‘Our proposals for achieving lasting peace in Iraq’

Mr President, during our presence here in Damascus, we heard that your country shares borders with Turkey, Israel and the United States of America. Of course this was meant to be a joke, referring to the occupation of Iraq. But we wonder how your government feels when encircled by hostile, or at least unfriendly neighbors? I would like to start with Turkey. The relationship between Syria and Turkey has developed very much recently. We do not look at Turkey as an enemy or as a hostile country, but rather as a friendly country. Of course, there are always differences between countries on a variety of issues, regardless of whether they share borders or not. But in Syria we try to look at the positive aspects of any relationship. As for our borders with Iraq, this question has been put to me many times. I can say that we have many differences with the United States; but we do not consider the United States as an enemy. We are against the occupation of Iraq, against what the American forces are doing in Iraq, against the violation of human rights Americans say they uphold, against the negative impacts that this war led to, as far as Syria is concerned; and of course against many other things regarding American policies in the region, particularly its absolute bias to Israel. But as I said, we do not look at the United States as an enemy or as a hostile country. On certain issues, American and Syrian viewpoints meet. A number of American officials do not see that there are mutual interests, and here we disagree. On fighting terrorism, we cooperated to a great extent. Our main problem is, in fact, our borders with Israel, because Israel occupies Syrian lands. This is our greatest problem: And we ask the United States, and all other countries, to support Syria in its just cause. In actual fact, all countries of the world support us, including the United States – which verbally supports us, but practically does not do anything. The Israelis launched a psychological war against your country with the October 5 air raid, and there are repeated threats by Israeli officials against your country. What will be your answer in the event of similar actions in the future? When this aggression happened, we went directly to the UN Security Council. We wanted to give the message that we are not looking for war. This message was received positively by most countries of the world, particularly by European countries. Of course, our self-restraint cannot be maintained for ever. When Israel repeats its aggressive acts against Syria, Syria has the right to defend itself. The ways, means, form and volume of this defense depend on the circumstances. Mr President, in your recent important interview with The New York Times, you expressed your willingness to resume negotiations with Israel. Yet Israeli officials stated that they expected from you to show good faith by reining in the Hezbullah organization in Lebanon and by closing down the headquarters of the hardline Palestinian organizations in Syria. Would you like to comment on these two issues? I would like to clarify one thing here. We do not have any headquarters for these organizations. Their headquarters are on Palestinian lands. What we have is a number of officials in these organizations who were expelled by Israel and came to Syria a number of years ago. They have been living here and they have houses here; they practice media work through communicating with the mass media; they express their views on issues related to the Palestinian question. So, if people seek a solution for these individuals, the solution is for them to go back to Palestine, their land; but Israel refuses to do that. As for Hezbullah, this subject is related to Lebanon. In 1978 Israel went to Lebanon for the first time to occupy Lebanese territories. In 1982 it expanded this occupation. Since 1979 we have supported all Lebanese forces that have been trying to liberate their lands from Israeli occupation. We do not support a particular party or a particular person. We support the liberation of Lebanese lands. Hezbullah was formed in 1985; it did not exist before that. Before the existence of Hezbullah we supported the principle of liberating lands, and up till now our position has not changed. So, our support is a political support, and as I said this support is based on a principle. We do not offer any material support to Hezbullah or to any other party, because this is Syria’s policy. Neither do we provide military support; and they have not actually asked us for military support. This is an Israeli attempt to run away from its problems, whereas the solution is for Israel to withdraw from the lands it occupies. Constitution by Iraqis Mr President, we have seen a very belligerent attitude by the hawks in Washington, before and immediately after the war on Iraq. Now that they are facing so many problems that people like you have predicted, do you see any change in the behavior of the Americans? Are they thinking that perhaps Syria might be of help, part of the solution? Have they approached you in any way? What solution? The solution of helping ease the crisis in Iraq. There are a number of discrepancies in the American administration these days. One group asks for support from Syria and another group attacks Syria. Then you see an exchange of roles. Whether this is intentional or coincidental we do not know. The problem is that such a powerful country like the United States, a superpower, does not have a clear vision on this issue; nor does it have a vision on the peace issue. In such a case, they should consult people who have a vision. The problem is that a certain party does not have a vision, does not listen to those who have a vision; and they are in control. I mean those whom you referred to as hawks. We do not know how they see it, but we think that we are influential in our region, and we always try to play a positive role and not a negative one. The positive thing is that Iraq should return to its status as an independent sovereign country, and the American and the British forces should withdraw. Could they withdraw now? Do you have a vision of how they could progress from the reality of today? How things should move from today onward? First of all, the Iraqis and not the Americans should put forth this timetable. The Americans should accept the principle that they should withdraw under Iraqi conditions and not American conditions. What I understand from what you say is that the Americans think that if they withdraw the alternative will be chaos in Iraq. This is not true. This might be true if there was a civil war in Iraq. But what is clear now is that in Iraq there are areas where there are no American forces and no Iraqi government. Iraqis in these areas are in agreement, and these areas are peaceful. They organized themselves democratically; they appointed individuals to work as policemen in order to ensure security; they created a political dialogue in order to identify their direction for the future. So, in principle, the statement that American withdrawal will mean civil war is not true. But what are the major steps required to reach this withdrawal? To have an Iraqi constitution drawn up and voted on by the Iraqi people. At a later stage, a government can be elected and other institutions can be set up. I mean a parliament or any other institution. Again, you cannot start from anything else but a constitution approved by the Iraqi people. If a constitution that is not approved by the Iraqi people is put forth, that might be the start of trouble inside Iraq among the Iraqis themselves. In other words, anything imposed on the Iraqis might cause a problem later on for the Iraqis. How to put the constitution? People who will draw this constitution should be elected by the Iraqis: And this is the Iraqi perspective, not our perspective. Of course these are minor details, but I am giving them in order to improve the general picture. Mr President, you have called for a national government in Baghdad. Would you like to elaborate? Should all political forces active in Iraq participate in this government, including the Baath party? This should be determined by the constitution. If the constitution says that Iraq is for all the Iraqis, then it is normal that all Iraqis participate. Of course, there are election systems. But now, before the constitution, it is normal that all powers participate. The Americans do not allow all forces to take part, and the Baath party is one of these forces, as you suggested.