Regarding the US demands from Syria and whether she is ready to discuss the exchange of interest in Iraq so that a cooperation with the Americans can be made, President Bashar Al-Assad said the US demands are usually unidentified and are sometimes contradictory. He said "For example, they call for giving up mass destruction weapons and when we call for giving up those weapons from the whole region, they object. The US demands are many and what is important for us is whether these demands fit or unfit our interests. The Americans demanded the expelling of Palestinian organizations leaders, but they are only officials. The leaders of the organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are inside the occupied territories, we rejected this demand because those officials did not violate the Syrian laws, did not encroach upon Syria's interests and are not terrorists."

 Asked about the non-compatibility of the US accusations as regards Iraq, especially the allegation that some resistance men fighting the US occupation troops come from Syria and neighboring states, Al-Assad said: "Under normal conditions and when there are no problems, the smuggling of persons or goods are frequent. But the insecure conditions where a war, occupation and disorder exist, it is natural that conditions deteriorate. President Bush talked to the Focus channel a time ago and said Syria was doing its duty but the Iraqi borders are vast". Al-Assad added "There is a difference between actions carried out with the knowledge of the state and actions beyond its control. The borders are long and uncontrollable.

 "Concerning neighboring countries, there is a state of complete disorder where arms trafficking and fleeing of persons are frequent. The Americans say they are terrorists. For the Americans, any Arab is a terrorist. However, the question is how to prevent such illegal actions with joint cooperation if the situation remains as it is." 

Asked if he approves the US proposal to change Iraq into a main battlefield against international terrorism and whether this poses direct danger against Syria and her neighbors, President Al-Assad said "There is a contradiction in the US proposal. There was terrorism in Afghanistan and the Americans were not there. They came under the pretext of combating terrorism but so far they have combated nothing. They later attacked Iraq before combating terrorism and when they were inside Iraq, they say that some terrorists crossed Iraq may there is terrorism. Moreover, the battlefield of terrorism needs a society which is fertile ground for terrorism. The Iraqi society is not prepared for terrorism and was never known as terrorist. The saying be correct as terrorists exist in all world states. The US and Europe are full of terrorists, but does this mean that the two regions are venues of terrorism." 

Asked about Syria's readiness to cooperate in helping to rid the existence of terrorist elements in Iraq, the President said "Terrorism has no identity and such vision has been ours since the 1980s. This vision has been firm for any one who talks bout terrorism combating. Now in Iraq, there is neither a state nor an authority and hence with whom do we have to cooperate." 

About Syria's vision of a solution in Iraq after she received Iraqi delegations from the council of transitional government and from tribal leaders and whether Syria insists on evacuating the US troops or is ready to understand the council's demands, Al-Assad said "Since the beginning of occupation, we have been opting for immediate withdrawal. It is said now there is a demand for the existence of US troops to prevent disorder and unrest. But there is a mixture between the existence of disorder accrued from the non-availability of an authority and from the troops' incapability of doing their duties and between the possibility of a civil war. The Iraqi delegations which represented all the Iraqi people had one common language to the effect that a civil war is possible with the continuation of such disorder, I am optimistic for having no unrest among the Iraqis. Therefore, we ask, what is the objective out of the existence of the occupation troops. Are they for controlling security. They certainly cannot. All forms of disorder exist in areas where many troops are available. In areas where an American authority is not available, the Iraqis have organized themselves, founded local authorities and controlled security and economic affairs. What is important for any world state is to make people unite for anything they agree upon. All in one home usually agree on a national structure which is a government. What is demanded then are an Iraqi government chosen by the people and a constitution placed by them. There is no other solution."

 On whether Syria would feel worry, in case the Iraqi constitution stipulated federation, the President said "We didn't talk about this issue, but we are talking about partition which we always fear. What concerns us is the unification of Iraq. I don't think that any Iraqi doesn't want unification. But federation or anything else are just media proposals we didn't hear."

