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India: War on Iran unacceptable

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    India: waging war on Iran unacceptable Thu, 03 Jul 2008 http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=62397§ionid=351020104 Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee India
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2008
      India: waging war on Iran unacceptable
      Thu, 03 Jul 2008

      Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee

      India says any US or Israeli military action against Iran would be
      totally 'unacceptable' and should be denounced by the world.

      "In respect of Iran, I entirely agree with the Egyptian Foreign
      Minister that there should be no armed engagement. In fact we are
      against any coercive engagement," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee
      said in Cairo after holding talks with his Egyptian counterpart
      Ahmed Abul Gheit, The Times of India reported Thursday.

      "The issues (with Iran) have to be resolved through dialogue and any
      unilateral armed action against a sovereign country and a member of
      the United Nations is totally unacceptable, undesirable and nobody
      should indulge in it. It should not be acceptable to the
      international community," he told reporters at a joint press
      conference with Gheit.

      "Nobody should take initiative at its hand and respond in a armed
      manner. It is applicable to Israelis because normally they initiate
      the aggressive actions," he said.

      The West accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear arms, a charge
      dismissed by Iran. Tehran says under the Non-Proliferation Treaty
      (NPT) it is entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

      The UN Security Council has so far slapped three rounds of sanctions
      against Iran to force the country abandon its uranium enrichment

      There are reports circulating in recent weeks suggesting that Israel
      or the United States might launch a military attack against Iran to
      halt its nuclear program.


      India can bring balance to Middle East peace process'
      Siddharth Varadarajan

      Photo : Siddharth Varadarajan Bashar al-Assad … "We would like to
      attract Indian investment based on the stability in Syria

      At 42, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is the youngest head of
      state in West Asia and also one of its most influential. On the eve
      of his visit to India, he spoke exclusively to The Hindu about
      Syria's relations with Israel and Lebanon, U.S. allegations about a
      clandestine nuclear programme and his hopes of India playing a more
      important role in bringing peace to the region.

      Your government recently confirmed that there have been indirect
      talks between Syria and Israel through Turkey. Now, Israel is
      occupying the Golan Heights – which is Syrian territory -- and
      obviously Syria is asking to get its territory back. But what can
      Syria give to Israel in return?

      First of all, as you said, Syrian land is occupied by Israel so they
      have to give us back our land. We don't have something to give but
      we have something to achieve together, which is peace. It is not
      something we have. So, if both sides achieve a certain treaty,
      including giving back the Golan Heights, this means achieving peace.
      The other thing besides the land is discussing normal relations,
      water, security arrangements and all these details that are related
      to the concept of peace. As I said, it is something we achieve
      together, but Israel has the land and should give it back.

      But it is said that Israel wants Syria to abandon its friends in the
      region – friends like Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran. What is the Syrian

      Nobody asked us to do this. The Israelis have been talking about
      negotiations without pre-conditions. So, they cannot ask for
      conditions for the negotiations, and they have not asked either.
      This is first. Second, Hamas is related to the Palestinian Track and
      we are talking about the Syrian track; we are not responsible for
      that track. Hizbollah is part of the Lebanese track and we are not
      in Lebanon today. So, we are only talking about the Syrian track.
      This is our position.

      Jimmy Carter stated recently that 85% of the issues linked to the
      Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights have been sorted out. What
      is left is the question of the last 15%? Is that an accurate

      You mean during Rabin's government?

      Yes exactly.

      Actually, we achieved 80% of what we have to achieve before signing
      the treaty but of course we do not have precise criteria; this is
      our estimation. But that is true; we achieved a lot during Rabin,
      but because of his assassination everything stopped. That's why we
      have been asking for starting from where we stopped during Rabin,
      where we talked about the security arrangements, which was the most
      difficult issue. Of course, we had Rabin deposit which means giving
      back the Golan Heights till the line of 4th June 1967, and we were
      about to talk about other issues like normal relations such as
      having embassies and things like this, and we did not talk about
      water; this is what has been left. That is true.

      What do you think is the Israeli compulsion to talk peace with you
      at this time? It seems that the Americans themselves are not very
      happy with what Israel is doing. What do you think is motivating
      Israel to take this step right now?

      The Israelis used to think that with time they are going to be
      stronger and any opposition to their policies will be weaker, but
      actually what happened was the opposite. Now, the Israelis learned
      that without peace they cannot live safely and Israel cannot be
      safe. I think this is true especially after the war on Lebanon and
      because of the result of that war inside the Israeli society; this
      is the main incentive for the Israelis to move toward peace. This is
      our analysis.

