Oct 08, 2010
DAMASCUS, (SANA)-President Bashar al-Assad said that it was hard to imagine that the level of Syrian-Turkish relations would reach their current strategic level in such a short time, but that there was a vision that this was possible for a simple reason, which is that the Turkish-Arab relation is one of fraternity, saying "we lived for hundreds of years in one state, and before the Ottoman state we lived in an Arab state and other different ages and stages… we were always together."
In an interview with the Turkish Arabic-speaking TRT TV satellite station broadcast Wednesday, President al-Assad said that this relation is a natural human relation that underwent conditions that weren't good for less than a century – around 80 years – and this period cannot replace the entire history of the relation that spans many centuries, adding "it is natural to have confidence and faith that you will reach this level… if we didn't have this confidence we wouldn't have reached it… we cannot arrive by chance.
Working on a popular agenda, not regional or international ones
"So, yes, we had a vision in this direction, but in fact we are surprised by time… I believe the time was due to the popular enthusiasm more than government performance… if we didn't have a strong popular base in Syria and you had the same in Turkey, it wouldn't have been possible for this to be achieved," President al-Assad explained, noting that movement across the borders and the flow of goods in both directions increased last year after canceling visas and singing the free trade agreement.
"There is very great momentum and acceleration… so we can say that yes, we expected this, but we're very glad that the time was less than expected," he added. His Excellency said that the secret behind the realization of the Syrian-Turkish bilateral agreements has two sides; the first one is the aforementioned popular enthusiasm, the similar sentiments and traditions, and mutual issues, pointing out that many families in Syria are of Turkish descent and vice versa."
"The second element is the performance of officials in both countries… no doubt that Syrian-Turkish relations kicked off for various reasons, but the most important reason is state credibility… there was high credibility that built very significant confidence. "
"On the other hand, there was commitment by both countries to the popular desire… this means that we weren't working through an international or regional agenda; we were working through a popular agenda… the people in Syria and the people in Turkey want these relations, so we moved as states in this direction," President al-Assad said.
His Excellency pointed out that there was another side that cannot be denied which is Turkey's stances towards various issues. First, Turkey's stance towards the Palestinian issue which concerns every Arab and every Muslim. Second, Turkey's stance towards the war on Iraq, particularly when it refused to become the land from which American planes or foreign forces mobilize to invade Iraq.
"The third stance for us in Syria was when a number of countries were attempting to isolate Syria… most of these countries were participating in this isolation in fear of or in compliance with external pressure… but Turkey maintained a steady relation, which means independence, therefore we move towards any people that proved their independence and motivated their state to be independent like the Turkish people… I believe that these are the main factors that led to this fast launch in relations," President al-Assad said.
President al-Assad affirmed that there is very great mutual trust between the two sides, and that there were no flaws since the beginning of relations with Turkey despite difficult conditions such as the disturbance in Palestine because of the Intifada and the rise of extremist governments, the continuation of these conditions with the invasion of Afghanistan, the period directly before the invasion of Iraq in early 2003, and following that the conditions of isolating Syria and the aggression against Lebanon.
"The relation went through very difficult conditions as there were strong pressures exerted on Syria and on Turkey to move away from Syria, and it didn't move away. So, the trust isn't based on sentiments but rather on facts… there are experiences that this relation went through and it proved to be strong, so the trust was built without being shaken," His Excellency said.
Shifting relations with Turkey to a daily reality
On the results of the meetings of the Syrian-Turkish High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, President al-Assad said that many agreements were signed; noting that despite enthusiasm there is bureaucracy that sometimes hinders launching things in Syria or Turkey, stressing the importance of such meetings in overcoming these bureaucratic obstacles.
"On the other hand, agreements are general directives… they are doors that we open, but this door can be opened and no one might pass through it… we want to open doors, and these meetings serve to encourage people to walk through them by entering projects… it isn't enough to talk about agreements, we have to talk about projects and what are the joint projects that we can establish… this will shift this political relations and these agreements into daily reality and interests that connect people… sentiments are strong and important, trust is important, culture is important, but interests are also important, so we must connect popular interests between Syria and Turkey, which is what this type of meetings which we see frequently means to us," His Excellency said.
