India: War on Iran unacceptable
- 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'
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
But are you prepared to share any information you have about which
American officials contacted you to have him detained here?
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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