Interview with Syria's Foreign Minister: 'America's Role Is Central'
Syria has great hopes that President-elect Barack Obama can help push the Middle East peace process forward. "This truly is the time to come to a comprehensive peace," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem tells SPIEGEL ONLINE in an interview. He also wants to see direct talks with Iran.
Horses roam the Golan Heights: "It is out right to bring the line back to where it was on June 4, 1967."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Minister, what do you think of the vote that America has cast?
Moallem: I am happy about the result of the American election and I congratulate President-elect Barack Obama. I hope that he will help us make a dream come true: a Middle East of peace, of stability and prosperity. There is no way around it: To achieve this, America’s role is central.
Moallem: The Arab-Israeli one because this conflict aggravates and fuels all others. This truly is the time to come to a comprehensive peace between Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Obama is hardly in a position to solve this alone. What can Syria offer him?
Moallem: Our readiness for dialogue, our moderation.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The new US president would probably even be happier if you stated that you are fundamentally opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Moallem: I am even advocating a whole Middle East without weapons of mass destruction. Israel has nuclear weapons …
SPIEGEL ONLINE: … but you have particularly close ties to Iran. How do you want to counter the concerns of the world and the incoming US administration about Iran's nuclear program?
Moallem: The Iranians have assured us that their program is peaceful and that they need nuclear energy. We trust them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you have have any first indications as to how Iran's leadership feels about Obama's election?
Moallem: We have not discussed this with our friends directly but I think that they understand quite well what this change in America means -- and how to deal with it. I am sure that the result of this election will improve dialogue.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US isn't the only country that will soon have new leadership; Israel also faces new elections. Could you imagine reaching a peace treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu if he were to become prime minister again?
Moallem: If it is based on (United Nations) Security Council resolutions and on the land-for-peace concept we will sign a deal with any prime minister of Israel.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are currently engaged in indirect negotiations with Israel in Turkey. Will these hold through the 10-week transition period until the new US administration enters office?
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem: "The Iranians have assured us that their program is peaceful and that they need nuclear energy. We trust them."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you see as the main sticking points in those talks, and where do you see room to maneuver?
Moallem: There is no room for maneuver. The Golan Heights, the territories occupied by Israel, are Syrian and it is our right to bring the line back to where it was on June 4, 1967.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about the question of the refugees?
Moallem: The right of return, as laid down in Resolution 194, does not mean that the 4 million Palestinians will return at once. Their right is clear, but they have to decide.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Wouldn't this be a good time for Syria to get rid of the Hamas leaders whom you still harbor in Damascus?
Moallem: The Hamas leaders in Damascus are refugees. We are hosting them just as we are hosting a half-million other Palestinians. All of them, no doubt, are seeking to return to their homeland, but for that to happen they need to have their own state back.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The new American president would likely welcome any move by Syria to cut its support for Hezbollah.
Moallem: We are currently seeking good relations with Lebanon as a state. This does not contradict our good relations with Hezbollah. As long as there are Lebanese territories occupied (by Israel), Hezbollah will remain a legitimate movement of resistance.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happened in the US last week and what will probably happen in Israel soon are democratic decisions. When will Syria become democratic? When will the Syrian government change as routinely as in the US, according to a democratic vote?
Moallem: God gave it that Syria is in the center of three major crises: Iraq with the Americans, Palestine (with its neighbor) Israel -- and Lebanon. This imposes on us the necessity to reform our country gradually and according to the challenges of our neighborhood.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will Syria stick with its plan to open embassies in Baghdad and Beirut?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even though US commandos started an air raid on a Syrian target from Iraqi territory two weeks ago?
Moallem: Yes. We know that Iraq is under occupation. It was American troops who violated our sovereignty. I hope that our good, neighborly relations with the Iraqis will not suffer.
- Part 1: 'America's Role Is Central'
- Part 2: 'We Don't Want Syria to Experience What Iraq Has'
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