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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Profiles-Interviews-Speeches arrow Al-Mu'allim interviewed on peace talks, US, EU, Syria's role
Al-Mu'allim interviewed on peace talks, US, EU, Syria's role PDF Print E-mail
Written by Al-Jazeera   
Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Walid Moallem
Walid Moallem

Al-Mu'allim interviewed on peace talks, US, EU, Syria's role

On September 12, the Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera Channel carried an interview with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim by Abd-al-Hamid Tawfiq:

[Tawfiq]: "Welcome dear viewers to this episode of Today's Encounter during which we will host Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim. Welcome Mr Minister.

[Al-Mu'allim]: "You are welcome, brother Abd-al-Hamid.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minister we would like to begin with Sarkozy's visit and the quadrilateral summit held in Damascus. Do you think that the wheels of the European rapprochement with Syria have started to move and that they will not be obstructed by US, Western, or even Arab obstacles?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "The wheels have moved but no doubt obstacles remain. Certain states and sides are not comfortable with this rapprochement. However, some are convinced that this rapprochement is necessary to realize the region's stability and serve the interests of the peoples of the region.

[Tawfiq]: "But some say that by improving its relations with France, Damascus wants to reach Washington through the French gate. Have you discussed this with the French officials during your meetings on various levels?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "Absolutely not. Concerning the US gate, we have direct relations with the United States and we do not need a mediation. We believe that Syria's relationship with France is valuable in its own right. It is a firm historical relationship. At certain times, it was marred by certain impediments because of personal reasons related to France. However, today this relationship is based on the principle that it is in the interest of the region, France, and Europe to realize stability in the region through the French-European cooperation with Syria and with the other Arab states.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minister, at the time when there was tension between Damascus and Paris, France insisted that the Lebanese gate was the means to restore relations between the two countries. Now, after these relations were restored, an agreement was reached between Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on opening embassies and official diplomatic exchanges between the two countries. What are the latest developments in this regard?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, the French knew beforehand from the president, that we do not mortgage our relations with France to win stands from other parties. The Syrian-French relations have their own value. Therefore, the French side was satisfied with encouraging the positive steps that are being taken by the agreement of Syria and Lebanon.

"The important visit by His Excellency President Michel Suleiman to Damascus falls within this context. During his talks with President Bashar al-Asad, we felt that there was a sincere desire by the two sides to establish distinguished relations between the two countries beginning by exchanging diplomatic missions. A joint statement was issued in this regard. Indeed, legal measures are being taken to implement the provisions of this statement.

"At that time, we said that the results of President Michel Suleiman's visit to Damascus laid a firm foundation for the future of the Syrian-Lebanese relationship, and we are determined to continue what has been agreed upon.

[Tawfiq]: "Concerning the Lebanese issue, there have been reactions to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's remarks on the Tripoli events. Now a reconciliation agreement has been reached in Tripoli. What is your stand on this?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, I was surprised by the reactions of some Lebanese circles. My only explanation of these reactions is that some Lebanese who in the past relied on illusions are now annoyed by the success that Syria realized under President Bashar al-Asad. When the president spoke and voiced concern over the situation in Tripoli, he was voicing Syria's interest in the security and stability of the Lebanese situation.

"He was voicing special interest in ending trouble in Tripoli. He was pointing at a role by the Lebanese Army, a nationalist role that the Lebanese military establishment has proven to be capable of playing. He was referring to talks with President Michel Suleiman, reflecting trust between these two leaders.

"Therefore, I am surprised by these reactions. However, I am very satisfied with the result of what the president said; namely, a reconciliation accord that was signed in Tripoli. This agreement is comfortable. But when you read the text of this agreement, you will find a paragraph about the Lebanese Army's role in the national reconciliation and that is what the president meant. Therefore, based on objective analysis, the president was worried about all of our brothers who live in Tripoli and in Lebanon as a whole, regardless of the reported reactions. Therefore, I say that yesterday's reconciliation accord is a positive thing and we hope it will be adhered to and that this trend will spread all over Lebanon.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minister, concerning the Syrian-French relations, you are aware that some of the problems in the region, such as Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, constitute points of contention with France and certain Western forces, and even with some Arabs. How do you view such issue given your approaches to restore your international relations?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, we tell these that they should learn from what President Sarkozy did. President Sarkozy wanted to invest in the Syrian-Iranian relations by bringing the viewpoints of Iran and the West in general, and France in particular, closer concerning the Iranian nuclear programme. This is a positive point. Indeed, we responded and we exerted, the president exerted, efforts in this regard. The aim was to close the gap of mistrust between the two sides.

"We are not mediators in this issue. In all frankness, I say that we support a zone free of mass destruction weapons, especially nuclear arms. We understood from the brothers in Iran that their nuclear programme is a peaceful one and that they do not intend at all to reach a military level programme. But there is a misunderstanding, a lack of trust, between Iran and the group of six. We are exerting our efforts to bridge this gap of mistrust but we are not mediators. We support Iran's right to a peaceful use of nuclear energy.

