(Asharq Al-Awsat) The UN Security Council met to start the Middle East peace process and underscore the UN Security Council resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Does Syria look forward to activating the Syrian-Lebanese track of negotiations with Israel?
(Al Muallem) It is beneficial to let the UN Security Council know the Arab position on the peace process. This position is first based on the peace initiative the Arab summit approved in 2002. Second, it is good that the UN Security Council met on the ministerial level. But we must not raise the ceiling of our expectations from the UN Security Council, which took 33 days to adopt a resolution stopping the war on Lebanon. We do expect to raise the ceiling of our expectations under the current international situation, which is dominated by a single world power. It is good that the UN Security Council convened, but we must underscore the need to solve the problems of our region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You must have read UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Annan said what happened in Lebanon was an alarm bell. He called for activating all tracks of negotiations with Israel. Are there any efforts to reactivate these tracks?
(Al-Muallem) The UN secretary general undertook thankful efforts and toured the whole region. He saw for himself what is happening and listened to the opinion of the leaders of the region. He was thus in direct contact with the situation on the ground. He found that solving the problems of the region from their roots requires a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict on all tracks. This is in harmony with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which expressed this in Paragraph 18. It is natural for the UN Security Council to implement all the clauses of its resolutions without being selective in implementing some clauses and ignoring others. Therefore, the UN secretary general’s assessment of the situation stemmed from this reality. Hence, we believe that there is an opportunity after the war Israel launched on Lebanon. The question is whether this opportunity is large. The answer is that we do not think it is large, but the international community can expand it and turn it into a real opportunity to achieve peace and address all regional problems if this international community has the will and determination to do so. However, if it is not willing to do so under Israeli pressure and US hegemony, this opportunity will be lost and the region will be exposed to all sorts of dangers.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In his speech, the US President spoke about an isolation from which Syria is suffering. It seems that there are US efforts to deepen this isolation.
(Al-Muallem) First of all, the US President did not come up with anything new at all. Therefore, I describe this speech as the speech of insistence on mistakes. It has been proven that the mistakes the US policy in our region led to the destruction we see in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. What we heard in President Bush’s speech was insistence on this erroneous policy. This means the US Administration has not realized that it and its policy are in a dilemma. It does not want to listen to the voices demanding it to change its policy so that security and stability can prevail in the region. As for the issue of isolating Syria, it has been categorically proven that the one who wanted to isolate Syria has isolated himself and his role. This isolation and this role are doomed to failure. None can isolate Syria or limit the Syrian role because this role was born with Syria and is based on history and geography.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Resolution 1701 placed commitments on Syria. These are related to support for Hezbollah, ban on arms exports to Lebanon, and the disarming of Hezbollah.
(Al-Muallem) No, this resolution did not speak about disarming Hezbollah except within the framework of what the Lebanese agree on in their dialogue. The resolution placed commitments on all countries with regard to the issue of border and arms control, and not a specific country. Therefore, Syria said it will not accept UNIFIL forces on its borders with Lebanon, but it will control these borders. Therefore, a battalion was sent to reinforce the border guards on the Syrian-Lebanese borders.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the German offer to extend aid to the border guards and customs officers?
(Al-Muallem) We asked the Europeans through the UN secretary general for technical assistance in the field of equipment and training of Syrian border guards. When the training period ends, the trainers’ mission will come to an end. They will not be on the border, but they will train the Syrian border guards.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) It is obvious that the last Israeli war on Lebanon led to differences between Syria and some Arab countries on its reasons. How do you view these differences?
(Al-Muallem) First, differences in opinion and analysis should not lead to Arab differences. There were different viewpoints, but each side should respect the viewpoint of the other side. Arab solidarity and care for Arab relations are the basis, especially under these critical circumstances and this historical turning point in the life of the Arab nation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) UN Security Council Resolution 1701 stressed the need to demarcate Lebanon’s international borders, especially the border with Syria.
(Al-Muallem) You mean Resolution 1680.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) That was reiterated in Resolution 1701.
(Al-Muallem) Resolution 1680 was meaningless. The issue of border demarcation and diplomatic relations is a purely bilateral issue that is decided by the Syrians and Lebanese in their bilateral relations. Anything else outside this framework is considered interference in national sovereignty.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the ownership of the Shab’a Farms? Have you presented any documents proving Lebanon’s ownership of them?
(Al-Muallem) We reached agreement with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora on this issue. This understanding is still there. There is an opportunity to liberate these farms.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Secretary General Kofi Annan asked you to present the maps or documents you may have to prove Lebanon’s ownership of these farms so that he can make recommendations to the UN Security Council.
(Al-Muallem) No, he did not ask for this. We explained to him the gist of the understanding reached between Syria and Lebanon and he told us that it was good.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will Fouad al-Siniora visit Damascus in the near future to discuss this understanding?
(Al-Muallem) He has an invitation. It was conveyed to him through the emir of Qatar.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there any mediation in this regard?
(Al-Muallem) We do not need mediation between Syria and Lebanon.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Iraqis always accuse Syria of being unable to control the border with Iraq.
(Al-Muallem) There is no problem on the border between Syria and Iraq. On the contrary, the efforts Syria made to control the border are recognized. These are huge efforts involving material and human sacrifices. The reason is that the security and stability of Iraq concern Syria and Syria’s security and stability. We condemn all terrorist acts targeting the Iraqi people. The Iraqi blood is dear to Syria. Therefore, we offered to have unlimited security cooperation with the brothers in Iraq in the field of border and exchange of security information for the purpose of attaining security and stability in Iraq.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Iraqi Government accuses Syria of sheltering some members of Saddam’s former regime and extending aid to them to sabotage the political process.
(Al-Muallem) We support the political process and Al-Maliki’s government. We want to establish the best possible relations with this government. If there are security claims, we invite an Iraqi security delegation to visit Syria and present what it has to the Syrian security officials so that things will be discussed in detail. The delegation will leave Syria feeling satisfied.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Iraqi officials expect you to visit Iraq and resume diplomatic relations between the two countries on the ambassadorial level. Will you pay this visit shortly?
(Al-Mu’allim) I will pay it at the right time, God willing.