 On Syria's demands in order to help the occupation forces in Iraq, the President said "We have a starting point with respect to the Syrian-Iraqi relations which were full of difference in the past. But now, the natural thing about which we think in the future is the opposite, i.e., that relations be good and full of amity, joint interests and all positive points. In this respect, there is neither an Arab nor a foreign mediator. The Syrian-Iraqi relation is a relation of neighbourhood. It cannot take another meaning. We support other positions when they play a positive role in the service of the Iraqi people, but they cannot replace the direct relation which is a relation of neighborhood.

 Any role played by Syria will be based on what the Iraqi people want, but till now, there is not specified formula because there is not state. And until this moment, I have not heard any Iraqi citizen saying that the Iraqis need foreign forces. And I don't believe that there is a problem now between Iraq and the neighboring states.

 On whether there is coordination between Syria and Iran, regarding relations with Iraq, whether Syria is afraid of Iranian interference in the Iraqi society, and on the Turkish position, the President said "Interference precisely means playing indescribable role, but if it is desirable, it will not be interference. In order to determine if such a role is an interference or not, we must ask the Iraqis. According to what we heard from Iranian officials, they don't want anything except what I said about the form of the relationship with Iraq. Naturally, Iran will take into consideration the eight-year-long war with Iraq, which must be the first issue to be avoided in the future by Iranians. I don't see so far but the positive picture, since the Iranian proposition is similar to the Syrian, and there is coordination between us and Iran through meetings. Moreover, the neighboring countries have similar view, even Turkey, as well as Jordan's declared position. We are for the withdrawal of the occupation forces, and with stability. This is what has been announced in the first meeting of the neighboring countries. But each country expresses such opposition in a different way, though all of them take the same position. Egypt, for example, has a similar position."

 On whether the Iraqi issue added or deepened further the already established misunderstanding of Syria with the US, the President said "It is a misunderstanding with world countries, and we are one of them. Certainly, we are against occupation, while the US is for occupation. From the moment of raising the Iraq issue, we are in disagreement. We have been against the Iraqi-Iranian war, despite the fact that some other countries supported this war. So, it is meaningless to say that the Iraqi issue added more misunderstanding, because the disagreement has originally been there. Perhaps, a sort of agreement has emerged at a particular time on the issue of Syria's participation in the coalition, but the participation has had different goals. We took such a step based on one principle and on the joint Arab defence treaty. I don't think that the US moves according to the same principle, otherwise it would wage a similar war to liberate Golan or another occupied Arab territory."

 On the Syrian-US dialogue, the President said " It is going on and must not stop. We are in disagreement with US policies, because the US has different policies on the issue of terrorism. Certainly, we don't seek for disagreement with the US or with any other country, but we always seek for agreement. Dialogue is the most important way for agreement; it could achieve something on the medium, long, and perhaps, short terms. Circumstances could be much worse without dialogue. Dialogue exists and doesn't stop. We see that Americans want dialogue, but sometimes two different mentalities, different principles and different cultures exist between the two parties." 

The President was asked "does the facilitation of the American-Syrian dialogue need mediators? He said "the relationship among states is similar to a network. Even between the sisterly countries, there will be sometimes a need for a third Arab party in order not to say a mediation. This auxiliary role, I call, is natural one. For example, Europe understands the region's affairs more than America does. Europe, in the topics of peace and Iraq, is much closer to our view point. There must be a benefit from this approach in understanding and stand in order to transfer the picture to the Americans. Some Arab states have stronger relations with America than the relations of other Arab states, and their words might be heard more by America. It is natural to have these states play a role to bring view points between Syria and the US closer." 

The President was asked about his view on the project of Syria's Accountability Act at the Congress; and if it is a part of a process to weaken Syria's firm stances in the Iraqi file and in the Middle East issue.

