charge from Mr. Obama himself.
“Syria still poses an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” said the U.S. leader as he renewed the sanctions for another year.
The statement suggests Syria has fallen from the pages of Mr. Obama’s good books and that the relationship with Washington may be coarser for some time.
The positive momentum took another hit later when Israel claimed Damascus was sending advanced weaponry to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants — Scud missiles which could theoretically increase the group’s ability to strike targets anywhere inside the Jewish state.
Damascus has strongly denied the allegations and suggested Israel was searching for an excuse to start a new war in the region.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has also dismissed the accusations, comparing them to claims that Iraq had unconventional weapons before the American-led invasion in 2003. The U.N. has also refuted the charges.
However, 12 Republican senators, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, claimed that Ford’s appointment would be a concession, even a reward. They suggested “prompt punitive” action against Syria instead.
It’s no secret what the Americans want from Syria, but it’s harder to guess what cards Assad might be prepared to put on the table.
Syrian officials say they will not make concessions for free. The West, they argue, should not expect much as Damascus will not break its alliance with Iran, nor will it abandon Hezbollah or Hamas before it hears an offer on a comprehensive peace deal between Arabs and Israelis.
“The West should realize that the region has changed and that the language, policies and approaches that it used to use before have become unacceptable,” Assad told French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who arrived in Damascus Saturday night.
“If the West wants to see stability and security in our region, it should start playing an effective role in curbing Israel and stopping its extremist and grave attitude,” added the Syrian leader.
Lebanese PM presses Obama on Mideast peace deal
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE (AP)
WASHINGTON — Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday told President Barack Obama that the “clock is ticking” on Mideast peace and that failure to reach an agreement will lead to more violence and extremism in the region.
On his first official White House visit as premier, Hariri said he told Obama during an Oval Office meeting that Lebanon is hopeful about his efforts to secure a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The two sides recently began participating in indirect peace talks.
But the prime minister said he told Obama about a “pervasive frustration and skepticism” in the Muslim world regarding the issue and that the “clock is ticking … against all those who believe in a just peace.”……..
Kerry met with Mr Assad on Saturday to discuss bilateral and regional issues. One source told Ibrahim Hamidi of al-Hayyat that bilateral ties are “improving”
دمشق تؤكد لقاء الاسد وكيري : العلاقات الثنائية في تحس
لإثنين, 24 مايو 2010
دمشق – ابراهيم حميدي
أكدت مصادر سورية رفيعة المستوى لـ»الحياة» امس ان الرئيس بشار الاسد استقبل رئيس لجنة الشؤون الخارجية في مجلس الشيوخ الاميركي السناتور جون كيري يوم اول من امس، حيث جرى بحث العلاقات الثنائية والأوضاع في الشرق الاوسط.
وكان استقبل كيري السبت. وأوضحت المصادر السورية ان اللقاء، الذي حضره وزير الخارجية وليد المعلم والمستشارة السياسية والاعلامية في رئاسة الجمهورية الدكتورة بثينة شعبان كان «إيجابياً، وتمت خلاله مناقشة العلاقات الثنائية التي هي في تحسن» بين دمشق وواشنطن، اضافة الى «مناقشة الوضع الإقليمي في المنطقة».
واشار المعلم في مؤتمر صحافي عقده مساء امس مع نظيره الالماني غيدو فيسترفيللي بعد لقائه الرئيس الاسد الى البيان الذي صدر عن السفارة الاميركية في دمشق من ان محادثات كيري كانت «في اطار اعادة الحرارة الى الحوار السوري – الاميركي لبناء علاقة طبيعية ودفع جهود استئناف المفاوضات» السلمية. وزاد: «السناتور كيري رجل موضوعي ونتمنى لمهمته النجاح».
الى ذلك، قالت مصادر ديبلوماسية غربية لـ «الحياة» ان عضو لجنة الشؤون الخارجية في الكونغرس السناتور روبرت كوترت سيزور دمشق في 31 الشهر الجاري الجاري، قبل قيام وفد من الكونغرس يضم النواب براين بيرد ورالف هول ولنكولن ديفيد بزيارة مماثلة في الثالث من الشهر المقبل.
وتأتي زيارات اعضاء الكونغرس الاميركي بعد قرار الرئيس الاميركي باراك أوباما تمديد العقوبات الاقتصادية سنة اخرى ومساعي جماعات ضغط لعرقلة تعيين روبرت فورد سفيرا في دمشق. وكانت دمشق اعتبرت ان قرار تمديد العقوبات «ليس مفاجئا». كما اشارت صحف سورية الى ان ذلك تضمن «رسالة خاطئة» الى المنطقة وان تعيين السفير «شأن اميركي».
وكان وزير النقل يعرب بدر قال لـ»الحياة» ان شركة «ترانز تكنك» الخاصة حصلت على موافقة من الادارة الاميركية على تعمير محركات طائرتي «ايرباص» تابعين للخطوط الجوية السورية، بعد حصول شركة «السلام» السعودية على موافقة لتعمير طائرتي «بوينغ» 747 تابعين للخطوط السورية كانت خرجتا من الخدمة في 2008، علما ان واشنطن جمدت منح هذه الموافقات لفترة طويلة.
Spat over Iran may further strain relations between allies U.S., Turkey
By Janine Zacharia, Monday, May 24, 2010, Wash Post
Henri Barkey said, “For the Turks, [the Iran nuclear deal it proposed] might be a Pyrrhic victory.They look great in the Third World because they thumbed their nose at the United States. But they are really screwing up their relationship with the U.S.”….
Iran’s agreement to ship 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium out of the country was heralded in Turkey as a sign of Ankara’s diplomatic prowess. Turkey, which aims to keep tensions in the Middle East low and improve economic and diplomatic ties with Iran, also saw the deal as a way to avert a further confrontation with the West and as a preliminary step toward bringing Iran back to the negotiating table.
“People in Washington think we’re just trying to undermine the efforts of the U.S. and other allies at the U.N. Security Council, which is quite far from the truth. Actually, we know that this is not a solution to the overall problem. We have no such claim,” a Turkish official said. “What we are trying to do is to create a sort of a basis to attract the Iranians and bring them back to the table to discuss the overall nuclear issue.”
Still, U.S. officials said the deal fell short because Iran did not agree to freeze uranium enrichment and because it would still retain enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb if it decided to enrich the material to a higher level….