Interview with Syria's Foreign Minister 'America's Role Is Central'
Part 2: 'We Don't Want Syria to Experience What Iraq Has'
SPIEGEL ONLINE: American sources say that Syria knew in advance of the commando operation. Is that true?
Moallem: This is a fabricated story by the Americans. It has nothing of truth to it. They were confused, and they were late with their own statement from Washington. And then they leaked this story to the media. It is totally untrue.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: If it is untrue, then why didn't the Syrian army respond? Why didn't you protect your citizens?
Moallem: Frankly, we did not expect such an aggression. We don't understand why (it happened) -- especially now that Syria is exerting enormous efforts to tighten its side of the border. Anyway, we are not Georgia. We were seeking wisdom not to escalate the situation.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The situation would improve even further if Damascus gave the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to all the facilities in Syria it wants to inspect.
Moallem: Seven months after an aggression against a Syrian military position near Deir al-Zor, Israel went to the IAEA and claimed that Syria intended to build a nuclear reactor. This is totally untrue. We have allowed inspectors to visit the site. They spent three days there, they took samples and analyzed them. I assure you: They did not find the materials needed to build a reactor -- graphite, for example. They came to Damascus fulfilling a memorandum of understanding between Syria and the agency in which we allowed them to visit the site once.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The IAEA would like to see three other sites as well.
Moallem: We do not want Syria to experience what Iraq has experienced. You remember the big American lies before the war in Iraq. Now they want to see this location, then they want to see three other locations and then, maybe, another four. We are not ready to repeat this. This will harm our national security.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Part of Iraq's tragedy was that Saddam Hussein failed to clear up any doubts.
Moallem: We assure the world that we do not have any nuclear intention, no intention to build a nuclear military capability. It costs a lot of money, it is useless -- and the only country in the world that ever dared to use nuclear weapons was the United States.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think the changing of the guard in Washington will present greater opportunities?
Moallem: We have always been ready for dialogue with the Americans. Just six weeks ago I sat with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York. It was a very positive discussion and we agreed to follow up. But certain people in this administration disliked this opening and they wanted to block it -- with this air raid on Syrian territory.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think it is possible that the outgoing administration could repeat such a strike?
Moallem: With this Bush administration all possibilities are open. But this administration has a moral duty to pave the way for the new government in a positive manner. And the European leaders have a double responsibility to encourage stability in the Middle East and to inform the new administration about the need for cooperation between the US, Europe and the regional powers.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to engage Syria in dialogue
Moallem: We appreciate Minister Steinmeier highly because he was the first who opened up to Syria. I myself negotiated with him. We admit that we have gaps in our positions but we were determined to continue this dialogue.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Chancellor Merkel, however, is skeptical.
Moallem: I don't know why she is skeptical. If I knew why, I would address her concern.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: She has repeatedly criticized Syria for its role in Lebanon.
Moallem: After the agreement of Doha, which Syria supports, after electing a new president and composing a government of national unity in Lebanon, after our determination to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon -- after all this, I think, Madam Merkel would serve Lebanon better by opening up to Syria.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In a best-case scenario, how do you see the Middle East in four years, when the US next goes to the polls?
Moallem: This will depend on America's new vision of the Middle East -- it cannot be a black-and-white one -- and it will depend on Israels political will to come to a comprehensive peace agreement. It will also depend on whether we regional powers act accordingly.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you have a last word for the outgoing Bush administration?
Interview conducted by Bernhard Zand.
- Part 1: 'America's Role Is Central'
- Part 2: 'We Don't Want Syria to Experience What Iraq Has'