STANDARD: You said in a recent interview that in December 2008 you were close to an agreement with Israel. This took place before Barack Obama became president in the US and before the elections in Israel brought a rightist government. Could you tell us more about the negotiations and do you think that a continuation is possible?

President Assad: The negotiations were indirect negotiations for the purpose of probing the intentions of the other party; because after eight years of paralysis in the peace process, the war on Lebanon and attacks on Syria, there was no trust at all. Of course, after the failure in the nineties following ten or nine years of the negotiations, we do not have any trust in the other party. So, it was about probing and this was based on the issue of the Golan Heights, the line of 1967. We gave the Turks a map on which there are a few points on that line and the Israelis were supposed to agree upon those points. Of course, as we heard from Prime Minister Erdoğan, Olmert was ready to give back the whole Golan Heights and this means there should be no problem in those points.

STANDARD: Did Olmert state that before you started the talks?

Assad: Yes, this was the statement given by Olmert to Erdoğan because our condition was that when they say they are ready to give back the whole Golan Heights, we will be ready to move towards the peace negotiations. So, he said that and towards the end we were very close and it was about the phrases and terms that state whether those points will be on the line or will be studied or discussed.

STANDARD: So it was about the delineation of the border?

Assad: Exactly. What should be said is whether those points are on the line or not. If not, we say, no, we do not agree and we stop the negotiations. If yes, this should be documented through the Turks. Of course, they did not say yes or no; they always use ambiguous words such as, ‘we are going to see, it is negotiable, etc.' But we said no, because lines and lands are not negotiable. We negotiate everything except for the land. The land should come back fully, but this is where they played games and then few days later they attacked Gaza and everything failed. This is what happened. We were very close to a settlement but that was what Olmert did. On the phone when I was talking to Erdoğan, Olmert was there having dinner with him. Erdogan called me and we spent an hour on the phone and then our minister of foreign affairs continued with his advisor.

STANDARD: It means that, concerning the point you reached in the negotiations, you were as far as your father was with Barak and Clinton in 2000?

 

Assad: Actually, more, because even in 2000 we did not talk about these points. This was the first time to talk about them. So, if we could have reached something, it would have been much more important than what we reached in the nineties. But, then, nothing happened and we are back to square one, again.

 STANDARD: What about the future?

 Assad: We do not relate our vision of peace to what happens in Israel, whether it is a change in the government or having an attack or whatsoever. We never saw that Israel changed its policy towards the Arabs and towards peace. That is why we said it was probing the intention. This is first. Second, we do not have conditions. It is our land and there is a difference between conditions and rights. We have rights; we do not have conditions. Golan is not a condition; it is a right. So, we should be very precise because when they say they are ready to resume the negotiations only without pre-conditions, they mean the land. Whereas, the land is not a condition; it is a right. The only condition is to be committed to the international conditions. The international conditions are Security Council Resolutions; these are international conditions, not Syrian conditions. 

STANDARD: How seriously do you take Mr. Lieberman if he says now the offer is "peace for peace"? 

Assad: This means peace without land and it means there is no peace. For them, and even for us, peace is different from a peace treaty. Peace is when you have peace between the people. You can have a peace treaty without regaining the land, but you cannot have peace; and a peace treaty does not bring you normal relations. Of course, we do not accept it anyway: but if they are looking for this, it does not work. It does not bring peace. Therefore, there is nothing called "peace for peace". 

STANDARD: Seymour Hersh writes in The New Yorker that today it is about "territory for peace and strategic re-alignment". 

President Assad: Are you talking about a strategic realignment of Syria in terms of what the Israelis want about the relation with Iran and things like that? No, because we always talk about the subject, not about the relations. I have the subject of peace. Who is involved in this subject? If we talk about the Syrian track, nobody has any relation, not Hezbollah, neither Hamas, nor Iran. If we talk about Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, Hamas and Hezbollah are normal parties to any peace process, through their governments. But, anyway, Iran is not part of our peace. It does not have anything to do with it. It has nothing to do with the peace. So, this link between the peace process and our relations with others is not realistic. That is why we said no, because there is no relation between peace and our relations with other countries. Peace is about our occupied land and the reason we do not have peace is that we have occupation and only when you do not have occupation you do not have a problem. 