      As an outside observer, it seems strange that you can be talking
      peace with Israel a few months after Israel bombed your territory at
      al-Kibar, claiming they targeted a secret nuclear facility. Is this
      one of the issues you raised with them – that how could they have
      bombed your territory?

      No we did not. Of course, we have not met with them because it is an
      indirect negotiation. But, the question here is why did they
      announce it seven months after the bombing? Why did they not
      announce it at that time in order to send a delegation from the IAEA
      to see what is happening? Let us put it this way: they said there
      was a facility and they bombed this facility and now they have the
      evidence. How could we not have this evidence seven months ago? Why
      do they have the evidence today? Because after seven months you
      could say that Syria built that facility and now it is demolished
      and they rebuild it in a different way; this is their excuse. While
      if they gave this alleged evidence at that time, their story would
      not have been proved genuine or credible. So, this is their ploy,
      and we did not raise this issue, and we said that time that this is
      an evidence for us that the Israelis are not serious about peace.
      That is why we talked about indirect not direct negotiations. It is
      like probing the intention of the Israeli side; are they serious in
      giving back the Golan Heights to Syria or is it just a tactic or
      maneuver for internal Israeli politics. That is why we did not raise
      the issue and we did not have the chance anyway to meet with them.
      But we raised it with the IAEA.

      So what was the nature of that facility?

      President Assad: It is a military facility, and I announced this,
      but what the content of that facility is, you do not usually
      announce a military content. But it is not nuclear; how could it be
      nuclear, where are the radiations, where are the protections of this
      facility? How can you build such a facility under the daily watch of
      satellites? We know that. So it is not nuclear but completely a
      different issue.

      Why did the Israelis bomb it?

      President Assad: I think because they did not know about it; they
      were suspicious about its content and they could not know. I cannot
      answer on their behalf; you should ask them. I think they had wrong
      information; they were entrapped. How they should explain to the
      Israelis and the rest of the world why they bombed it? This is where
      they created this story of a nuclear facility. At the beginning they
      said that this is a site where they can bring armaments to
      Hizbollah, but how? It is in the middle of Syria and you have Turkey
      in the north and Iraq in the east. How can you bring the armaments
      to Hizbollah? From Turkey, or from Iraq where the Americans operate?
      This is not logical. Then they said that this is where the Turks
      used this site, but later; I think a month ago, they said it is
      nuclear. So, it was clear that they did not have any evidence that
      it is a nuclear site; they created this evidence through
      manipulation on the computer that this is a copy of the North Korean

      So, this so-called photographic evidence and video evidence which
      indicated that this was a plutonium producing plant made with North
      Korean help – all of this is fabricated?

      President Assad: Yes it was fabricated 100%. Of course, they talked
      about photos of Koreans in Syria, but we have normal relations with
      North Korea; we receive them formally and publicly, and I receive
      them and other levels in the government. I received North Korean
      officials, scientists and whatever. So, this is not true.

      One of the reasons why the world got a little bit suspicious about
      this issue is that the Syrians moved quickly to clean up the site.
      What was the need for that? I mean you should have actually been
      proactive even in September last year to invite the international
      community to see the Israeli aggression, for example. Why did you
      keep quiet for so long and why was this site cleaned up?

      First of all, they did not say at the beginning it was a nuclear
      site and there were few weeks. Second, it was attacked by missiles;
      you do not keep it as it is, so we rebuilt it. We did that right
      away; after the attack by few days, we started rebuilding the site.
      So, it is something normal to remove the debris and have another

      So the facility was rebuilt basically? What about the debris?

      May be in a different or the same site; it is a military issue and
      we do not usually announce what it is. May be it is different
      building for another purpose.

      I know you invited IAEA to visit the site. Now the US has said that
      that site is not enough and they should be allowed to visit other
      sites. Why would the Americans make that demand and what is your
      response to that?

      We have an agreement between Syria and the Agency and every
      procedure implemented in Syria should be according to this treaty.
      According to this treaty, you cannot just come and visit any place
      according to intelligence information; you cannot. Because every day
      they may come to the Agency and say we have this information. So, it
      is a never-ending problem. So, we usually come with certain evidence
      to see the suspicious place. Actually, they did not come because it
      is a suspicious place; they did not bring any convincing evidence, I
      mean the Americans, but we said that we have an interest to bring
      the Agency to come to this site, but talking about other sites is
      not within the purview of the agreement. So, we have to be very
      precise; it is not political but technical issue. And we have a
      nuclear board or commission that has an agreement with them and they
      work within this agreement.

