Syria welcomes Obama's overtures

DAMASCUS--Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama's government has taken a positive step toward achieving a Middle East breakthrough. 

In an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Assad said he welcomed Obama's overtures for dialogue with the Muslim world as a sharp break from his predecessor. 

Assad said the United States, with its large influence over Israel, has an important role in the region.

"When you have the direct negotiations that should lead to the signing of the (Syria-Israel peace) treaty, this is where you need the arbiter," Assad said in his first interview with a Japanese media organization since Obama took office in January.

Assad also said Obama's announcement that combat duty for U.S. troops in Iraq will end by August 2010 was "essential to have a stable Iraq."

He criticized the George W. Bush administration's attempts to isolate and contain Syria. Assad said fighting by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan led to confusion in the Middle East because "the previous administration only talked with countries in the region, including Syria, about their interests, regardless of our interests."

Assad said visits to Syria by top U.S. government officials, including Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were encouraging.

"You start the dialogue and then through the dialogue you see if you have to change or the other one has to change. ... We can continue the dialogue in order to maybe someday have common ground," Assad said.

Assad said Syria would try to persuade Hamas and Hezbollah to enter discussions for a comprehensive peace.

He said to achieve peace, one needs "to have relations with every influential party in every conflict if you want to solve it."

As an example of Syria's influence over Hamas, Assad said Damascus urged Hamas to work with Fatah to form a unified Palestinian government that could then enter peace negotiations with Israel.


Assad defended Iran's right to develop nuclear reactors.

"As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, (Iran) has the right to have peaceful reactors," Assad said.

When asked whether Syria might serve as a go-between for the United States and Iran, Assad said, "We won't say no, providing that we have a clear framework and realistic objectives to work through in order to succeed."

Assad criticized as a "ploy" the U.S. accusation that a facility in eastern Syria was a nuclear plant developed with the support of North Korea. The accusation was made after Israel bombed the facility in September 2007. 

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In reply to a question about the Late President Hafez Al-Assad - the builder of the Modern Stable Syria - H. E. President Bashar Al-Assad disclosed that he has learned from the Late President to "Separate between the house and wok. Rarely would I have talked with my father about a political issue; you have to be the father in your house. The second point is not to be agitated by events; serenity and farsighted vision are among the most important things I have learned from President Hafez Al-Assad, May His Soul rest in peace."


In reply to other questions about Mideast Peace Process, President Bashar Al-Assad, in an interview released Monday, March, 9, 2009, by the United Arab Emirates Newspaper Al-Khaleej, underlined the importance of the Process tracks concomitance, "Had such a concomitance and coordination among the tracks of Peace existed since the start of the Process, as Syria has been calling for, things would have been changed. Unfortunately Arabs have dealt with the issue of peace separated and not united; every party of the peace talks followed its way. Thus, we have had the Palestinian track on one hand and the Syrian Lebanese track on the other. This has weakened our stances, now there is no coordination," noting that "there is a difference between peace itself and a peace treaty," reiterating that the prevailing of peace should be comprehensive including all the tracks, and that such a comprehensive peace, which solves, among other problems, the problem of more than a half million of the Palestinians present in Syria, would guarantee the establishment of the real genuine peace in the region, and not the merely signing of accords.

 "The course of events during the latest few years has proved that the realization of peace is the vital interest for all. The basics for the process of peace are quite clear; that is the return of the Land on the bases of Madrid Terms of Reference, the principle of the Land for the Peace, Resolution 242, and the return of the Golan: the full return of the Land is the Principle not to be discussed." President Al-Assad reiterated.


In reply to a question related to the issue of Arab Solidarity, H. E. President Al-Assad said "The problem was not in the disagreement; it is illogical as to agree over every thing. The problem is how to manage the disagreement. We, as Arabs, have a bad management of differences. We do need the approach as to mange the differences" noting that are some causes upon which Arabs should never have differences and that a line should be drawn between personal top level relations among Arabs and the standing institutional relations among their countries.


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Syria's strongman ready to woo Obama with both fists unclenched Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is being actively courted by the new US administration, the EU as well as fellow Arab leaders making ­Damascus the Middle Eastern ­city to visit. In a rare and ­exclusive ­interview he talks to the ­Guardian's Middle East editor, Ian Black, in the Syrian capital. 

Ian Black in Damascus

Tuesday 17 February 2009 20.10 GMT

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, sits back on a smart leather sofa in his honey-coloured hilltop palace, and gestures expansively - his fists visibly unclenched - as he explains his country's indispensable role in the Middle East in the hopeful era of Barack Obama.

