Posted by Joshua on Thursday, July 24th, 2008
Samir al-Taki's talk at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, July 23, 2008
Summarized by Joshua Landis
The three-man delegation of Syrians which is visiting Washington spoke at the Brookings Institute today. They are Dr. Sami Moubayed (Academic, jounalist), Samir Saifan (Economist, businessman), and Samir al-Taki ([Taqi] medical doctor and head of Syria's leading think tank). They have a busy schedule of meetings and talks with congressmen and other Washington types this week. Their meeting with the U.S. State Department on Wednesday was canceled. So was a meeting with leaders of AIPAC. Here is how the State Dept. explained the cancelation:
"Representatives from the State Department will not meet with this group from Syria," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters. "Upon review of their program, and changes in schedules, ultimately, (it) did not work out."
Here are a few of the main points made by Dr. al-Taqi who gave a prepared comment of only 10 minutes before opening the floor to questions:
From 2001 until UN Resolution 1559 was issued in the fall of 2004, Israel and the US tried to end the Arab-Israeli confrontation by means of a unilateral peace. Sharon had decided to impose a peace pleasing to it on the Palestinians. Syria gambled that such a peace was impossible — "You cannot close the Arab-Israeli conflict without dealing with the core problems. There cannot be a unilateral peace," said Samir al-Taki.
We now have about eight collapsing states in the region. This means more asymmetrical conflict in the region. The regional problems are getting worse and are more over-lapping. The US and Israeli decision to use force to impose unilateral solutions on the area has failed. It has made the region more dangerous and the problems more intractable.
Only dialogue, negotiations and compromise will solve regional problems and attenuate the violence that threatens us all.
This was the gist of Dr. Taki's prepared remarks. I was unable to take proper notes on the questions. I will try to summarize some of the main categories of questions and give an inexact and highly condensed summary of the responses.
Question: What was the reason for resuming negotiations with Israel?
Answer: Because Ariel Sharon was given carte blanche to destroy the PLO and Palestinian leadership, he opened the way in front of all kinds of extremists. Syria needed to stop this trend. Only dialogue and mutual solutions can solve our problems and open a way forward for all states in the region.
Question: Compare Iran and Turkey as allies of Syria.
Answer: Syria has a right and obligation to seek out regional allies. When Syria thinks about allies in the region, it thinks of Iran. When it thinks of opportunities, it thinks of Turkey.
Question: What does Syria want from the US?
Answer: We need the US. We can discuss bilateral problems with Israel, but we need the US to discuss regional problems. The US is our neighbor now. In some ways, Fallujah is closer to Washington than New Orleans is. If Syria wants good relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other states of the region, Washington is an important part of the equation.
Question: Hizbullah. Will Syria shut down Hizbullah if there is peace with Israel?
Answer: Asymmetrical warfare is what is going on in the region. Hizbullah and non-state actors can make their enemies bleed, but what is the endgame of violence? It is to bring one's opponent to the negotiating table. Non-state actors cannot win or bring opponents to the table. For that you must have states and recognized governments.
As for whether Syria will "shut down" or "disarm" Hizbullah, Syria has left Lebanon. Hizbullah is Lebanon's problem now. We are not in Lebanon. Under the present circumstances, Syria must use all its options in its struggle to regain the Golan and secure its security and national interests in the region. Only when we are headed toward peace and assured of a real change in regional dynamics, will Syria choose between allies and make such difficult decisions, but Syria is ready to move — hopefully the need to make decisions will come sooner than later.
Question: Will Syria really support disarming Hizbullah and stopping its rearmament?
Answer: When the Lebanese as a society and one people are ready to integrate Hizbullah's militia into the army or to disarm it, Syria will be ready to support that decision.
Question: What is your advice for the next US president?
Answer: Appoint a US ambassador in Damascus. Put your considerable muscle behind land for peace – that is what we are looking for, land for peace.Iraq: Lebanon is no longer number one on Syria's agenda; Iraq is. The biggest danger for Syria is to have a weak confessional federation, like Lebanon, on our eastern border. This is our biggest concern and looming danger. Angry confessionalism and religious and ethnic violence have a way of spreading.
Question: Congressman Stephen J. Solarz explained that when he visited Syria and spoke to Foreign Minister Mu`alem, he asked the FM what Syria needed in order to give up riparian rights to the Sea of Galilee should Israel concede the northern strip of land along the lake to Syria? Mu`alem had told Solarz that Syria wanted:
1) more water from Turkey.
2) A water desalinization plant on the coast.
3) Syrian farmers on the Golan to be able to use water from some of the streams that feed Lake Tiberius.
Solarz asked Dr. Taki if these demands were still on Syria's list.
Answer: Taqi smiled and said that whatever Mu'alem had told the congressman was undoubtedly true as Mu`alem is the source.
Then in a more serious vein, Taki insisted that the larger principle of getting all the land of the 1967 border was a separate question from the technical issues of what guarantees would be needed to achieve it. He insisted that most of the technical issues had been worked out and that remaining problems could be dealt with. He insisted that the principle of returning to the 1967 border was the important point in it all.During the last 10 minutes of the meeting, Sami Moubayed and Samir Saifan spoke.
Dr. Moubayed insisted that Syria is ready to be helpful and part of the solution to regional problems. He went through a number of examples of how and when Syria had used its influence and authority in the region to help solve problems in the recent past. He said that Washington needs to recognize this assistance and work with Syria. Syria is not looking for praise, he insisted. All Syria wants from the US is for it to halt its campaign to vilify and demonize Syria. "The US should not expect cooperation from Syria so long as it abuses Syria and seeks to demonize it," he explained.
Mr. Saifan explained that Syria wants peace in the region and wants to move ahead with its plans for a better and richer future. Negotiations and peace will benefit all sides. He thanked the leaders of "The Search for Common Ground," who had organized their trip to Washington and who had gotten them meetings with congressmen and leaders in Washington. He explained that the Syrian team had not expected such a warm welcome and such interest. They thanked Martin Indik, the head of the Saban Center, for hosting the Brookings talk.