      So, do you think that the US is trying to create an atmosphere of
      suspicion against Syria?

      Yes, because this is the image of this administration; everybody in
      the world still remembers what happened in Iraq when they had all
      that evidence, but then it was proved that everything was
      fabricated; even Colin Powel confessed in an interview that he was
      not truthful, and we all know the same, and most of the countries
      know about the problem between Syria and the US, and they always try
      to find traps for Syria. This is reality.

      One of the speculations is that this Israeli attack was linked to
      judging their own preparedness for an attack on Iran? Have you heard
      this story?

      Yes, but nobody can tell what is the real intention of that attack.

      Your Excellency, turning to Lebanon, the Doha Accord has been seen
      as a major victory not just for the different Lebanese political
      players but also for Syria's policy. Do you think the Doha Accord
      and the new coalition agreement will mark the opening of a new
      chapter in Syrian-Lebanese relations?

      Definitely, yes from different aspects. The first aspect as you
      mentioned, it is a victory for the Lebanese. This is so because
      Syria protected itself; when you have chaos, conflict, civil war and
      whatsoever in Lebanon we will be affected directly, this is the
      first victory. The second victory is that many Lebanese and many
      officials around the world used to accuse Syria of creating problems
      in Lebanon, and that we have an interest in creating these problems
      and having conflicts in Lebanon, but the Doha Accord which was
      supported directly by Syria was a stark proof that Syria is working
      in the other direction, not like what they used to mention; this was
      very important for Syria. And even the proposals we used to propose
      few months ago before solving the problem were the same proposals
      the Doha Accord depended on. So, we were proved to have the vision
      for a safe Lebanon.

      Do you think if things move fast, you will make a visit to Beirut?

      Yes, and about the other aspect as I mentioned because we proved
      that, we can see now that many Lebanese noted that Syria is working
      for the sake of Lebanon; the interests of Syria and Lebanon are
      common. So, the relations should move in the right direction to be
      better in the future. But the visit of the president, this is
      related to the formation of the national unity government in Lebanon
      first. Second, this is related to the discussion between me and the
      Lebanese president; we have not had any discussion about my visit.
      But, when I spoke to him after the Doha Accord, I told him that we
      are ready to help Lebanon and help him personally in his mission. He
      said we want the help of the Syrians in the future and we said we
      are ready; we are still waiting.

      And will this lead to opening an embassy in Beirut?

      Yes, and we mentioned this three years ago and we said that we do
      not have any problem. But, the problem is that if you have bad
      relations with any country, you usually withdraw your ambassador and
      close the embassy. So, how do you open an embassy with a country or
      government with whom you have bad relations not good ones? Now, when
      they have this national unity government, it is going to be normal
      for Syria to open an embassy in Lebanon.

      I have been struck by the paradox in Syria's policy where internally
      Syrian society is very strongly secular and you oppose sectarian
      politics and you do not allow that kind of politics in your country,
      but most of your best friends in the region all come from sectarian
      backgrounds like Hamas, Hizbollah and even the Iranians. Is this a
      problem for Syria?

      Actually in politics, you have to be pragmatic; the first question
      that you have to ask is who is effective in our region, you do not
      ask who is like you or who is not. Hamas is effective and important
      in Palestine. Hizbollah is a very important party in Lebanon, and
      Iran is a very important country in the region. Without those
      players, you cannot have stability, you cannot have any solution and
      you cannot reach anything you are looking for. So, whether you like
      it or not, or whether you agree with or disagree, you have to deal
      with them. You do not say like this administration 'black and
      white', 'evil and good' and things like this; this does not work
      like this in politics. If you want to solve problems, you have to
      deal with the players.

      The Iranians were not very happy when Syria took part in the
      Annapolis Conference and I would imagine they are not happy with the
      indirect talks with Israel. Have you had any feedback from Tehran?