If you ask them about the relation between peace and Iran, some of them say unrealistic things like claiming that Iran will not be happy with the peace. We said that is not true because when we started the negotiations in May, Iran publically supported the Syrian efforts and they did not go against it. That is their only excuse, which is not true. Iran supports Syria in our efforts to achieve peace.

 STANDARD: If there is no peace process, what will Syria do exactly? Regarding your support for Hamas and Hezbollah, the USA are now toning down their demands. They do not ask you any more to close Hamas offices but they ask you for moderating influence. Will you do that in spite of deteriorating relations with Israel? 

Assad: First of all, we do not relate, as I said, our policy to what is happening in Israel. So, we do not pin any hopes on this government. But if any government says they are ready to give back the Golan Heights, that is good and we can move forward. We do not have hope but there is nothing that is a hundred percent accurate in politics. You may have surprises and if you have a surprise it is good but sometimes we do not see this surprise. 

The other aspect of the issue, which is different, is when you talk about the relation between the peace process on the Syrian track and the Lebanese and Palestinian tracks. When you talk with Syria about its borders there is no Hezbollah or Hamas involved. So, that is not realistic. When you want to discuss the issue of Hezbollah and Hamas, you have to talk about comprehensive peace. So far, they do not talk about comprehensive peace. When they started the negotiations with Syria they only talked about the Syrian track and we said the longer the borders, the bigger the peace. When you talk only about sixty kilometers or sixty-five kilometers, which is the Syrian borders, you cannot talk about Hamas and Hezbollah. They are not going to attack Israel through Syria, anyway. So, what is the relation?! When you want to discuss them, make comprehensive peace and there will be no problem. 

STANDARD: Also the Palestinian side is not ready. What about the Palestinian-Palestinian problem. And how can you achieve a lasting cease-fire between Hamas and Israel? 

Assad: The Palestinian issue is still the core issue of the peace and the core issue for the Arabs since 1948. For Syria, it has another aspect because we have half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria and half a million in Lebanon and they are linked to each other. So, you can talk about one million refugees in total. You cannot have real stability unless you have comprehensive peace that would solve the problem of the Palestinians in our region. So, that is why the Palestinian track is very important to support the Syrian track and, of course, the Lebanese, at the same time, because of the same problem. They ask us to move on the Syrian track. If this guarantees our rights we are going to move. But are we going to achieve peace eventually? They do not differentiate between a peace treaty and peace. The Palestinian reconciliation is important for the Syrian track and, of course, it is vital for the Palestinian track. You have to work hard for it, not to spend time siding with one party against another. 

Let us talk about the big picture on the Palestinian track. It is three stages: the first one is to solve the problem of the embargo and cease-fire, the second is to move towards the reconciliation, and the third is to move towards the peace. You cannot take the second step before the first or the third before the second. So, the first one is achieving cease-fire and lifting the embargo. The cease-fire is related to the embargo itself because the embargo means death, but it is slow death. If you have to choose between slow death and fast death, it is easier to go for the fast death. 

If you are under embargo and the people are dying because of the lack of oil and electricity, causing people to die at hospitals - if they have to be subject to kidney dialysis, for example, this means you are going to die. If you are going to die or be faced with the death of your son, sister, mother, or wife, you are going to fight. You are not going to keep watching. Therefore, you cannot separate cease-fire from lifting the embargo. We start with lifting the embargo and this is very important and the Israelis have to move forward in that direction. 

STANDARD: But Israel will agree only if the attacks from the Gaza strip stop completely. 