On the possibility of movement between Syria and Turkey without a passport in the future, President al-Assad said this is formal procedure either with an ID or a passport and that it is possible, expressing enthusiasm for canceling these procedures and saying "I've been talking about this for about three years. When I first proposed it – I believe it was in 2007 with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – I was enthusiastic about this issue because if you don't remove obstacles in movement, you cannot expect very advanced relations… they will advance but they will still have certain limits… facilitating movement is very important even if we cancel passports or otherwise."
Whoever wants to help in negotiations should be engaged, involved in culture of the region
On Turkey's role if any country gave guarantees to Syria to make peace negotiations with Israel a success, President al-Assad said "when we started work with Turkey, the goal was to search for a common ground, which means indirect talks to reach to the direct talks.. Turkey has begun and succeeded in this stage because its presence in all peace process stages is a necessity for the success of the peace process.
The US has the most powerful impact on Israel, its presence is important for the peace process, particularly during the last stages, but the US is important as a guarantee to implement the peace process. What about managing the negotiations and solving the big number of problems that will occur and removing the difficult obstacles… here comes the role of Turkey. It knows the region and we have confidence in the Turkish officials. Another point which asserts the Turkish role is our experiment with the US during 19 years. Since 1991, the US proved capability of giving guarantee but it was unable to play the role of mediator for the difficulty of being unbiased from one side and its ignorance of the culture of the region."
As for the Kurdish problem inside Turkey, the political and security measures, the Syrian stance in case Turkey agrees with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) through an amnesty or political solution, the President said "it is a regional issue because it concerns Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq… I think that if we look at the Kurds in these countries, the majority of them are national individuals, which means the Iraqi belongs to Iraq and the Syrian belongs to Syria… what we face is not the Kurdish issue, but those who want to exploit this issue to interfere in the internal affairs.. We have no problem with the Kurds… they are as the Arabs and Turkish… we all have coexisted in this region throughout history… I think the openness is correct, the amnesty is correct but within a national framework."
On whether that coordination is concentrated on combating terrorism or not, and if there are any fears of establishing an independent Kurdish country in the region, President al-Assad said "as the majority is a national majority… I see this issue is not possible.. There are some persons who market for this notion.. I am not worry.. But we have concerns about Iraq division which might lead to Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish small countries.
We have normal relations with all Iraqi parties. What is important for Syria is an Iraqi government working for unity, stability and sovereignty of Iraq
As for the source of concern in the Iraqi issue, President al-Assad said "the sectarian situation is enough for this concern … the sectarian or ethnic division… this situation is a reality in Iraq after the measures taken there following the US occupation… this occupation has never supported any Iraqi political process which we wish to begin with the elections that has recently taken place."
With regards to the talks that took place in Tehran and Damascus with President Ahmadinejad and if the talks dealt with Iraq or the Kurds, the President said " before I went to Tehran, there were discussions with Premier Erdogan about Iraq, and before that former Premier Eyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi List was here in Syria… we are on a continuous contact with the Iraqi issue because developments in Iraq will have an impact on us as neighboring countries… sure this issue is the most important, particularly after the delay in forming the government for six months… there are contacts with the Iraqi powers… but it is not necessary to happen everyday, we sometimes make contacts with Iran and Turkey.
Concerning expectations of a military strike against Iran, President al-Assad said, "in logic, no, but you know that reason and logic do not necessarily run the world; however we do not expect, because the outcome of a military action will lead only to more disasters that not only the region, but also the whole world will pay the price. Logically speaking, there is no military strike. There is intimidation and a psychological war. They did the same with Syria. We were threatened continuously during the past years, particularly after Iraq war in 2003. But this doe not rule out a stupid action, and then all sides will pay the price."
On a new formula for the future Iraq and its government, President al-Assad said, "from the beginning, when elections were held, we directly in Syria decided to separate between our disagreement with the Iraqi government and the elections and procedures that will be made to form the government. What is important for Syria in the first place is an Iraqi government that works for the unity, stability and sovereignty of Iraq, on the one hand. On the other hand, the Iraqi government should improve relations with the neighboring countries including Syria."