      We were not very happy with Annapolis Conference too! This is
      because we knew that this is not a serious administration; we knew
      in advance from subsequent events that they are not serious towards
      the peace and they announced that many times. They said we are not
      interested in the Syrian track recently even after Annapolis. So, we
      knew that these events were window dressing just to tell the
      American people that we are working for peace. For us, it was
      important to bring up the issue of the Golan again on the
      international podium because most of the world was in Annapolis.
      That's why we had to go in order to put the Golan on the table, but
      at the same time we were not happy. And now after 6 or 7 months
      nothing happened on any track.

      Again, this is a Syrian issue and Iran does not interfere in Syrian
      issues; they support the Syrian cause whether we are happy or they
      are happy, and that's why the relations between Syria and Iran are
      very strong. And in the 1980s most of the world was supporting
      Saddam Hussein, including the US, against Iran and we were one of
      very few countries in the world to say that Iran was right at that
      time and Saddam was wrong. Now, the rest of the world says we were
      right at that time. So, Iran never forgets that we supported them at
      that time when the rest of the world used to be against them. That
      is why the relation is very strong between Syria and Iran.

      Varadarajan: Turning to the UN tribunal being set up in The Hague to
      deal with the assassination of Rafik Hariri, do you have confidence
      that it will work objectively?

      President Assad: If it is not politicized, we should say it is
      trustworthy and it should solve the problem and who are the
      criminals. But, usually like any other investigation, you should
      have forensic evidences in order to have this tribunal, and that is
      why they said now that they are going to extend the mission of the
      delegation in Lebanon. This means that things are moving on the
      right way so far. We hope this tribunal to be a very professional
      tribunal not politicized one.

      But, based on the Mehlis report, do you fear there is an attempt to
      frame Syria?

      I think that the reports which came after Mehlis have refuted
      completely what Mehils said. That is why we feel relaxed and
      everything is going on in a professional way.

      So, the Syrian authorities will fully cooperate once the tribunal
      gets on the way?

      President Assad: Definitely, and they mentioned that many times in
      their reports that the Syrian cooperation was satisfactory.

      What would happen if the tribunal asks for Syrian citizens to be
      sent there for trial?

      Usually they should have an agreement, like what happened with
      Lebanon when they formed the tribunal; there was an agreement
      between the Lebanese government and the United Nations and now they
      must have another agreement between them and between Syria because
      we have our jury and we have our sovereignty and our judicial system
      which we will not replace by another one whatsoever. So, there must
      be an agreement between Syrian and the United Nation about this

      Do you think post-Doha that the Lebanese government will be in a
      stronger position to influence the tribunal and make sure that it
      goes in the right direction?

      Of course if you have a unity government formed in Lebanon that will
      mean that the tribunal should work professionally and not in a
      politicized way. This is an important guarantee and this means that
      you have consensus in Lebanon about certain issues, and if you have
      this consensus, it means that the tribunal cannot be politicized.
      You are right, this is about the government not about the

      Turning to your forthcoming visit to India, what are you
      expectations? Your father came to India in 1978. Many people
      remember that visit. Mr Vajpayee came here in 2003 and relations
      have been ongoing. What are your expectations now from your visit?

      Now we are talking about a different India. We are talking about the
      rise of India. With the rise of India and China we have a different
      Asia and a different world. We have, let us say, more hopes than we
      had in the past. Maybe the policies of India at that time were
      different as part of the non-aligned movement. At that time we used
      to look at India as a closer country, but now we see it a big
      country, an important country; so we have different hopes but in the
      same way. So, the question is what role can India play in the world,
      especially regarding our issues, like the peace issue, the Iraq and
      Palestine issues and all these problems. How we can cooperate on
      them. So, this is about politics. India and China should play a role
      with other countries in making a balance that we have missed for
      more than 18 years now. It is almost 20 years, because this happened
      in the late 1980s, even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

      So you think if India were to involve itself in the peace process
      issue, this could bring about a balance?

      Yes, because it has two aspects: the first aspect if you are
      interested, you can play a direct role between the two sides, Syria
      and Israel, and the Palestinians and Israel. That will make the
      region more stable, and that will affect India itself in the long
      run and the world at large, especially Asia. Second, it's about the
      role that you can play through your weight or your position as
      India, a big country, in making dialogue with other powers of the
      world, that is the United States then Europe, your region. How can
      you help the Middle East become more stable; because you are going
      to be affected by our problems anyway, and you are already affected
      I think. What is happening in Indonesia cannot be separated from
      what is happening in Palestine, for example, especially in the
      Muslim world. So that is how we see the Indian role from the
      political point of view.

      And economic?