Assad: Anyway, the embargo will not stop the attack; it will make things worse. You have the attack because there is embargo, not vice versa, and the more people die, the more attacks you will have. This is their defense. Whether it is right or wrong, it does not matter. If I am cornered I will defend myself. They have to understand this. The embargo will not make the situation better in Israel. You have to open the borders, keep the situation normal in Gaza, from the humanitarian point of view, and leave internal problems for the Palestinians to deal with, whether Hamas or Fatah, because this is a Palestinian issue. Then, you can talk about the peace and the situation in Israel will become much better. 

STANDARD: Some people say time is running out for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestinians. 

Assad: For peace, there is no time for that goal to achieve. It is a goal. It is like talking about Resolution 242; it has been there for forty two years and it is still viable. So, it is the same for a two-state solution; otherwise, if they want to reach a one-state solution can you have a state in which any Arab could be the Prime Minister? Can they move for that? I do not think they are going to do it. So far, everybody in the world supports a Palestinian state; so why not go in that direction? Of course, that is normal. I do not think there is a problem about it. The problem is with the Israelis, not the Palestinians, in accepting a two-state solution.

 STANDARD: How do you see the role of the Barack Obama administration in all of this? 

Assad: We can say we have a glimmer of hope. They announced their will, which is good, but this is the first step. The second step is to have a plan after you negotiate with the different parties and establish contacts with them. But the most important thing is the partner. Peace is about two parties: the Arabs and the Israelis. We have the will; the Arab side has the will. Now, what about the Israelis? I think the whole world now shares with us the vision that this very extremist government is not ready for peace. But, again, it is not only about this government. What about Olmert? He could not achieve peace because if you have a weak government, like the previous one, you cannot achieve peace. Weak governments go to war and extremist governments go to war, as well. So, it is the same result. Which government can achieve peace? That is the question and it depends on how much the U.S. Administration and their allies in Europe can work with the Israelis to bring them back to the track of peace.

 STANDARD: Would you meet Mr. Obama? What are the next steps? Is Mr. Mitchell coming to the region? 

Assad: We heard he is coming to the region; somebody told me he is coming. About the meeting: in principle, it is normal to have a meeting between two Presidents. We do not have any problem now with the United States, especially after Mr. Obama announced his will to withdraw from Iraq. This is very important. But meeting and having a summit has to do with the subject that we are going to discuss. It is very important, first, to agree on the subjects and, then, to prepare for these subjects. So far, there are no proposals from any side to have such a summit. We are still at the beginning of the relation between the Syrian government and the United States Administration. That is why it is still early to talk about this. It is not a photo opportunity. If it were a photo opportunity we could make it happen tomorrow, but it is about goals you want to achieve and this is very important. That is why you have to discuss the subject, first. We have contact at other levels of the Administration and things are moving forward. That is the important thing. 

STANDARD: You already mentioned Iran yourself. There are speculations Syria could mediate between Iran and US. 

Assad: We have good relations with Iran. We are not looking for a role to play. We have enough problems and we are playing our roles. We are discussing with the Iranians different topics that are of mutual concern to us. But that also depends on the subject and the approach. During the previous Administration, for instance, it was difficult to achieve something realistic regarding, for example, the nuclear issue. Because the approach was not realistic and Iran said we are not going to go against our interest, and I am convinced about this. I am not in the middle, anyway. 

Now, if we say Iran has the right, like what we heard few days ago from Obama, to have their peaceful nuclear program, this is the key. At the moment, the doors are open for anyone to help be it Syria, Europe, or the United States itself. Therefore, that depends on the approach. Nobody asked me to help and I think we should not wait any longer because we have the key but, then, what is the plan? Because we had the European proposal during the previous Administration and the proposal was about Iran stopping its program. This is against their right because everyone has the right, legally, to have enrichment. There is no law or agreement in the world that states they have no right to that. So, how can you propose something against your right? Nobody will accept it. I will not accept it if it was against my right and the same applies to Iran. Now, we have to have a different proposal according to their right and according to the NPT right because this right is included in the NPT. 

