His Excellency President Bashar Hafez Al-Assad has stressed that Syria’s rights have not changed, and peace must be just and comprehensive. "The late President Hafez al-Assad did not surrender and we will not surrender neither today nor at any time in the future," he said in an interview with the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Replying a question whether Syria will sign a treaty if it is presented by Israel before the Palestinians sign, the president said:’ we in Syria say that the objective is a just and comprehensive peace." " Comprehensive means all occupied Arab territories… The Golan and Lebanon do not mean a comprehensive peace. Therefore there should be parallelism between the Syrian-Lebanese track and the Palestinian track," the President added.

Whether Syria is ready to sign an agreement that does not solve the problem, the resident said signing of Syria would not mean solving the issue and achieving peace. "We start off a national perspective," he explained. " What about four million Palestinian refugees scattered in several countries? What about the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank? after ten years, they have not got anything related to rights or sovereignty…therefore, we have to look from national perspective…and from here the word ‘comprehensive’ has emerged," the president said. " We stress on the need for cooperation with brothers and on the coordination with other tracks," he added. The president stressed that Syria will not sign any agreement that runs counter to her principles. " We say just and comprehensive peace," he confirmed. " We will not sign an agreement unless we see it serves the region and real peace…if the agreement is not for just and comprehensive peace, that peace will be fragile and provisional. On Palestinian refugees and whether Syria would accept settling them on the Syrian territories, President Assad said: " we start off from a national perspective and could not refuse any Arab on the Syrian territory… This is an Arab starting point.. We are with any decision the Palestinians in Syria may adopt...But however we did not hear from any Palestinian that he does not want to go back to his home land," the president continued. He was asked whether he expects a Palestinian-Israeli agreement soon. " We don’t build up on speculations... the Intifada has created a new way of thinking… peace talks have completely stalled and the Israelis are still far from real peace…what is the problem? What is the difference between the Syrian and Israeli positions?" he asked. "The principle of land-for-peace…. This principle is not clear or unacceptable to them. Their positions on eastern part of Tiberias Lake are still as they were. We refuse to negotiate any object unless there is an agreement on the basic principle," he said. On how Syria will deal with the Israeli Prime Minister-elect, the president said: " We will say to all those that are our conditions for peace… Whoever can implement them, we are ready to continue negotiating... We deal with realities not speculations."

How do you see the new U.S. Administration? "There haven’t been any contact with it yet; we have no information," he said. What do you expect from President Bush? 

"We expect what we want… neutrality in peace process, efficiency in implementing UN Security Council resolutions and pushing the Israelis to give back all Arab rights."