      Everybody knows about the huge development that you have in India,
      especially in the IT field. I am interested in this because I was
      head of the Syrian Computer Society which is a Syrian NGO before I
      became President. And I think that developing countries cannot
      achieve much in the field of hardware, but they can achieve a lot in
      software because it is about the brains and we have the brains. We
      just need to provide the appropriate environment to develop, and
      this is where India can help. Third, it is about bilateral
      relations, about investment, how we can attract Indian investment
      based on the stability in Syria despite the different circumstances
      based on the geo-political position and the geographical position on
      the Mediterranean and among the Arab countries. So this is what we
      hope from the visit. Mainly, according to our circumstances, the
      reason is political.

      I think you are planning to have a Metro Underground System for
      Damascus. I hope you can visit the metro during your visit, because
      that was built a few years ago and it's very impressive.

      President Assad: Was it built by an Indian company?

      Varadarajan: Yes, actually, it was a government company, and they
      put the best bureaucrat in charge, and in ten years he built a very
      extensive system and today something like many hundred thousand
      people use it. Anytime a foreign dignitary comes to India, he or she
      usually visits the metro.

      You are right, we have been discussing building a metro, but when we
      talk about India you only hear about the IT. The Indians are
      invading the whole world with their IT experts.

      Turning to other economic matters, one of our Indian public sector
      companies, OVL, has invested in the al Furat project. In fact, when
      we bought that share from the Canadian company, the Americans were
      very unhappy with India. They complained that we shouldn't do
      business in Syria. But our oil companies are eager to expand their
      presence here. Is there any prospect for Syria at some point in the
      future changing the terms of its production sharing agreement? Now
      there is a requirement that all extracted oil should be sold to the
      Syrian Petroleum Corporation (SPC).

      This is a very technical question, and I don't have the answer right
      now. We should ask the government about this. Again, it is technical
      not political. We are developing our system in Syria, but I don't
      know about this contract.

      But you are prepared to be quite flexible in terms of policy
      arrangements for the oil sector?

      Yes, of Course. That is what happened during the past few years. In
      the past everything used to go through the SPC. Now we have many
      other companies working without the SPC. But as to how to sell it,
      this is what we have to study. Because we are liberalizing our
      market step by step, but about the oil and about the national
      sector, we have more opposition to liberalizing it. We have to be
      more careful. We have an emerging economy, a budding economy which
      is still weak. It is not strong enough and confident enough to be
      liberalized fully.

      What is the impact of the Syria Accountability Act, the sanctions
      against Syria? Has it hurt you in anyway?

      No, because we don't have real bilateral relations with the United
      States anyway. Most of our relations used to be with Europe and now
      with Asia. A few years ago we took a strategic direction to move
      towards Asia and even South America, which is south - south, but not
      with the United States. We have a few hundred thousand dollars in
      terms of trade balance. The effect is more political than economic.

      Turning to the US presidential elections, how do you think the
      outcome would affect the prospects of peace in Iraq and the
      withdrawal of American occupation forces there?

      Usually in Syria we don't bet on who is going to be the President of
      the United States, especially in a campaign. You don't listen to
      what they say during the campaign. We usually bet on the policies
      not speeches, but of course the common thing among those candidates
      is about the failure of the previous government or administration.
      This is very important. As long as they see the failure, they are
      not going to adopt the same doctrine or policy. This is very
      important for us. Now, how to find a solution? You cannot find a
      solution in the US. You have to make it in the region. If you want
      to make it in the region, you have to find out who are the main
      players: first of all, the Iraqis, and second the rest of the
      countries surrounding Iraq. They can help. You have to make
      discussions, to make dialogue. The problem with this administration
      is that they do not have dialogue even with their allies, in Europe
      or in the region, including the British first of all, who supported
      them in their war. So, what we heard from the Democrats, Obama and
      Hilary Clinton, was positive regarding the Iraqi issue, that you
      have to make dialogue, to have a political process in order to have
      withdrawal at the end. What we heard from McCain, that he is going
      to stay for a hundred years in Iraq: I don't think that's what you
      may hear from a politician usually, any politician, that he wants to
      stay one hundred years. But anyway, we have to wait until somebody
      is in the office.

      But do you think a clean and quick withdrawal is feasible
      militarily, and could it have adverse effects?

