H. E. president Bashar Al-Assad indicated that the aim of his visit to Britain is to promote bilateral relations in the first place. He pointed out that the focus is to develop management in Syria and cooperation between the universities of both countries. He added that Syria is about to introduce private banking and technological development where the British expertise is needed. 

The president pointed out that it is natural for the two countries to coordinate together since Syria has an important role in the region and Britain has an important international role and is concerned with issues of the region. 

Regarding Syria's latest vote in favor of UN Security Council resolutions "1441," the president underlined that it is very important to vote with the majority although Syria saw some points in the resolution which she did not like, but voting is one matter and opinion about it is another matter.

 The president underlined that Syria cannot use the veto because she is a temporary member of the UN Security Council, so Syria voted in favor of the resolution to postpone the US military strike against Iraq with the aim of having a chance to cancel the war option entirely, and this will be one of the issues which is to be discussed during visit to Britain. 

With regard to the UN inspectors mission in Iraq, the president indicated that the inspectors are part of the United Nations whose resolutions are clear regarding the issues of the world, including the Middle East, and that the problem lies from non-commitment to these resolutions, and this would ultimately lead as Syria has experienced for decades to failure and disturbance, and consequently Syria is concerned about interference in the work of the U.N. on any issue. 

With regard to the Iraq report on armament, the president underlined that a quick judgment of the 12 thousand pages Iraq submitted to the UN would have direct effect on the fate of the region and would harm Europe as a whole as well as other areas in the world.

 Regarding the US belief that removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq represents a solution to the Iraqi problem, the president underlined that the problems of the region are better solved by the people of the region, and any outside interference will represent a bigger problem. 

Concerning Syria's oil trade with Iraq, the president indicated that the tests of the pipe line between the two states shows that it is weak and so studies are underway to build a new line with the cooperation with European countries and will surely be in line with the United Nations requirements.

 Regarding the effect of attacking Iraq on Syria, the president underlined that the trade activities will be stopped and the economy in general will be affected and so will investment and tourism. 

On terrorism the president underlined that Syria cooperate with the United States in combating terrorism out of her principle and not because of the good bilateral relations, and Syria confronted al- Qaida in Lebanon four years ago in cooperation with the Lebanese army.

 Regarding Syria's name on the US list of the state sponsoring terrorism, the president indicated that such a list is a politically motivated list and has nothing to do with terrorism. 

Regarding the offices of the Palestinian resistance groups in Syria, Al-Assad underlined that: such groups are backed by millions of Palestinians who support the struggle of the Palestinian people who have no body to defend them against Sharon who is slaughtering them and so these groups are not terrorist organizations as some might think.

 The president added that the offices of these organizations in Syria are for information purposes and Syria has a border occupied by Israel and this occupied territory is the occupied Syrian Golan. Other than that area, Syria has no borders with Israel.

 The president underlined that every peace initiative should have an aim of reaching just and comprehensive peace, and the best way to reach that goal is by the implementation of UN resolutions. 

Regarding Lebanon, the president stressed that Lebanon has special importance to Syria because of the historical and social ties between the two states.

 Regarding the Syrian troops withdrawal from Lebanon, Al-Assad said that it is natural for them to withdraw because the Syrian army presence is contemporary and during the past years the army made redeployment because the Lebanese army has become capable of replacing the function of the Syrian army and the Lebanese state has become stronger.

From Times Online December 13, 2002

Assad offers gloomy prognosis that war with Iraq will create fertile soil for terrorism. Our correspondent meets President Assad on the eve of his London visit: 

by Michael Binyon

 SITTING on a leather sofa in a modern marbled palace overlooking the ancient city of Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad paints what he describes, with considerable understatement, as a “black picture” of the consequences for the entire Middle East of an American war on Iraq.  Countries would be partitioned, he says. There would be floods of refugees. Economies would grind to a halt. Foreign investment and trade would dry up. Poverty would deepen.

 “The consequences are not going to be contained within Iraq,” he says. “The entire region will enter into the unknown.” Far from eliminating the threat, the war would merely create “fertile soil for terrorism”.

 But Mr. Assad believes war is inevitable. The Americans have made up their mind. “Despite the UN resolutions and the fact that the inspectors are there, they are all the time announcing that they want to launch a strike against Iraq,” he says.

 “Even before the return of the inspectors, the US was trying to obstruct the return of the inspectors and this is evidence that what they really want is to launch a strike against Iraq.”