STANDARD: But it is clear that also the Arab countries, especially in the Gulf, do not want Iran to have a nuclear capacity. 

Assad: Talking about a military program is different from talking about a peaceful program. The peaceful capacity is their right. We cannot stop them and we do not have to. Why to stop them? Talking about a military program, you have a mechanism, the NPT formula to monitor any peaceful program. Not to say I do not trust some countries and that is why I do not allow them. It is not about mood. You have a mechanism, you implement this mechanism and that is it. 

STANDARD: What about your own troubles with the IAEA because of the suspected nuclear reactor site bombed by the Israelis? 

Assad: We always ask the same question. We have to ask the Americans, especially the previous Administration, why did they wait for eight months to give the acclaimed evidences they had? Because they wanted to wait until we rebuild the site so that they can say it was! When the Agency asked Syria to allow its experts to visit the site, we said they can come right away. They asked us in May and they came in June. That was only one month and we did not have time to do anything, anyway, we told them they can come because we were very confident. But now because they could not find anything concrete, although they announced finding something, they say it was a nuclear site. And now we have to prove it wasn't!

 STANDARD: But you did not show the IAEA everything it wants to see, e.g. the rubbles of the destroyed building?

 Assad: They came and saw the site. The Americans said it was a nuclear site under construction. If it were under construction, where did they get the uranium from? And if there was uranium under enrichment and the site was attacked, how come we did not have any casualties, state of emergency, etc.? What about the radiations? How could there be uranium without the carbon that should be at the same time with uranium? That is impossible. That is first. 

Second, about the sites and the way they dealt with Syria, the Agency itself was not transparent. They leaked information and it was politicized. So, we said we committed a mistake because we were very transparent and allowed them to come, thinking that it was a normal organization like any other international organization. They came and we were sure there was no reactor or any program. So, how did they get the uranium? Now, if they say they want to go to any other site in Syria, you can take a bottle of uranium and throw it anywhere in Syria and then tell them there is uranium in that specific place. Then, you can claim this is the evidence. Because they were not transparent we cannot give them more than they have got. They asked to come and see this site and so they did and found there was no reactor. That is it! If we do not have a reactor, how can we have a nuclear program? You need a reactor! They asked to see the site and then they asked to go to another military place but we are not going to allow them. The problem was in that site and they went to see that place and found nothing there. You cannot make a whole reactor disappear. That is impossible. They also took samples from the river because if there were a reactor you will need the water and there will be traces in the river. But they could not find any traces in the river. They also said it is done with the Koreans but everybody knows the Koreans do not use uranium. They use, instead, another material. Therefore, their claims are all built on contradictions. It was a game and the first question was the most important question: Why did not they give the evidence from the first day? Because they had to wait until we rebuild it and when we move everything we do not have the evidence that it was not nuclear. Because if they announced that the first day and the Agency came the other day, they will say the American Administration was lying. Now they cannot say they are lying. This will cause us at least some trouble until we prove it was not nuclear and this will make the Administration happy. So, it was very clear. 

STANDARD: How will the case be resolved? 

Assad: We were very clear; they came, they did everything and that is it. You did what you have to do, and there was an agreement at the beginning between Syria and the agency that you come only for one time, you do not come for another time. And that is it, they came for one time. 

STANDARD: Mentioning the Arab interests in resolving the Iranian problem, let us talk about your relationship with the Arabs which was not easy during the last years. Now your relations with Saudi Arabia seem to be much better because of the progress in Lebanon. How was the summit in Qatar? 