      This is not the debate, this is the wrong debate. I read it in the
      American media. It is not whether to leave or not. Now, after five
      years, they made the situation much worse, and it is getting worse
      everyday. If they withdraw right now, it is bad anyway. So, there is
      no difference if they leave or not. It is about the political
      process. First of all, they have to say that they are going to
      leave, but when and how, this is the question. They have to put a
      schedule, a certain timetable and at the same time you should have
      the political process. In that political process, you first have a
      dialogue, second constitution, third legitimate institutions and in
      parallel the withdrawal. This is the political process. So, it is
      not about the concept or the principle: are you going to withdraw or
      stay in Iraq. You have to withdraw, but how and when? If you use it
      the right way, if you answer how and when, you can leave Iraq with a
      better Iraq, not worse. Now they say, if we leave it is going to be
      worse. Of course, if you leave it like this it is going to be worse.

      Were you surprised by the statements that Mr Barack Obama made at
      the AIPAC meeting the other day?

      No. Again, this is a campaign. If you are in a campaign, you usually
      talk to your audience. So, AIPAC supports Israel, so it is normal
      for any candidate in the US to use this language in front of them.
      So, I wasn't surprised.

      Recently there was [Deputy Prime Minister] Mofaz in Israel raising
      the issue of the need to take military action against Iran. Is it
      something that you are afraid of, or do you think that is not a

      This is the biggest mistake anyone could make in Iran, whether
      Israel or the US. I think that the repercussions of this mistake are
      going to be huge and maybe for decades. On the other hand, they get
      angry when Ahmadinejad says that Israel is going to disappear. So,
      why do they have the right to say they are going to attack Iran?

      And make Iran disappear.

      Disappear or not, they are using the same language. Iran said many
      times that this is a peaceful nuclear [programme], and as long as
      they follow international law, why be against them? They said it is
      peaceful and mentioned many times that they are going to cooperate
      with the IAEA, but the problem with some Europeans and with the
      American administration is that they don't want them to have what
      they have right to have: the fuel. There is no international law
      which says you cannot have [nuclear] fuel. This is the problem; and
      it is a national issue in Iran. So, what Mofaz said will make the
      situation for Israel before the rest of the world and the region
      worse. That is how we see it.

      Your Excellency, if we turn to domestic issues before we end, are
      you thinking, let's say in four to five years, of widening the scope
      of domestic political activities? I read a statement by you
      somewhere that there should be a greater role for the so-called
      patriotic opposition. What is your vision of political developments
      inside Syria for the next five years?

      President Assad: When I said we're going to have reform in Syria
      when I became president, this means every aspect of reform. You may
      say the main axes are the political, economic and social – upgrading
      society in general. Usually you move faster in the most urgent axis
      and where you can achieve more, where it is faster to move forward.
      The most urgent in Syria is the economic, because we have poverty;
      the second one is the political. When you talk about the opposition
      in the process of political reform, that depends on the laws. What
      laws are you going to have, and what circumstances you are living in
      today in order to have the good result that you are expecting from a
      good law, not like what happened in Algeria in 1988, when they had
      good laws, but they did not have good circumstances. So, they have
      been paying the price till today. Not like what happened in Lebanon.
      They have full democracy, but they have been moving from one civil
      war to another, from one conflict to another for more that 200
      years. This is not our goal.

      What happened during the last seven years: I became president in
      August 2000, two months later the Intifada started, the conflict in
      Palestine started and has not stopped. It is getting worse everyday.
      The problem in Lebanon started in 2004. You have 9/11 after one year
      and we have the war in Iraq, which is the worst, in 2003. All these
      circumstances affected Syria directly. Usually in such circumstances
      you have tension, you have more closed minded people, you have more
      extremism. For example, we started seeing those terrorist attacks in
      Syria in 2004. We hadn't seen them since the early 1980s in Syria,
      especially al-Qaeda, who have the same roots as the Muslim Brothers
      who were in Syria in the 1980s. So, the whole society is affected.
      This means the whole political process is going to be affected. We
      used to think that many things would be implemented in 2005. We
      couldn't so far. And we have all this American pressure. This
      doesn't mean that we stop. Now we had the first private satellite TV
      station last year, the first political magazine three years ago, and
      now we have many private magazines in different fields. We have more
      freedom in Syria than before. We are moving slowly and cautiously.
      We have to be very frank and very clear about this. We don't move
      fast, and we cannot move fast.