[Tawfiq]: "In light of this, to what extent do you believe that you have successful options? What formula would satisfy Iran, as far as you know?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, God rewards whoever endeavours to solve problems. If he is not successful, he will have a reward and if he is successful, he will have a reward that is ten times as big. That is what we are trying to do.

[Tawfiq]: "Everybody agrees now that the Syrian diplomacy has succeeded in breaking Syria's isolation given Sarkozy's visit, President Bashar al-Asad's visit to France before that, and the quadrilateral summit. Some wonder and say that, given the fact that you are the chairman of the Arab summit, what about the Syrian-Saudi relations and the Syrian-Egyptian relations? What will be the future of these relations?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, I would not claim that Syria is more eager than the others to preserve the region's security and stability, or that it is more eager to maintain Arab solidarity. The Riyadh summit decided that the next summit would be held in Damascus. Indeed, the president instructed me to hand over invitations to the Arab leaders. We exerted our utmost to make this summit successful. As to the decision of who would attend and on what level, this is a national issue that each state might decide, reflecting the extent of its interest in joint Arab action and Arab solidarity and its interest in protecting the Palestinian cause and arriving at a joint Arab vision to resolve issues facing the region, in order to push external interference in the region's affairs further and further away.

"We have demonstrated an extremely positive attitude but regrettably we did not receive a positive response. Yet I say that we are still open to any initiative that the brothers might carry out concerning Syria, out of our care for Arab solidarity, Joint Arab action, and the preservation of the Palestinian cause.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minister, let us move to the issue of peace and the indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan revealed that the indirect negotiations would be resumed on 18 and 19 September after they stopped because of the resignation of the head of the Israeli delegation. This will be the fifth round. What happened during the previous four rounds? Can we say or predict that this round will give the signal for moving on to direct negotiations?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "I do not want to enter into the details of the negotiations but I would like to say that from the beginning, the Syrian side was clear. The president has repeatedly and openly declared that Syria is interested in restoring the occupied Syrian territory of the Golan up to the 4 June 1967 borders. Based on this, we entered into indirect negotiations through the Turkish mediator. The natural and logical thing is that the talks should specify the 4 June lines.

"Secondly, the president declared that when the indirect negotiations reach the stage of laying down a firm foundation based on which direct negotiations would held in accordance with the Madrid principles and the UN Security Council resolutions, then they can be transformed into direct negotiations under an appropriate international sponsorship.

"The main point in the international sponsorship issue was the role of the United States given its strategic relationship with Israel. In Paris, we agreed that France would play a role, and it is only natural that there be Russian and Turkish roles in the sponsorship of these talks. If you ask me whether or not the United States is ready for [sponsoring] peace today, my response would naturally be no. We got the message from the Israelis themselves that this administration was opposed to the resumption of indirect talks, so how can it possibly be expected to sponsor direct talks?

"Secondly, For the mediator or the sponsor to be fair, you have to hold negotiations with him on the prospects of peace, the peace process, the assurances. Such a dialogue with this administration does not exist.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minster, stay with us please. Dear viewers we will resume this interview with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim after the break. [Break]

Dear viewers, welcome again to this interview with Syrian Foreign Minister. Mr Minister, President Bashar al-Asad spoke of a framework that perhaps paves the way for moving on to direct negotiations with Israel. Can we know the nature of this framework? Have you received any Israeli response in this connection?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "In fact you can consider these to be principles or points to define the 4 June 1967 line. This is related to the peace process, the land-for-peace principles, UN Security Council Resolution 242, and the Madrid terms of reference. All of these stress the need for the withdrawal of the forces from the territories that were occupied before the recent conflict; that is before 1967. Therefore, these six principles are related to this line.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minister, how true are reports about the possibility of a US envoy participating in the next round of negotiations? In this regard, do you pin hopes on the next US administration, irrespective of whether it will be a Republican or a Democratic administration?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, I have no information that a US envoy will participate in the indirect negotiations, because in order that he might participate we must agree beforehand, but I have no information.

"Second, we pin hopes on the next administration, that it will have on its agenda, and as a priority, the making of peace and not the making of wars and destruction. Peacemaking in our region is a basic thing for all the peoples of the region and even for Europe and the United States, because it is a factor of stability. Our region is a region of immense wealth and it is needed by the world industry. The entire world's development depends on our region.

"As to whether or not we can rely on the next administration, we are aware, first of all, that both the Democratic and the Republican Parties are two faces of the same coin as far as Israel is concerned. This means that their backing of Israel is unlimited and they vie with each other in backing Israel. We want from the next administration to make the peace process and its promotion one of its priorities. This would serve the interest of Israel as well as the United States.