Assad: The situation is better. I proposed some rules. Why do we have problems? Because sometimes we mix the, let's say, role of countries with each other. For example, I have land. When we talk about peace, or the Arab peace initiative, or any support for peace, you cannot substitute me. I am the owner of the land. For example there was a meeting two days ago in Amman about the Arab initiative. The Jordanian minister announced later on one of the TV channels that Syria was not there so they did not discuss the Syrian track. That is good. They discussed the Palestinian ... right. So, this is very important. For me, do not interfere in my affairs. Do not put yourself in my place because you have the Arab initiative. I accept that all the Arab countries support the Arab initiative, but when it comes to the negotiations, I am the one who is responsible. I will tell you what I agree about, so we can move when I approve what you are going to do. That is it. 

Second, there was disagreement in the past as some say, not from our side but from their side about what happened in Lebanon. The situation in Lebanon is getting much better. We supported Qatar directly in the Doha Agreement and that brought the election of the president and of course the stability and the election law in Lebanon. So the situation is getting better. Nobody has the excuse over Lebanon anymore. They are going to have their elections. Of course a close relation with Lebanon is normal because we are neighborly and brotherly countries. 

STANDARD: What about the exchange of Ambassadors? 

Assad: On the way. We announced the ambassadors. Actually we announced the ambassador. He is ambassador in another country - in Kuwait. We gave him two months to pack his things and to come back to his country, then he moves. So it is a matter of time. And the Embassies were opened before the new year. Actually we opened ours before the Lebanese embassy. 

STANDARD: The Arab peace offer is not taken back? 

Assad: No, nobody took it back. We talked about suspension. Suspension is "inactivating" which means it is "off". Why is it off? Because this initiative was rejected by the Israelis for years. But it is still there. How can we activate it? I need the partner. I do not have the partner. Because peace is like marriage. It needs another party. But the Israeli partner is not ready. That is why it is automatically "off". I did not turn it off, it is turned off. The reality. When you change the reality it will be on. I do not make it "on" and "off". That is what I explained in my speech in the Doha summit. It is suspended just to warn the world because the rest of the world did not pay attention to it. So, especially in France, when I went to France for the Union for the Mediterranean we asked them to mention it in the final communiqué, they said no, we do not want it. Europe did not want it and Israel did not want it, and they did not put it in the final statement. This is double standards; suddenly when we say "suspended," they came to Syria and said "How? Why did you suspend it? This is wrong". This is wrong? You were against it, I was not against it. So, it was killed by the Israelis first. It was killed by the Europeans in the summit second. Now they want to revive it, that is good. 

STANDARD: Another question concerning Lebanon. How do you comment on Hezbollah planning attacks against Israelis in Sinai? 

Assad: We have been hearing that for the last year. 

STANDARD: I mean not attacks from Lebanon, but in Egypt. This is new. 

Assad: Perhaps in the media. But there is no evidence that Hezbollah is planning for an attack against Israel. What is the interest of Hezbollah to do so? It has no interest and Hezbollah denied this. They said we have nothing to do in Egypt against the Egyptians. They have been talking about Hezbollah planning to attack Israel for the last year as a revenge for Mughnia assassination of last year. But we do not have any concrete evidence. 

STANDARD: Again Lebanon. What do you expect of the Hariri trial?

Assad: We do not have any expectations, but it should be professional. If it is professional it is going to be good anyway. That is what we expect. The good thing is to be professional. So, it should be kept professional in order to find who killed Al-Hariri.

 STANDARD: So you are now trusting the people dealing with it.

Assad: No, I do not know them. It is not about "trust". Again in politics you have to deal with "reality". We have not seen anything good or bad, white or black. We have to wait, when they start we will see, but we are not part of it anyway. 

STANDARD: Will you accept the outcome?

Assad: There is an agreement between this tribunal and the Lebanese government. If there is anything concerning Syria there must be a similar agreement because we have our law. Anything related to any Syrian whether he is guilty or innocent or whatever, any Syrian with no exception should be dealt with through an agreement between any tribunal in this world and the Syrian Judicial System, because you have the right for the people. So you cannot just say I agree, I accept, I trust, it is not about this, it is about law. So if there is an agreement someday, if there is a need for this agreement and then there is this agreement we do not have any problem to cooperate. We will help in anything that could unveil the reality of this crime. We do not have any problem. 