      The next step is going to be the expansion of the participation of
      different currents in Syria by having an upper house of parliament,
      and we are discussing what kind of house will have more
      participation. Second, the local administration law: how to have
      freer and more dynamic elections around Syria. Third, and that is
      what we discussed in 2005 and we didn't discuss before, a new modern
      party law. This is the most important aspect of the political
      reform. Actually, we were supposed to do that in 2006, but the
      problem is that most difficulties started in 2005, after the
      assassination of Hariri and the embargo imposed by most countries in
      the region, in Europe and in the US on Syria. This is why we said we
      have different priorities. Now we started talking again about it. It
      is not going to be implemented in 2008 because we expect this year
      to be dangerous. We are going to wait and see what will happen with
      this administration, then we can discuss it. We are moving forward;
      and we are not talking about patriotic or not patriotic opposition.
      Many people want to participate, whether they are opposition or
      otherwise. I am talking about reform in general. We said that we
      have opposition but it is not legal because we don't have these
      laws, but it exists in Syria wherever you go, you can sit with them,
      you can criticize the government and the state in general, the
      officials. So, we are dealing positively with opposition, but it
      doesn't exist as a legal entity yet, because we need these laws for
      the opposition to be legitimate by law, but it is there and we deal
      with it as reality.

      You mentioned Algeria. Is one of your fears that too fast an opening
      politically may lead to the emergence of Islamist or sectarian

      Sectarian, yes. You come from India. You have the same mosaic, but
      you have a successful democracy. For different reasons, it was not a
      successful democracy in Algeria. Maybe because you have different
      pillars of society. In our society, we have the Islamic pillar and
      the pan-Arabism pillar. We have many different currents, but none of
      them will lead: only these two will lead. If you don't have good
      relations between the pan-Arabism and the Islamic, you will have
      problems. And that's what happened maybe in the early 1960s. We had
      this division between the Islamic and the pan-Arabist. They looked
      at it as very secular; and in the past they used to think that
      secular meant atheist – against God, and this one supports God. So,
      they had conflict with each other. That is why it wasn't easy for us
      to have real democracy. This is one of the reasons of course. Now
      you need to have good relations in order to have democracy. This is
      one of the main issues, but many in the west don't understand the
      relationship between the Islamic and the pan-Arab pillars.

      Within Syria, the role of Islamic social charity organizations like
      the Qubaysis and so on is increasing. Could these eventually emerge
      as political trends? Are you looking at that as a possibility?

      No, no sectarian current is allowed to be politicized. This is for
      the security of our region and our country. We cannot allow that.

      And that law will never change?

      No, they have the right to practice any kind of activity related to
      Islamic teachings but not in politics. Politics in Syria has its
      rules and laws.

      One last question. There is the case of a Syrian – Canadian
      individual called Maher Arar [who was arrested in the U.S. in 2002
      and handed over to Syria for interrogation]. You must have read
      about him. Now, his case is finally being investigated in the USA to
      see whether the U.S. violated its own laws. The paradox is that on
      the one hand, the Americans accuse Syria of human rights violations
      and then they send someone here to be mistreated. What happened with

      We hadn't known anything about this man. After 9/11, we started the
      first cooperation between Syria and the USA in the security field.
      One of their messages was about a terrorist called Maher Arar who
      was coming to Syria, and they wanted Syria to catch him because he
      is al-Qaeda member. We caught him according to American information,
      and we trusted the information at that time. So, we put him in
      prison. After the investigation, we arrived at the conclusion that
      he is not an al-Qaeda member, so we freed him. He accused Syria, and
      Canada accused Syria, while they must accuse the USA. This is the
      price of cooperating with the USA! So, we don't have anything to do
      with him.

      But are you prepared to share any information you have about which
      American officials contacted you to have him detained here?

      Of course.

      So, if there is a legal process, then you will be willing to

      Of course, we do not have anything to do with him. It is an American
      issue. They asked Syria to cooperate, and we caught him.

      And is there any ongoing security cooperation of this kind, or has
      that come to an end?

      President Assad: No, it has completely stopped. We cannot have
      security cooperation while we don't have political cooperation. We
      said no, and were very frank in this context: we told them when we
      have political cooperation we are ready for any other aspect of
      cooperation, including security cooperation. Now, there is no
      cooperation at all; and we are not ready for it yet. We have to wait
      for another administration and another policy. We are not very
      optimistic, but it is definitely going to be better. I don't think
      we can have worse than this policy in the modern history of the USA
      and the history of the world.

      On that note, thank you very much.

      Thank you very much for coming to Syria.



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