President al-Assad added, "After elections, communications started between us and the List of Law State headed by al-Maliki. There was transparent talk about the previous stage of disagreement during the past year, as Syria was accused of supporting terrorists in Iraq. Mistakes were clarified. This is why we do not link between disagreements with the previous government and elections."
President al-Assad added, "Now, relations have become normal with all parities, the Iraqi list, List of Coalition and the List of Law State. In conclusion, we want good relations with all."
Answering a question whether his Excellency expects forming an Iraqi government soon, President al-Assad said, "We hope! Delay is not in the interest of Iraq. This delay might be an opportunity for those who want to damage the security situation. We are worried about this delay, so we hope.
Indications show they have become closer, but I cannot determine how true these indications are. Anyway, there will be visits of some Iraqi officials during the coming few days, and we will know from them if what we have seen in the media was true since information is quite contradictory."
Asked about permanent coordination between Syria, Turkey and Iran on Iraq, President al-Assad said, "I can talk about coordination between Syria and Iran, and Syria and Turkey. I do not know the volume of coordination between Iran and Turkey in this issue. Of course there is communication between them. A meeting was held between Turkish Foreign Minister Davutolgo and his Iranian and Syrian counterparts and others in New York a week ago. Yes, there is continuous coordination and we share worry about Iraqi problems."
Syrian-Turkish relations support Turkish-Arab relations
On the Iranian-Syrian relations and Syrian-Arab relations, President al-Assad said, "We cannot talk about balance. Balance has two sides and you stand in the middle. In fact, Syrian relations in its Arab framework and the Syrian relations in its regional framework are integrated relations. Syrian-Turkish relations supported the Turkish-Arab relations. There is integration; we have to look at the Syrian-Iranian relations and the Turkish-Iranian relations the same as the Syrian-Turkish relations."
He added, "When the relationship between Turkey and Iran improve, this will not be at the expense of Syria. In the past, we looked at the Turkish-Israeli relationship negatively; however, after Syrian-Turkish relations improved we think that Turkish-Israeli relations are helpful in the peace process. So, we have to think this way. If there is a problem among the countries of the region, we have to establish relations with all these countries to link them together."
In reply to a question on the Turkish-Israeli relations, President al-Assad said, "I said that stopping these relations will affect the peace process. Had Turkey sold the blood of its sons to play a role in the peace process, we would have lost confidence in it. We talk about a general principle. Of course, the Turkish role needs relations with the sides of the conflict. Israel is the one who cut relations with Turkey. Israel was angry with the objective and just role of Turkey."
Situation in Lebanon is worrying, particularly after the latest escalation
Regarding the situation in Lebanon, President al-Assad said, "the situation in Lebanon is worrying, particularly after the latest escalation and the attempts of interference during the past years by foreign countries; however, we count on the awareness of the Lebanese people."
On Damascus latest decision of issuing an arrest warrant against a number of Syrians, Lebanese and foreigners, President al-Assad said "this issue is judicial, there is a lawsuit raised by General Jamil al-Sayyed in Syria a year ago… this verdict is an independent judicial verdict that has no political relation."
As for the controversy that the verdict has raised in Lebanon, the President said "some persons in Lebanon like to shift anything to a political meaning or content.. this speech is a media speech, perhaps some of them tries to exploit it in order to harm relation with Syria."
With regard to the Palestinian-Israeli direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu, the President said "We don't expect anything about the negotiations.. First because this Israeli government expresses an increasing and mounting extremism in the Israeli street.. when extremism is a general state in Israel.. I don’t think there is anyone who is able to offer any real thing to the Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese sides.. Second, the speech now in Israel revolves around the judiziation of the Israeli state, and this is dangerous issue.. What about the Arabs of 1948… the issue of peace became a matter of settlements, not land, which means that all the Palestinian issue was abbreviated to a number of settlements. It is impossible to be a man of peace and be criminal at the same time.. Gaza Siege, killing the Palestinians; aggression on the Freedom Flotilla… all these issues can't lead or show a will in peace."