 The President replied that proposed US law embodies two things: a conflict between the American administration in general because it doesn't want to issue it since it embarrasses it, and between the other forces in the Congress or in the Israeli lobby which supports the issuance of this act. In the American administration, there are forces who want this act and others who don't. The content of this act in general is to sanction Syria and press it in the economic and other fields. Pressure is exerted but there are no commercial and economic relations between Syria and the US except in the subject of American oil companies which are limited in number and size. Thereby, there will cause no damage towards Syria except towards these companies.

 

The President was asked about the relationship between Syria and Europe including the partnership agreement with the European Union and if he is convinced that the Europeans are much more capable to understand the region or is it an option waiting for the development of the Syrian-American relationship? The President said that the Syrian-European partnership within the circumstances of the whole world was made within the great blocs taking place in the world. It, like any other options, includes negative and positive aspects. Its negative aspects might be more than its positive aspects in the short run. 

It may not bring positive aspects except through the medium and long run. Engagement into the European partnership is an old decision, and reasons of delay are technical and not political. Taking a decision in this respect, has no relation with the Syrian-American bilateral relationship. It is an independent subject. I have told the Europeans that if partnerships were not based on appropriate base, we would exchange problems in stead of goods. I said, during my meeting with Mr. Romano Prodi before September 11, that if you don't solve the region's political and economic problems, the problems will move to you intensively in a short period. 

The President was asked: did the European Union's enrolment of Hamas movement in the list of terrorism hamper the European role in the region? Is there a fear of a European-American accord in subjects considered vital for Syria. 

The President said: if the European role is obstructed, we would fear of the failure of the establishment of peace in the foreseeable future.

 We don't fear the question of the European-American accord. Because when accord is made in the right direction, it will be for our interest. But when the accord is made without defining the direction, it will be harmful. I believe that Europe has weakened itself too much, particularly at the Palestinian arena by this stand and lost a big part of its credibility.

 

The President was asked that does he consider the Roadmap as finished? He said it is finished because it was born dead. 

In reply to a question on the Syrian-Palestinian relations, the President said: There are contacts with the Palestinian Authority, but they are limited.

 Syria's attitude is to support the Palestinian question, but we will not interfere in an internal affair ... We side with the cause and our stand will not change. 

In the beginning of the peace process, we believed in the possibility of coordination between the Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian tracks. Then, came the Oslo accords and separated the tracks. There is no link between the two tracks except the issue of Palestinian refugees, the destiny of which is connected with a peace agreement between Syria and Lebanon on the one side and Israel on the other, or Palestinian-Israeli agreement. For this, there is no coordination and there is no connection. The principles and terms of reference differ. 

The basic terms of reference, for Syria, is the "Madrid terms of reference." 

As for the Palestinian track, each terms of reference was followed by another one, the last of which was the Roadmap which was considered a new term of reference that torpedoes all the previous ones.

 For Syria and Lebanon, there is one step which is the demarcation of borders and withdrawal. 

The President replied to a question on whether Syria was ready for full peace in return for withdrawal to the June 4th 1967 lines, saying that there are security arrangements and other details. The full peace is defined by the people not by the state. 

The state says normal relations as the case, for example, between us and Britain. But, Israel wants that the state controls the coldness and warmness of relations. The warm relation is defined by people not by the state. The nature of relations is defined in the same manner too.

 All people we met confirmed that peace will not be achieved in the presence of the current Israeli government. 

The President added: All came to us, from Europe, the US or Japan, asking for support to the Roadmap from the very beginning, we told them that we support something which is not deemed to failure. We don't support something which is not convincing. This happened too at the time of Mitchell and Tenet initiative. There have always been demands from Syria and we always told them that we don't accept anything that runs counter to our interests. 

On whether Syria was asked to receive Abu Mazen, the President said: We receive any Palestinian official and our doors are open to all Palestinians. 

As for the Roadmap, we neither oppose it, nor we support it because, it has nothing to do with us.

 In reply to another question, the President said: we, before the Iraq war, told the Americans who were talking about the "fantastic victory" that such a victory was axiomatic for a super power like the US, but failure after this victory is the dilemma in which America fell. 

