Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has disclosed details of what went on at the latest consultative meeting of the Arab foreign ministers concerning the Syrian crisis and said “everyone tried without exception to give Damascus an opportunity for a solution through the Arab initiative but Syria rejected it and considered it interference in its internal affairs.”
He asserted in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that the Arab countries rejected the imposition of sanctions on Syria and foreign intervention as well as freezing Damascus’s Arab League’s [AL] membership while providing an opportunity for the Arab initiative that is considered the basic wall for preventing interventions and said “if Damascus rejects the Arab solution’s opportunity then matters will get out of control.”
He also revealed his country’s intervention to improve the atmospheres between Saudi Arabia and Iran following the Iranian attempt to assassinate Saudi Ambassador in Washington Adel Al-Jubeir and said “we tried to intercede with Iran but we failed” and expressed his expectation of Washington’s insistence on its stand of escalation with Iran.
Following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some are expecting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to respond positively to the AL Council’s resolution and also believe that the diplomatic solution in Syria has been overtaken by time in view of the opposition’s rejection of dialogue and the continued violence by the regime. In your assessment, do you believe the AL statement is capable of dealing with the crisis?
[Zebari] The Arab foreign ministers held consultations before the official meeting and the aim was to activate the Arab stand and present solutions and initiatives for drawing up the right solution for what is happening in Syria. It was not right for the world to talk about the tragic humanitarian conditions and difficult security while the Arab League remained without a stand. A long list of demands and proposals was presented at this meeting. But the others and we rejected three issues. The first was no to foreign intervention; the second was no to freezing Syria’s membership because that step would not help the diplomatic efforts and Syria was a founder member of the AL; and the third was no imposition of sanctions on it. That was the Iraqi stand too. We talked about the importance of activating the Arab initiative and giving it another chance, particularly as events were quickening. From this premise, we agreed that what we proposed should be serious and credible, particularly as the Arab peoples and public opinion would not accept an AL resolution that is not firm. I can honestly say that all the Arab foreign ministers were concerned about Syria’s security and unity and overcoming of this crisis or tribulation. But the starting point is the demand for the immediate stop to fighting.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As this measure will lead to the immediate stop of any foreign intervention or abort any conspiracy against Syria?
[Zebari] Stopping the fighting will certainly stop intervention. A dialogue took place between the foreign ministers about the issue of the infighting and who was carrying it out in Syria. In any case, the principle is the immediate stop of fighting. We also talked about the importance of an Arab ministerial committee to follow up as well as an attempt to hold a real national dialogue between the opposition inside and outside the country and the Syrian Government. We proposed to have this dialogue held at the AL headquarters since it is the house of the Arabs and a neutral side that has no private interest. We care about both the Syrian Government and the Syrian people. We mentioned that Iraq had in the past the experiment of national dialogue that was hosted by the AL and whose results were positive. We also mentioned that several dialogues were achieved outside the concerned country, such as the Doha agreement for Lebanon that was done outside it, Al-Taif accord, and Al- Fashir one about Sudan and so on. Hence the idea of holding a national dialogue inside Syria is a difficult one to implement at present because there are parties or forces whose participation might not be guaranteed. The AL secretary general was therefore given this task of making contacts and achieving the convocation of the dialogue within two weeks from the issuance of the resolution. The other point in the AL’s resolution is that there is an opportunity and we are expecting the Syrian side to respond positively to it. But if this does not happen, then we will think of other measures.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And what are these other measures?
[Zebari] Several measures were proposed which we rejected, such as freezing membership, foreign intervention, and the imposition of sanctions. The countries will discuss other measures that will help Syria’s stability and unity without using the three alternatives we rejected. We believe what was proposed at the extraordinary meeting was beneficial and serves Syria and the opposition. If this is not achieved, then matters will get out of control. This opinion was presented to the Syrian delegation very clearly and frankly because US and Western pressures on Syria are increasing. We therefore proposed an initiative to be an opportunity before Syria for overcoming these pressures. But the Syrian stand was clear. It rejected and expressed reservations about the AL statement and even rejected the Arab initiative idea.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does Damascus consider the Arab initiative interference in its internal affairs?
[Zebari] Yes. Syria considers it interference in its internal affairs. The Syrian delegation was given full freedom to express its stand. I believe the ministerial meeting, whether the official or consultative one, was good and constructive.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the ministers discuss other issues such as the Iranian dossier?
[Zebari] No. The discussions were about Syria only.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not believe that the situation in Syria and the region is very dangerous and that what the Arab foreign ministers did has been overtaken by events?
[Zebari] The situation is certainly getting more complicated daily in view of the continuing shedding of blood, use of violence, and daily clashes. All this is causing us concern about what these events will lead to.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can Iraq intercede with Iran to stop the escalation which it is carrying out at present against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf on the basis of the unique relations between Tehran and Baghdad?
[Zebari] I do not see at present any prospect for such a role. We did in fact try but did not succeed for several reasons which I do not want to go into them. But there is definitely escalation between Iran and the United States, especially following the recent information about the attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. We are really following this issue and demanding information. But the Iranian side is refusing to give any information. The second thing is the accusation of the intention to do something and I mean that no real murder happened. I believe the issue is complicated and a large part of it is pertains to security and intelligence information that might be doubted here and there. But the US stand is adhering to its stand on this matter.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But this issue has repercussions for Iraq and all the region’s countries?
[Zebari] It certainly has repercussion for us because we are at the forefront of the storm.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What advice did you give Iran?
[Zebari] We did not really hold direct talks with them about this issue but talked to the US side, expressed our view, and asked several questions. The issue is still in its beginning and we do not have a specific stand apart from what the AL announced at the meeting held at the envoys’ level. In my view, this issue is going to have reactions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about AL Secretary General Nabil El-Arabi’s visit to Iraq?
[Zebari] I met him to arrange for this anticipated visit for consulting and communicating with the Iraqi Government and politicians, particularly the issue of holding the next Arab summit. We have few months for resolving this issue and therefore the visit is still on the table and will be made soon.