In reply to a question about the role of Damascus in realizing the national Palestinian reconciliation, President al-Assad said: "We in Syria try to help as much as possible as far as this issue is concerned; but we don't play the basic role as far as the issue of the reconciliation. As you know, this issue takes place in Egypt through the Egyptian mediation,'', asserting Syria's encouragement for Palestinians to go ahead with reconciliation, '' but without interfering in details."
Asked about Syria's support for Resistance Movements, H.E. President al-Assad asserted that the Syrian support for the Resistance is to continue ' as long as there are usurped rights, whether land, sovereignty, and as long as there is a threat', reiterating that Syria has chosen this option ''not out of its like for war or fighting' and that ' no one likes war and fighting but the insane'' wondering whether another option would exist if international legitimacy resolutions aren't implemented.
President al-Assad, answering a question related to western accusations and the Arab status, pointed out that Arab solidarity is fundamental for safeguarding Arab interests and that during the last two years ' we have started to view problems with the same way' voicing the hope that 'the view for the solution would be similar' as the second step and ' after that to implement the solution in harmony."
In his comments about his evaluation for the increasing Turkish role in the region, H.E. President al-Assad underscored that the Turkish role has changed many things and that Turkey has gained the trust of its neighboring countries and started to play a role bigger than its geographical size.
President al-Assad added that Turkey has become a 'regional player and its name has become a reality in the international sphere and not only the regional sphere', citing, for example, Turkey's positive roles as far as Iraq, the Palestinian Cause, Lebanon and Syria.
H.E. President al-Assad went on to say that '' the bulk of trade exchange is in our interest and in the interest of the Turkish People and Businessmen'' citing family relations on the two sides of the borders, about 900 kilometers, which were transferred from mines border to a border ''where we are working now to establish joint ventures on both sides after clearing the mines.''
About the Turkish 'example' or 'experience', President al-Assad expressed the belief that the Turkish experience for Syria, as a neighboring country not to mention the fraternal and historical relations, "is not only useful for us, but , as I believe, any development or reform process in Turkey would have impact on Syria, whether we would benefit from it directly or not' hailing the Turkish experience as ' good example' because it ' moves rationally forwards and stems from the Turkish reality' describing this experience as being 'not imported, moving gradually with carefully thought of steps."
In reply about recent constitutional reforms in Turkey, H.E. President al-Assad pointed out that the referendum related to the mentioned reforms means 'support for the government, asserting that ' this referendum is very important for us, because we deal with the Government whose credibility in Turkey is known to us; this bolsters our relations with it', asserting that popular support would mean that any future government or official would pursue the same policy, because it reflects the will of the people.
Some positive signals were made by current US Administration, but on the ground nothing exists
Answering a question related to the Syrian-US relations in particular and the West in general, H.E. President al-Assad said that 'the relation goes forwards, but in a very slow way, due to the complex circumstances in the US domestic policy,' declaring that 'some positive signals were made by current US Administration, the most important of which is that this Administration no longer pursues the policy of dictations, but of dialogue.''
President al-Assad cited the latest US positive move 'through moving towards peace process' asserting that 'we say signals , which aren’t facts, on the ground nothing exists, but as signals these signals are considered positive if they would lead later on to positive facts on the ground. Let us wait a little as to see this thing before evaluating it in a final way.''
Commenting on the EU countries, President al-Assad said "There is no European policy at the EU, there is a meeting of foreign ministers and a representative of European policy who is Mrs. Ashton, but in the end her policy follows the policy of all those ministers. When they come to this region and meet us, each one of them gives us a different policy. When they want they say 'there is a unified policy' and in other times they say 'this is the policy of our country.' In that case, there is no European Union in the political sense. Now our relationship with the EU is a technical one in the first place. Of course, our experience with the EU over the past years, particularly between 2005 and 2009, was not at all positive. When Bush imposed on us the American agenda, and most of them followed it with only few exceptions, this showed that the EU is still weak on the international arena, and we hope its situation will be better in the future."
Asked about whether US President Barack Obama's policy has differed from that of the former US Presidents and whether he has come up with anything new with regard to the region, the President said "It has differed in approach, but in practice, since there are institutions imposing themselves and explosive spots or areas Bush left for President Obama, it is not easy for him to completely detach from his predecessor's policy.
