Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat- Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal has stated that Syria includes the Darfur issue among its political and diplomatic priorities and pointed out that the ball is now in the Sudanese corner. He stressed that relations with Lebanon are good and in the right direction and that Syria supports the Iraqi State’s unity and was therefore eager to appoint an ambassador in Baghdad. He also declared that Syria does not trust Israel and any negotiations with it must be in participation with the United Nations, the United States, and the EU.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does Syria view the recent developments in Darfur?
[Bilal] Syria now places Sudan’s peace and stability in general and the Darfur issue in particular at the top of its priorities and interests. President Al-Assad is personally in charge of the dossier because he understands that the state, land, and people of Sudan are facing real threats and that Syria’s responsibility is to confront them from the premise that pan-Arab security is indivisible. We are in solidarity with and back Sudan from a firm principled stand and respond to the Sudanese people’s legitimate aspirations of peace, stability, and progress.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the situation following the move by the Arab League’s quadripartite committee to hold the Darfur reconciliation conference in Doha?
[Bilal] Syria is totally concerned with the Sudanese issue and the Darfur dossier because, as I said, it poses a threat to Sudan and its security, stability, and unity and also affects pan-Arab security. Syria’s contacts are continuing with all parties, and in particular Qatar since it will host the conference of the Darfur leaders and movements with the government’s delegation to reach a final solution for the situations in Darfur. Syria is hoping for the participation of all the forces in this conference without exception because what will agree on will achieve the Darfur peace in the end.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Muslim movements in Darfur which announced they have reservations about the Doha conference?
[Bilal] First of all, the Darfur conference in Doha is not a totally Arab notion because consultations and understandings were made with the EU, African Union, United Nations, and Middle Eastern countries. The Arab initiative does not impose an opinion or lay down conditions or prior agendas. Only those participating in the Doha conference are the ones who will decide what is in the interest of Darfur and its people. France is a major European country which took part in the quadripartite summit in Damascus in its capacity as EU chairman. It understands the nature of the Darfur problem and its deep impact on the region and neighboring countries and also knows that weapons do not solve the Darfur issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you describe relations with Lebanon now?
[Bilal] Syria has always been eager to have a relationship of brotherhood and good neighborliness with fraternal Lebanon. It underlines its support and backing for everything that Lebanon’s people, communities, and parties want because Lebanon’s stability is considered stability for Syria. Damascus welcomes and supports anything that the people of Lebanon agree upon and the relationship with them is proceeding well and in the right direction.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is Syria’s stand towards what is happening in Iraq?
[Bilal] Syria is interested in what is happening in Iraq. President (Bashar) Al-Assad made his decision to appoint a Syrian ambassador in Baghdad out of his belief in the need to support the efforts for protecting the unity of Iraq’s territories, people, and homeland. This too is a permanent strategic vision.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the current Syrian stand on negotiations with Israel?
[Bilal] Syria has a firm stand on the Middle East peace process and we have clear terms of reference and rights which are the final road to peace in the region. This stand is the same as that of the international community which acknowledges the return of Syrian rights in full, which is the Golan and withdrawal from it, and the comprehensive peace on the bases of the UN resolutions. Syria is part of the solution in the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why does Syria prefer indirect negotiations with Israel, that is, through a mediator?
[Bilal] Turkey is sponsoring the indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel and these are exploratory. We have no problem with these declared attempts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does Syria view the European role and can it replace the US’s role in the peace negotiations?
[Bilal] We say boldly and clearly that we do not trust Israel and will not get into direct negotiations with it except under an international, European, American, and Russian sponsorship that acts as a witness and guarantor of the results that might be reached.