 Assad is a busy man. Hours before the Guardian called, he had seen a senior EU commissioner and the secretary general of the Arab League. Later this week his visitors will be Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate foreign ­relations committee and Howard Berman, a senior Congressman – reflecting the intensifying relationship between old adversaries who seem anxious to make a fresh start.

 In recent months Damascus has become the Middle Eastern capital to visit: Nicolas Sarkozy, with ­characteristic panache, blazed the way for France and Europe; David Miliband and other EU foreign ministers followed. Turkey is also playing a key role. 

As the world waits for the Obama administration's first practical steps, expectations of change are high, though tempered by the Gaza war and the result of the Israeli general election, likely to result in a rightwing government under the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu.

 Assad volunteers he never had high hopes of change in Israel – and certainly not of Netanyahu, who has pledged never to return the Golan Heights to Syria - but puts his faith in a new American role.


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"What has taken place in Gaza, and before in Lebanon two years back, can be read as a multi-faceted message: first, we solve our problems by ourselves; the owners of the cause themselves solve their problems; secondly, it is to have the more of steadfastness, and thirdly, it is to be more combative in defending the rights," said His Excellency President Bashar Al-Assad in an exclusive interview with Al-Manar Satellite TV. 

Regarding Gaza Victory, His Excellency President Al-Assad outlined: "If the aim of the enemy was to destroy the houses, whether in Lebanon or in Gaza, in accordance with aim criterion, the enemy won destroying the houses. If the aim was also to kill the civilians, the enemy won. But if the aim was to eliminate the Resistance, to hit the idea of the Resistance, to hit the idea of steadfastness, to achieve other objectives on the ground like the uprooting of the Resistance structure, the enemy failed. Israel was founded on the idea or on a motto saying ‘it does not matter if they like me, what matters is when they are afraid of me’; today this motto has failed; where Israel faces another motto: ‘they neither like me, nor are afraid of me,’" asserting that the Victory of Gaza has bolstered the Arab Nation Pride, Steadfastness and Resistance Approach.

 "The power of the Syrian Policy lies in its dependence on the popular public opinion regarding different issues, domestic as well as foreign ones; such a sameness in the official and popular stances is a persistent characteristic for us in Syria, We have been exposed, especially in Syria and the resistance trend, to media attacks as to create a situation of frustration and as to convince us with failure; we have resorted to the conveying of information to the citizen, as possible as we can, and to communicate with the citizen to know his/her viewpoint. That is why we have had this identical sameness between the official stance and the popular one." outlined President Al-Assad asserting that the consequent victories of the Resistance would lead but to other victories, not military ones in necessity, but political victories as "to restore the rights". 

"Israel does not care for the United Nations, Security Council, UN Charter, and Arab League, or for its resolutions, regardless of the resolutions nature. Israel understands the de fact language; where it depends, since its existence and before since the beginning of the Zionist Project, on the imposition of the de facto on Arabs. So, we have to depend on the imposition of the de facto on Israel. This is the political Investment. If we were to depend on international, regional or on other structure, we would achieve nothing," declared His Excellency President Al-Assad in reply to a question, negating the existence of so-called different axes in the region, though of some difference among Arab countries regarding some issues pertaining to Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq.


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'Peace without Syria Is Unthinkable' 

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Syrian President Bashar Assad discusses the war between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb and his expectations for incoming United States President Barack Obama. 

Syrian President Bashar Assad: "Just this morning, I saw the picture of a three-year-old girl who was killed. Where is the West's outcry?" 

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, the world community is protesting Israel's aggression in Gaza, but they have also called upon Hamas to relent. No one in the Arab world has as much influence on Hamas as you do. Couldn't you have tempered the fighters? 

Assad: It always depends on how one uses one's influence. Our most urgent objective is to stop the attack. The fighting must come to an end, and this applies to both sides. In addition, the Israeli embargo against Gaza must end, because sealing the borders is strangling the population. The blockade is a slow death. People don't just die as a result of bombs, but also because their supplies of medications and food are cut off. 

SPIEGEL: Israel will only lift the blockade once the rockets are no longer being fired at its cities. 

Assad: If the people in Gaza have only the choice between a slow death caused by the blockade or death in battle, they will choose to fight. This is why lifting the embargo is an indispensable part of an agreement. We agree with Hamas on this point. Basically, Hamas is not the problem in this conflict, but Israel. 

SPIEGEL: Much of the world considers Israel's military action to be disproportionate. But Hamas provoked it by shelling southern Israel. Each additional rocket results in more violent retribution and increases human suffering.


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