Why you don’t see Arafat in Damascus? "Syria’s doors are open, but meetings should have objectives, an agenda and certain direction… Syria’s approach is known. We always support Palestinians despite all developments." On Syrian-Saudi relations president Assad said the kingdom’s stances towards Arab issues including the Golan are perfectly clear… There has been a continuous coordination on all levels between the two countries… This coordination was always efficient and useful not only in issues related to Arab-Israeli conflict, but to all Arabs’ issues especially Arab solidarity. Regarding relations with Iraq and Jordan, the president said Jordan has endeavored to develop its relations with all Arab countries especially Syria since the coming of King Abdullah. " Mutual respect and good relations between King Abdullah and me might have contributed to developing these relations and enhancing them," he said. On relations with Iraq, the president said developing these relations have started in 1997. " Several Iraqi officials have recently visited Damascus …This is a natural outcome of 4-year development of relations between the two countries," he added. Whether we can expect the Iraqi president in Syria, President Assad said: " as I have said before… our doors are open for all." " This subject has not been put forward … Time may come within the context of the development of relations between Syria and Iraq and in the framework of Iraq’s reassuming its important role after solving all Arab- differences," the president said when he was asked if he can visit Baghdad. But this may create big sensitivity within the Gulf States, the president was told. " All Gulf states know that we have not changed our position. There is coordination between those states and us. .. We always stress that we don’t want to win a country to lose another… This is one of the basic principles in the Syrian policy which has been based on strengthening Arab solidarity … Strong relations between the peoples of Syria and Iraq – despite the long severance - give some kind of specialty to the relations between the two countries… This is also applied to the relations with Jordan," president Assad said. On relations with turkey, he said those relations have been developing since 1998. "There were no jumps in this development… it is a gradual development," he said. On his visit to the United Arab Emirates and Iran and whether there has been a Syrian mediation between the two countries, the president said:" there has been no need for a Syrian mediation…they are not in a state of war … We wanted to know about the situation. Views have proved that there hasn’t been a state of war," he explained. On Lebanon and Ta’ef agreement, especially the issue of redeployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon, the president said Ta’ef agreement has been meant to help realizing Lebanon’s internal peace and reforms in different fields, especially canceling political sectarianism and the return of those people who have been forced to leave their homes. "Ta’ef agreement also dealt with the redeployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon. The issue was left to the two states to consider and determine the conditions under which the redeployment would be achieved. The presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon has two aspects: the first one is connected with the reasons lying behind getting the Syrian troops into Lebanon, namely Lebanon’s internal peace. It is up to the Lebanese State to decide on this issue. The second is connected with the joint Syrian-Lebanese interests; that is the issue of war and peace with Israel. Concerning the so-called Syrian-Christian dialogue, the president said Syria views such dialogue as an internal Lebanese one, although some parties try to view it as a is directed towards Syria. "Syria, however, confirms the necessity of receiving such dialogue through the Lebanese State. Such demand aims at consolidating, not weakening, the Lebanese state as dealing with any other party would eventually lead to the weakening of the Lebanese state," the president said. "There are two kinds of dialogue: the first kind is meant to form a picture through listening to Lebanese personalities who come to Damascus. The second kind is meant to take a decision. The latter must be conducted only with the Lebanese State. Therefore, the picture which Syria forms from the first kind will naturally be integrated with the picture, which the Lebanese state, has formed," he said. "There is a difference between contacts with the aim of conducting a dialogue and contacts with the aim of taking a decision. In case of disagreement between the views of the two states, Syria and Lebanon, they work in their dialogue on solving such disagreement and reaching a joint decision. Based on this, Syria does not take any decision without the consent of Lebanon to such a decision and vice-versa," he added. He said Syria speaks with any Lebanese personality coming to Damascus on all issues. " But dealing with the Lebanese State must be conducted on the basis of state-to-state dialogue. In other words, state institutions, ministers and organizations must deal with their counterparts in the other state," he clarified. Syria in dealing with Lebanon does not favor one person to the other. Concerning state posts, it is natural for a president of the other state. Such a thing is in accordance with the Lebanese constitution and any constitution of any country in the world. Consequently, dealing with the president is in support of the state’s institutions as a whole. Based on the above, dealing between Syria and Lebanon is conducted on the basis of a relationship established between two states. Talking about the so-called Lebanese life is a kind of dwarfing Lebanon, since the word ‘file’ is used for certain field or issue, and it is not acceptable to describe the relationship between Syria and Lebanon on that basis. 

Syria does not differentiate in dealing between a Lebanese personality and another, and it’s open to all Lebanese officials and non-officials. So there is no objection from Syria to the coming of any Lebanese personality. Concerning a visit by the president to Lebanon and what has been expected that the first visit of president Bashar would be to Lebanon , the president confirmed there will be a visit to Lebanon. "It will be decided with agreement with president Emil Lahoud," he said. On the consequences of the visits paid to the countries, the president expressed, his disagreement with the idea that the sequence of the visits is an indicator of the importance of the countries which were subject to those visits. This is due to the fact that the visits are decided according to the emerged issues and the priority of the aims, but not according to the priority of the relationship. Syria supports Lebanon and its people whose majority confirm the necessity of liberating the remaining occupied Lebanese land. But Syria does not intervene in the issue of resistance operations against Israel in south Lebanon. Preventing or allowing such operations is up to the Lebanese state and resistance movement to determine. So Syria firmly supports Lebanon to restore its land. On the internal affairs, the president said he wants to see Syria more prosperous. " the word prosperity means economic prosperity, political prosperity, scientific prosperity and prosperity in different fields. But all of them are based on social prosperity. Without the social prosperity, other forms of prosperity remain temporary or false and fake," he said. The president said that there can be no move to any political development except through the historical situation of the country. " I said at the oath address that we are not coming to torpedo reality but to develop it," he added.