STANDARD: Coming to relations with Europe. Austria is your first bilateral visit in a long time. 

Assad: The question that I asked every politician from Europe I met during the last two years, especially after 2005 when Europe was busy with the EU constitution and many new member states: When does Europe deal with the rest of the world as EU and when as individual countries? It was not clear what Europe wanted, not from us, but from Europe herself. Because when you discuss something sometimes they say we are EU, we cannot be individual. And sometimes they do the opposite. So, for us Europe was lost for many years. What about the EU itself? It is not clear for us. Second what about the relations between Europe and the United States. We know and accept that the role of Europe should be complimentary to the United States not contradictory, but not as a satellite. Most of the European countries were satellites somehow to the previous administration. So why do I deal with somebody who cannot play any role? This is another question. So, this is a big problem in the European Union's, let us say, identity, I mean political identity. That is why it was difficult for us to deal with Europe on a sustainable bases. So, Europe should define its role, its relation with the United States, and of course with the rest of the world, that time they can define their role with us. We cannot accept some double standards used by Europe during the previous administration of the United States, just to appease the American administration. It is not acceptable. 

So it is about, first of all, dialogue between Europe and Europe, between the European countries, then between Europe and the United States, then they can make dialogue with the rest of the world including the Arabs and the Middle-East. 

STANDARD: How do you see the consequences of the world economic crisis? Will it make things only more difficult politically or could it also facilitate creative solutions? Will it bring about a clash of civilizations or rapprochement?

 Assad: You can get positive things out of any crisis. Nothing is absolute. Always find something positive. Even before the crisis we used to tell the Europeans during the EU Association Agreement negotiations that if you make me poorer what will you get from me? If you want to make me better so that I can help you, stronger so that I can support you, and so on. If I am a poor market what will you get from this association?

 Many officials, many technocrats in Europe did not understand this point, unfortunately. Now I think you need to understand more than before. For example when your economic situation is getting worse I am suffering. Now, forty percent of my export is going down because you do not have the market to pay money. So, I am suffering. So it is the same, it is mutual. If you have better situation it is going to be the same. So I think it is going to affect the relations negatively if we do not understand this relation between the two markets; the developed and the underdeveloped, or as it is in Syria between the developed and the developing markets and societies. Or in a positive way if we can discuss to see how we can have mutual interest out of this ... That depends on the way twenty rich countries will see the world. Is it like during the second world war when they said we are going to meet and to put the rules for the next world? Today you have Brazil, you have China, you have India. You have a rising world. You have to share your future with others. And about Europe: we are your borders, southern borders; you will be affected by our economy, by our political situation, by the extremism, by terrorism, by all terms. So, you have to make dialogue with us. You have to bring me to the table to talk to me about the future of this region. So that is how we make it positive. 

What about civilization. I would say, when you want to have plural - civilizations - five thousand years ago you had a gap: a time gap or a geographic gap, for example, the civilization 3000 years before Christ in South America was separated from civilizations in other countries, there was no contact. It was a different world. They have their own knowledge, everything is different. Today this is not true any more. We are talking about globalization, so we are living in one civilization but we have different cultures. In every country we have a different culture. This should be enriching not a cause for clash. 

STANDARD: Some Europeans would perhaps say, the different cultures in one country are a problem. And the situation could become tougher if joblessness grows because of the crisis etc.

 Assad: But this does not make a clash of civilizations or cultures. That will make a clash of classes. 

STANDARD: But in Europe social phenomena are taken for cultural or religious. If a Moslem misbehaves it is interpreted as Islamic.