On the issue of Iraq, whether we like it or not, and whether he likes it or not, there is a country occupied by the US forces called Iraq. How could he get out without harming Iraq? How could he erase history which has recently recorded the USA as an imperialist country in the occupation sense? Obama will have to address these issues, and here comes the role of different institutions. What's the view of security apparatus? What's the view of the army in the field? What's the view of the Congress which is subject to the lobbies in the USA? There are simple changes on the ground through policy, but there is nothing serious in this direction. What about the US bias toward Israel? It has not changed. All of the US administrations have always been biased toward Israel. We have to be realistic. The changes are very slight."
In his comment about the American and European relations with Syria, and the allegations those countries raise from time too time that Syria does not respect human rights and that President al-Assad has not kept his promises regarding democratic reforms, the President said "First, as for them, if we want to make a comparison, we don't have Guantanamo detention camp. We don't have Abu Ghreib prison. We didn't occupy countries. We didn't kill or make homeless millions of people. They have no right to talk about this matter.
As for the promises, I didn't make promises to them, and the reform process in Syria is none of their business. When I first spoke in my oath-taking speech in Syria, I didn't speak of promises, I spoke of a vision. I was speaking about how I view Syria. As for promises, I made no promises, to be precise about terms. Anyway, whether we call it a promise or a vision or anything, such matter is raised inside Syria. All that I raised was a one hundred percent Syrian vision. The reform process in Syria is not the business of any country in the world. We don't care about their opinions. We don't care about their assessment. We aren’t interested in praise. In this issue, both praise and dispraise are considered interference in internal affairs."
The President went on saying "As for Syria, no doubt things have changed. Of course, everybody has his/her point of view regarding the form and speed of reform. In the end, assessment is self-made. You can't reach a result because views will always differ, and this is normal. What's important is that we have started a dialogue which has expanded. We have started steps. We as a country believe, as we shoulder responsibility for any fault that might occur in the reform process, that it is important to speed up the reform process as quickly as possible with less negative effects or consequences… We are walking gradually, and undoubtedly there are internal obstacles in Syria we take responsibility for. There are also external obstacles caused by the political conditions we went through. What's important is that we are walking forward. It's not true we are walking quickly. I don't think we are walking quickly, but it's not true we are standing still."
Answering a question on whether he has time for the family or whether he watches TV, with reference to the latest World Basketball Cup matches, particularly the match between Turkey and the US, His Excellency said "Generally speaking, since I was a child, I was never interested in watching TV. It wasn't one of my hobbies, and that's why I have much time for many other things to organize… I take care of the family, and this is a key issue. It's not true that a man can't find time for his family, unless he is messy in his job… The main challenge is how to organize time…you can't do your job when your family relations are not good or when your health is not good. Therefore, sport is important. Sport and family are part of the job, and it's unreasonable to work for all the citizens and not to work for your family too. There is a kind of balance which is very necessary. It is important to be successful in organizing our time, and I believe one of the reasons of backwardness in the East is not setting priorities in life. This is something I'm always keen to achieve."
Continuing talk about sport with reference to Syria's hosting of Fenerbahce team and whether there is a new intention to host another Turkish club, President al-Assad said "I don't know if there is a plan by the sport institutions. I believe that sport is very important for contact among segments of people who might not contact with each other through politics, or cultural and academic institutions, or through the field of business and economy or through families. Such segments come in contact through sport…I believe that such friendly meetings are very important, especially that sport in Turkey has greatly progressed. Our contact with it will also lead to developing the Syrian expertise. In this occasion, I congratulate your winning the second place at the final match in the World Basketball Championship. We wished you had won the first place, and yet the second place is a big achievement, and we know about your achievements in football when you came third in the World Cup."
At the end of the interview President al-Assad thanked the TRT Arabic-speaking channel, expressing pleasure for being the first president addressing this program, adding "I am certain this channel will have a big role in the process of enhancing the communication we have started between the Turks and the Arabs in general. I welcome you again, and definitely we will have lots of meetings in the future because we have plenty of new issues every day."