And if there was a fear that we would not put this thought forward he said: At my oath address, I did not promise anything but action. I mean that I have to act with my full capacity. So, development is not dependent on the president of the republic, but on all groups of society. On our plans as a party and a front (the National Progressive Front) there is a thought to develop the action of political parties in Syria, he said. He reiterated that the existence of new parties is possible. This is being done through the discussions of the experience which have started in the past and is still underway today. I mean political experience in general, the discussing of the positive and the negative points and , of course, discarding the negative ones. Concerning the experience of the Progressive Front, the president said this experience, since its outset early in 1970s was distinguished. All probabilities are possible. We reject no single thought . all these issues are topics of discussions, particularly by the Front’s parties including the Baa’th party. As for the Baa’th party, it is based on a national ideology, the resurrection of the Arab nation. The party is present in different Arab countries. It is not only in Syria or Iraq. On the information in Syria, he said it was limited to the party and the state. Recently the front’s parties because a partner to information. This partnership is now in the stage of study and development. A number of independent papers were approved. There is an old printing law, which is now under study. And there will be a basis for press activity to contribute to the development process. That is to say the paper should not be without a clear aim, or that the aim might be an obstruction to the development process. The open information does not mean that matters should be out of the control of Information Ministry. This indicates that the state has a desire that the people posses the tools of knowledge including information, otherwise the state should have banned the satellite receivers. And this is not difficult for the state. This means the state in Syria has a desire to let citizens have more knowledge. As for the statements given by Syrian intellectuals to foreign journalists, the president said "president of the Republic" does not deal with his country through special statements when such statements come via channels from outside the country not from inside of the country. The natural thing is that there is no small group that represents the people or considers itself the broadest among the people. For the state, the elite must be the broadest among the people. It is wrong that the elite be the smallest group of people. I have relations with the groups as a whole and it is natural that there is some difference in priorities put forward...homeland is a family and members of one family may differ. When they are out of their home they should not speak about their problems. And when we say which home, we say the home is Syria? or is it the Arab homeland? I heard about these statements, a person addressing you from outside of your country. It is natural that you should not give him any attention. They are called statements of intellectuals who are they? and who is the intellectual? We, in our development march, depend on our previous experiences and depend on the persons who underwent those experiences in various fields. So, we distance ourselves from the intellectual auctions. And we avoid that the development process be a fertile ground for those who are ambitious to be chiefs or for those who want" to ride different waves"... 

As for the term "civil society", the president said, there is a mixing between the concept of civil society. The civil society is a civilized society, which has developed out of the accumulation of civilizations through hundreds or thousands of years. Syria has a history, which dates back to over six thousand years of cultural heritage. And the saying that we want to build a civil society means that we want to cancel all this history to start a new history. Of course, this is unrealistic. It is fantasy, not to mention that it means a rejection of this history and attempt to get out of it. And the one, who tries to get himself out of his own history, he gets himself out of the present and the future as well. As for the establishment of civil society, the president added, they are existed in Syria...They might be not in their best conditions, but this is not the essence of subject. We are for reforming these establishments to be in their best manner. On open-door policy, the president said that development in all domains is the basis of discussion in Syria today. Development in the country concerning a governmental change, the president said any change shall be in due time if there is a necessity. 

M. Abdo Al Ibrahim