 Assad: This is about the culture in Europe. How to open the mind to differentiate between the practice and the ideology. I am a Moslem, I could have the best ideology but the worst practice. So it is about me not about the ideology. This is the mistake of the person not the religion. You have good and you have bad. Like if you have a bad person, is it because he is Christian? It is because he is bad. That is it. Of course if you want to use any ideology as a mantle you can use it. You can say I am doing this because I am Muslim but you are doing this because you are a closed-minded person. They link this wrong practice with Islam. For example they say "Islamic terrorism"! There is nothing called "Islamic terrorism" but those terrorists use Islam as mantle so they link these two things to each other. Actually, a terrorist is a terrorist. Terrorism is terrorism. There is no relation between the two things. 

STANDARD: How to explain these things to people on the ground? 

Assad: It is about dialogue. If you do not have dialogue, if you do not understand differences between Islam and terrorism it is a big problem to the societies in the West. When you have the technology you created all these technologies in order to exchange information not only to export it. The problem in the West, especially in the United States more than Europe - Europe is more open anyway, they have more knowledge about what is happening in the world - is that at the end big and large part of the people do not import. Especially the media: it is the responsibility of the media to import the information and to import the analysis, because when you have different cultures you cannot have the same analysis, you have to translate the concept to their culture. This is when you need translation not only for language but for the culture itself. 

Bin Laden said I am fighting for Islam. So, he gave them the excuse to use it. Even in Syria Muslim-Brothers said we are defending Islam, we are killing to defend Islam, we are killing people because we want to fight the atheists and so on. So they gave the excuse to anyone who said I am against Islam to be against Islam. 

STANDARD: A coalition between these people and the critics of Islam? 

Assad: But at the end they do not have to base the idea on our mistakes. If we make mistakes they have to open their minds more, especially through the media to see what is the difference. Is it because of Islam or because of the Muslims themselves as people, that is the difference, or some Muslims of course, not all Muslims. Some Muslims who behaved in this way. 

STANDARD: You mentioned the USA: the personality of Mr. Obama, his multi-cultural background, could it be helpful to change perceptions in the US?

Assad: Of course. This widens one's horizon; when you have multi-cultural aspects in ethnicities, in religions, in nationalities, this will widen your horizon. This is one of the aspects of Syria. We have these different aspects in our country. That is why we have a strong society. And that is why we are still stable while surrounded by very difficult circumstances and instabilities in our region. Why? Because we have these aspects. That makes you strong. Of course if you do not see it this way it can make a problem. It is like a knife, you can cut bread and you can kill somebody with it. So it has two uses. The base is how you see it, but it is positive for me, from our perspective in Syria it is positive. 

STANDARD: But the election of Mr. Obama could also soften prejudices against America in this region. 

Assad: Definitely. It polishes the reputation. Actually, what the previous administration did to harm the interest and the reputation of the United States was unbelievable. So that will help but it needs a lot of efforts to clean what they did.

 STANDARD: What are your expectations from the visit in Austria? 

Assad: The relation between Austria and Syria has always been very good because of the objective position of the Austrian politics, generally, through different governments, not related to one government. But for me as President I can judge it more through these six years after 2003 because it was the most difficult six years in the history of our region and in the history of the relation between Syria and Europe, and between our region and Europe and the West in general. The relation with Austria was the most stable, and her objective stance were very stable; I mean it was not fluctuating in the circumstances. This is very important in politics. This means this is the one who can play a role and people can trust in our region especially after having a lot of accumulations in the hearts and minds that make people not to trust anyone in the West. This is reality. So, that is not the case for Austria because of its sustainable position. 

For the political aspects of the visit: Austria can play a very important role if it has the will. Of course, the other aspect is the economic role, but we need to strengthen these economic relations. 

The third aspect is political plus economic, the relation with Europe and the association itself. My previous visit to France last summer was about the Union for the Mediterranean. But this time it is bilateral visit, my visit to France was not bilateral, this one is and it is the first after many years, after Italy in 2002. We would like to understand more about the future of Europe and what the Europeans want. So I am going to Austria as Austria and I am going to Austria as a member of the EU to know more.

 (Der Standard, Gudrun Harrer, 18.4.2009)

 

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