[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is talk about French pressures on Syria, under pressure from Israel, to move to direct negotiations. Is this true?
[Al-Muallem] President Al-Assad said in his media interviews and at his meetings with several leaders that it is difficult to move to the direct negotiations stage before agreeing on the bases and elements of peace. The second round ended before two days and other rounds will follow until we reach sound bases for launching the direct talks. There is no pressure on Syria from any side whatsoever.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the intentions to arrange a handshake between President Al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the Mediterranean summit in Paris on 13 July?
[Al-Muallem] The arrangements that were agreed on for holding the Mediterranean Union summit confirm there will be no handshakes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Syria had observations about the Mediterranean Union project. Were they taken into account?
[Al-Muallem] Ninety percent of the Syrian observations were taken into account and we are seeking to have the remaining 10 percent taken. The proposal is economic and Syria does not wish to participate in it because a comprehensive and fair peace has not been reached in our region. The union will offer to Syria an alternative similar project that takes the Syrian stands into consideration.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does not Syria’s participation in the Mediterranean summit, if it does participate, conflict with the stands of some Arab countries which were made clear at the Tripoli summit?
[Al-Muallem] Tripoli’s mini summit was one of the successful Arab summits. There was total understanding between the leaders. The summit was dedicated to discussing the Mediterranean Union and the leaders agreed in their opinions. Contacts between us and the fraternal countries are continuing, particularly in light of the French envoys’ visit to Damascus and the president’s positive and constructive talks with them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] India has demonstrated a particular interest in the peace process. What does this mean for Syria?
[Al-Muallem] We felt during the Indian prime minister’s talks with the president India’s interest in the peace process and its desire to back the means of establishing the fair and comprehensive peace from the premise of India’s important position in the Nonaligned Movement. President Al-Assad welcomed this desire and underlined the need for India’s support for the process of establishing a fair and comprehensive peace. The president explained the course of the indirect talks between Syria and Israel through Turkey’s mediation. Turkey undoubtedly exerted an effort for a full year and it is natural for it to host these talks and to play the mediator’s role between the two sides since they are indirect talks.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the second round of negotiations achieve new progress?
[Al-Muallem] The Israelis called it constructive and I was unable to meet our Syrian envoy to the indirect negotiations because he returned to Damascus on the same day that I left it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why is Syria insisting on not announcing the dates of any of the rounds of indirect negotiations while Israeli leaks report them beforehand?
[Al-Muallem] We agreed that Turkey would announce the start and end of the rounds in its capacity as the host country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, how can the strong relations between India and Israel impact on the indirect Syrian-Israeli negotiations?
[Al-Muallem] We do not interfere in other countries’ relations with each other so that the other countries do not interfere in Syria’s relations. The peace process on the Syria track has weight by itself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does Syria view the calm agreement between Hamas and Israel?
[Al-Muallem] Syria supports anything that lifts the suffering of the Palestinian people and the people in Gaza. We support and are waiting to see whether Israel will comply with the calm agreement following the optimism which prevailed when the Lebanese parties reached the Doha agreement which put Lebanon on the solution track. It is also natural for Syria, as chairman of the Arab summit, to make the achievement of inter-Palestinian dialogue and specifically between Fatah and Hamas among its priorities. The Fatah and Hamas leaders were asked since the Damascus summit to send to Syria their written vision of how to launch this dialogue and therefore we invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas to visit Damascus. I also held talks with the Hamas leaders in Damascus to learn about the movement’s stand on this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is information about the possibility of Senegal launching an initiative to achieve an inter-Palestinian dialogue. How do you view this?
[Al-Muallem] Syria welcomes any effort within this framework. Senegal is chairing the Islamic summit and the Senegalese president expressed his desire to see a dialogue between the Fatah and Hamas movements. Every effort in this direction is praiseworthy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does Syria read the stand expressed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by demanding from Israel to withdraw from the Shaba Farms?
[Al-Muallem] We stand for Israel’s withdrawal from every inch of the occupied Arab territories, whether it is called the Shaba Farms, the Golan, or Jerusalem. We stand for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories and therefore if the United States pressures Israel to withdraw from the Shaba Farms then Syria will welcome it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] To what extent can the developments taking place in the region (the Doha agreement, the indirect Syrian-Israeli negotiations, the calm agreement between Israel and Hamas) be placed within the context of the inclination toward achieving the “one basket” solution for all the pending issues in the region, something which Syria has always demanded?
[Al-Muallem] This is true. Things are moving in this direction if we take the Doha agreement, the launch of indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel, and the calm agreement between Hamas and Israel. All these are signs of the validity of what Syrian diplomacy was saying. We encourage all the parties to achieve this and if there is a chance for us to play some role then we will play it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the delay in forming a national unity government in Lebanon, which was one of the Doha agreement clauses?
[Al-Muallem] Syria took the decision of not interfering in the ongoing dialogue between the Lebanese parties to form the government. When President Bashar al-Assad talked to General Michel Suleiman, he stressed that Syria does not interfere in the matter of forming the government. The Doha agreement is moreover clear and there is no going back on it. It included the election of a consensual president, the formation of a national unity government, and an elections law on the basis of the 1960 district one. Syria hopes that the dialogue between the Lebanese will lead to the formation of a national unity government as soon as possible. The Lebanese have no option other than implementing the Doha agreement; otherwise there is only the worst option and some are working for this inside and outside Lebanon who do not want Lebanon’s security and stability.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] President Al-Assad headed east to India in his visits. Does not this conflict with Syria’s relations with Europe?
[Al-Muallem] Syria turned toward the East Asia countries on the instructions of President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian diplomacy became active in this direction. This does not mean there is a conflict and inconsistency with Syria’s move toward other countries, particularly in Europe and South America.