 This is the first interview Mr. Assad has given to the British press since succeeding his father in July 2000 and he is giving it because he is about to make an unprecedented visit to Britain, during which he will meet the Queen and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

 He speaks good English, although he uses Arabic for this 90-minute interview. He wears a smart grey suit. He and his wife, Asma, happily posed for a Western-style “photo-opportunity” on a balcony of the presidential palace.

 But for all his familiarity with the West, he clearly harbours deep resentments towards the Bush Administration’s policies in the region. He challenges Washington’s assertions that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the region.

 “We are a better judge of this because we live in the region. It is not logical that others should decide that something is or isn’t a problem for the region. I think the bigger problem is that any country should interfere in the internal affairs of another country,” he argues.

 He says that Syria has voted in favour of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorising a return of the weapons inspectors to Iraq to delay a war, not to make one possible.

 He admits that there are points in that resolution with which Syria, the only Arab member of the Security Council, does not feel comfortable. But it faced two options: an American strike, regardless of any UN or international legitimacy, and a resolution “that seems to serve at least to postpone the war”.

 Mr. Assad insists that Syria supports the US-led War on Terror not because it wants good relations with America, but because his country also regards al-Qaeda as an enemy.

 Syria fought al-Qaeda in Lebanon four years ago, he says. It fought “extremism” in the late 70s and early 80s .It has taken a “principled position” against terrorism.

 He admits that Syria has done little to “market” its assistance to Washington. Some congressmen know of the help given, but few ordinary Americans or Europeans do. “We are still very weak in making our voices heard.”

 But he dismisses any idea that Syria was co-operating with America to get itself removed from Washington’s list of states sponsoring terrorism. “This list is a political list. It has nothing to do with terrorism,” he insists. If Syria signed a peace treaty with Israel it would be removed immediately.

 Mr. Assad is also scathing about what he considers the Bush Administration’s failure to do more to rebuild a viable Middle East peace process.

 “This Administration has been there for two years. Do we have to wait for another two years so that they can have their vision?” he asks. All the Administration’s proposals to date have been “extremely biased in favour of Israel”.

 He speaks sceptically of Mr. Blair’s call for a Middle East peace conference, voicing a criticism similar to those of the Prime Minister’s domestic opponents. The conference was a good idea, he says, but “it is not enough to announce a principle or utter a thought”. “You have to look for the elements which make your thought a success.”

 But it is on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Syria’s support for militant organisations such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, that Mr. Assad speaks most passionately and where his Arab roots show most clearly.

 Those organisations “express the view of millions of Palestinians inside the occupied territories” who are fighting for legitimate rights, he says.

 Those Palestinians are in turn supported by “300 million Arabs, by over a billion Muslims, and by millions of people all over the world”. It is impossible to describe all these people as terrorists or supporters of terrorism.

 He says that the Palestinians have no army, no state and no dignity. They are being killed by the Israelis.

 That is what is driving them to become suicide bombers. The present violence is “a reaction to the terrorism practised by (Ariel) Sharon (the Israeli Prime Minister) against the civilian Palestinian people”.

 He describes the Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices in Damascus as merely “media offices”. He admits that oil and other goods are being smuggled across the Syrian-Iraqi border in violation of UN sanctions against Baghdad, but attempts to minimise the importance of such activity.

 Smuggling across Syria’s long border is very difficult to control, he says. “This kind of trade is always going on,” he says — and not only through Syria. Iraq also receives goods from Turkey and Iran.

 He claims that Iraqi oil is flowing to Syria only because his Government wants to test the repair of a 50-year-old pipeline from Iraq.

 “Of course,” he adds with a smile, “we are not going to send the oil back after the test.”

 This “testing” has been going on for at least a year now, and Western estimates put the flow at about 150,000 barrels a day.

 The current President has sometimes appeared diffident in asserting himself in a country where many of the old guard still have an important say. He admits that the pace of reform has been uneven: for some it is too quick, for others too slow.

 He explains that change often produces “negative repercussions”, and that liberalisation measures would be thwarted unless he took key officials along with him.

 But he also states quite bluntly that he is giving much greater priority to economic reform than political reform because “what is the use of political openness if people can’t have their daily subsistence”.

 Iraq will top the agenda when Mr Assad meets Mr Blair at Downing Street on Tuesday. “It is normal for us to co-ordinate our efforts during our membership of the Security Council,” he says.

 But he will also be using his visit to seek British support for his efforts to improve training and education in Syria, for his country’s privatisation programme and for spreading the use of information technology.

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