"Today, both the Republican and the Democratic candidates raise the slogan of change. This means that this change has become an aim of the election campaign of the two parties. This means that whoever takes over will not be a copy of the current administration. We hope that peacemaking will be one of his priorities, but we will have to wait and see if the next administration is interested in peace, in which case it will be welcome. If it is not interested in peace it will continue to launch wars and to follow the policy of lending a deaf ear to dialogue. We have tried this administration for the past eight years and we have not been shaken by the wind.

[Tawfiq]: "Can we say that you believe that once the current Bush administration is changed, there will be an automatic change of the US policy towards the issues in the region and towards Syria in particular, given that currently there are no relations between you and the United States?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "In any case, if the Europeans and Sarkozy have realized that because of its geographic and historical opposition and its clear policy Syria is the key to a solution and stability in the region, then the Americans would do well to learn that, if not from our region then from Europe. I have always told the Europeans that they have a moral responsibility to educate the United States about our region.

"The second point is whether or not the US administration will change its policy towards the region, and towards Syria in particular. This is a US affair. We will deal with any future US decision in light of such a decision. Syria faced the worst US administration decisions by the steadfastness of its people and its people's support for their leadership. What we are seeing today is the fruit of this people's steadfastness. What we see today, in terms of international openness towards Styria, is the result of the steadfastness of our people. This is neither professionalism nor cleverness. They often tried to tamper with this internal front but they failed. Then let them try the other method. This is my advice to the next administration.

[Tawfiq]: "As you know, within the next few months, Israel will face a political change. Do you have French, Turkish, or French-Turkish assurances on continuing indirect or direct negotiations with Israel despite any upcoming political changes?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, the political change is an Israeli issue in which I will not interfere. Secondly, if Israel wishes to continue the peace process in accordance with the principles on which the indirect negotiations began, then it is welcome. If it does not, it will be its own business. Thirdly, there are no international guarantees concerning Israel. Israel is immune to guarantees because it is immune to international resolutions. The only guarantee that we must rely on is the one that comes from the Israelis directly. Therefore, I say that the indirect negotiations will develop into direct negotiations once Syria is convinced that it has acquired its right to its territory in full.

[Tawfiq]: "Mr Minister, you have been calling for an effective US role in the negotiating process or in an eventual realization of peace. Now there is no dialogue between you and Washington. Do you have any intention now, through the French gate, to drag the United States, if I may use this expression, to the Israeli-Syrian negotiating table when the talks become direct talks? Is there such a French intention or such a Syrian intention?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "First of all, as I said before, we need no intermediary between us and the United States. We have direct relations and we have always been ready whenever the United States wanted to open such a dialogue. If they fear dialogue with Syria it is their own business.

"As for the US sponsorship of the peace process, this cannot be done except by an Israeli request. Israel is the one that will request US sponsorship for the peace process and the direct negotiations because of Israel's role in US politics. We have seen this during the previous negotiations.

"Warren Christopher once told me: I have visited Syria 22 times and I will not go back to Syria. I told him: You will go back if Israel asks you to go back. You visited Syria 22 times at Israel's demand. Therefore, Israel will request US sponsorship if it finds that a peace agreement serves its interests.

[Tawfiq]: "Over the past many years of the peace process that started in Madrid, it has been obvious that the Europeans have not been able to be as influential as the Americans concerning the Israeli-Arab negotiations in general. Are there possibilities today that Paris or Moscow, for instance, and given the recent contacts between you and them, might be a positive factor in this regard?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "Our rights are clear. All we need is a fair broker. Secondly, we want everyone to adhere to the international legitimacy resolutions that restore to us our rights to our territory. As to the question on having a European or Russian role that is distinguished from the US role, we want this role to be in parallel with the US role. In any case, we must take into consideration the fact that the international equation has been changing since the events in the Caucasus and Georgia. This is a very important development and we must take it into consideration. Now the one who is trying to find a political solution for the Caucasus crisis is President Sarkozy in his capacity as the president of the EU. Cheney has been placing obstacles to such a solution.

"Secondly, Russia has repeatedly declared that it has to be taken into consideration in the international arena. We are convinced that when Russia abandons this stand the West would look down upon it. Therefore, Russia has an interest in restoring its role as a player on the international arena.

[Tawfiq]: "Some say that through its intensive diplomatic moves recently Syria realized important political gains. However, some others say that Syria is sabre-rattling but it is confined to a cage. What do you say to that?

[Al-Mu'allim]: "If this cage is the size of the globe, then this is true, because I would like to tell you that the president has received invitations to visit Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela but he has not been able to visit them yet. He received invitations to visit Malaysia and Indonesia but he has not been able to visit them yet. He also received an invitation from Kazakhstan, and he has on his agenda the completion of his Arab tour. I tell you frankly, as a foreign minister, I wish the year were 600 days and not only 365 days, so I can manage the agenda of the president.

[Tawfiq]: "In conclusion, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim, thank you very much. Thank you dear viewers.

[Al-Mu'allim]: "You are welcome, brother Abd-al-Hamid." - Al-Jazeera, Qatar


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 17 September 2008 )
 
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