Concerning the most difficult crisis Syria faced since his election as President of Syria, the President said: I cannot say that this is the most difficult crisis, but it is a natural result of the international circumstances.

 After the Iraq war, it was confirmed that force achieves two things: the occupation of land and the destruction of a country and killing people, the President added. Force has not achieved anything else; and the solution lies in return to the UN.

 The hawks of the US Administration, the interviewer said, are trying to hold Syria and Iran the responsibility of Americans failure in Iraq. Is this a source of fear to Syria and Iraq? The President answered: If we said that we are unconcerned, this is not correct and unrealistic.

But if we said we are afraid, this is not realistic talk, too. There is always a kind of caution. We are not a great state, but we are not a weak state either, we are not a state without cards to play or without a basis. We are not a state that cannot be reckoned with vis-a-vis the issues put forward.

 The President was asked about the redeployment of the Syrian forces in Lebanon, and whether there was a new step, and he stated that the redeployment is connected with the ability of the Lebanese state to replace the Syrian forces. The major part of the redeployment on the Lebanese territories has been made in general. The determination of the timing, the way and the volume is a technical issue directly handled by the two armies. The political leaderships in the countries do not interfere in this issue because the political decision has been taken by Syria and Lebanon. The other side that remains is the subject of peace with Israel. 

In reply to another question, the President said: Some of the Americans suggest that Syria withdraws from Lebanon. Others do not make this suggestion. We cannot determine how important this issue is to the Americans, or whether it was an American demand indeed, or an Israeli demand as a result. This issue is a Syrian-Lebanese concern and we will not discuss it with the others.

 In a reply to another question on the relation between the presidents in Lebanon, the President confirmed that a country is not built on a personal relationship. A country is built on a relationship of institutions. It seems that there are some who do not wish to build institutions. The solution lies in the building of institutions which govern relations between persons.

 In reply to another question, the President said that Hizbollah is not after the escalation in South Lebanon, but it is Israel who looks forward to this escalation. Therefore, I believe that he who seeks to avoid escalation can put it to an end.

 The President was asked about the change in the government in Syria and whether that change has fulfilled the wishes of the Syrian people. The President stated that great hopes are a positive sign, which means great aspirations. The volume of change, however, is connected to reality and to the course adopted in the making of the change. Here in Syria, we follow the course of gradual change so that we do not make jumps into the unknown. Instead, we always consider steps before we make them, and we always look forward ahead as it is important that we walk towards the final goal in steady steps.

 As for a governmental change, we are always keen that replacement be for the better. I can't say now that the previous government was less or better till we see the work of the present government. The past may be good. The coming may be better, but I don't say that the past was bad and the present is good. 

A question was put forward to the President whether there was a network of interests that delays the stages of change in Syria. The President stated that any process of change in the world is an act of collision. The problem does not lie in the interests but in the mentality. There is something that cannot be contained in the law. That is the relation between the officials, and the shape of this relation is connected with the mentality. These issues are very important to the success of any process of change. This issue is dependent on the education of the individual and not on the education of the group.

 A question was put forward to the President whether it can be said that the attempt to develop the economy was connected to another development on the political level, in the framework of freeing the administration from the mentality of the party and the governing front. The President said that there is no mentality called the mentality of the Party. The mentality of the party is one Arab nation, and the majority of the Arab people believes in that. 

A question was put forward to the President on the qualifications that Syria wishes to find in the coming Lebanese president. The President stated that this issue is a Lebanese concern and the Lebanese approval on the president cannot be made if the required qualifications are not available like the requirement of patriotism and belief in the Arab relationship.

 I believe that these issues have been decided by the Lebanese people. There are many persons in Lebanon who enjoy such qualifications, and the most important is the person who is approved by the Lebanese people.

 The President was asked how far has the dialogue with Bkarki reached. The President said that there are positive messages and that there are persons who convey viewpoints between us and Bkarki, and I can say that it is making progress.