London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, has described the attack on Syrian territory by US helicopters as “a criminal, terrorist act of aggression,” noting that the Syrians” cannot understand the reason” for this attack. He said that Damascus is still waiting for answers from the US Administration and from the Iraqi government for the reasons for mounting this attack. He stressed that the attack “was not an error, but a deliberate act and took place in broad daylight.”
On Syria’s response to this attack, Al-Muallem said that the response would depend on the answers that Damascus would receive. He added that Damascus will request the United States to investigate the attack, but he did not rule out a confrontation. He said: “Syria has a right to defend its territory, but we hope we will not reach the point of confrontation. However, if that is what they want, there will be no other option.” He did not spare the Iraqi government his criticism. In comment on the statement by a spokesman for the Iraqi government on the reasons for launching the US raid, He said that “he cannot believe that an Arab official with one drop of Arab blood would justify this raid, if (Iraqi spokesman Al-Dabbagh) did say that.” He went on saying that “there is no partner on the other side of the border” with Iraq to coordinate with control of the border.
A US official who insisted on anonymity said Monday that the raid launched by helicopters on a Syrian village was carried out by US forces, saying the raid was a “success” against foreign fighters active in Iraq. White House spokesman Dana Perino declined comment on the offensive in reply to question by email.
On its part, Baghdad confirmed that an attack had been launched against Iraqi security forces from the Syrian area which the US raid targeted, noting at the same time that Baghdad seeks “good relations with Damascus.”
Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for the Iraqi Government, said that “the Iraqi government is in contact with the Americans regarding reports on an attack on the border area with Syria.”
He stressed that “the targeted area in Syria was used for activities by organizations hostile to Iraq.” At a news conference held at the Foreign Press Association headquarters in central London following his meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Syrian Foreign Minister al-Muallem said: “We consider the raid a terrorist, criminal act of aggression, and we hold the US Government responsible. We request the US Government to investigate [the raid] and notify us of the results. We also call on the Iraqi government to investigate the raid and not allow launching attacks and acts of aggression against Syria from its territory.”
Al-Muallem wondered if “the raid represents a foretaste of the security agreement between Iraq and the US Administration,” adding: “There are questions that we need to consider.” In reply to a question on whether Damascus received a clarification about the raid from the American party, Al-Muallem said: “They said they had no information and that they regret the death of civilians.” He added: “The raid came as a surprise to everyone.” Describing the attack, he said: “It is the law of the jungle practiced by some of those working in the US Administration, or what we call in our region the cowboy policy.” He added: “The record of this US Administration is full of lies ever since they went to the UN Security Council claiming they had evidence of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.”
In reply to a question on Iraq’s stand on the raid, Al-Muallem said: “I am surprised to see an Arab citizen with a drop of Arab blood justifying this sinful attack on unarmed civilians. I cannot believe what he [al-Dabbagh] said that, if he did say that.” He noted that he is awaiting a telephone call from Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari at the request of the latter.
In response to a question on whether Syria will resort to the UN Security Council, Al-Muallem said: “As long as there are Americans in the Security Council, there will be no democracy.” Commenting on the Arab League’s role, Al-Muallem said: This is a flagrant act of aggression against an Arab country, and anyone with Arab blood must react strongly and fearlessly to this aggression.” He added: “The response will depend on the answers we will receive from the US Administration and from the Iraqi government.” He said: “International law gives every country the right to defend its territory; we hope we will not reach the point of confrontation, but if that is what they want, there will be no other option.” He continued: “If it was said that there were Al-Qaeda elements in Washington preparing to launch an attack, would you believe that or would you ask for evidence? Whoever says that there are Al-Qaeda elements [in Syrian territory] must give evidence, or at least respect people’s lives.”
Al-Muallem underlined that his meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband was positive. He said: “We discussed all aspects of bilateral relations and I explained to my counterpart the circumstances of the US aggression. We also discussed relations between Syria and the EU.” He expressed his “satisfaction” at the outcome of the talks, noting that he extended an invitation to Miliband to visit Syria, and Miliband hopes to visit Syria in the near future.
Replying to a question on the Syrians’ favorite US presidential candidate, Al-Muallem said: “I hope that the American people will elect a president who can build a good reputation for the United States, contrary to what the current US administration has done. We hope the new president will learn from the mistakes of this Administration and acts to protect the lives of Americans and others.” He stressed that the US raid on the Syrian territory will not affect the rapprochement between Syria and the West in general and with the EU in particular. Answering a question on ties with Iran, al-Muallem said: “Our relations are very good and we will continue them, as the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful, and they confirmed this to us.”
He added: “There is political coordination, but we have our own interest and they understand and support our interest.”
Discussing the smuggling of arms and fighters across the border, something which the United States has constantly criticized the Syrians for, Al-Muallem said: “We do all we can to control the border, but no one can ensure total control of the border. In addition, we have no actual partners on the other side of the border (Iraq) to ensure the control of the border and exchange of information.” He added: “There is a security cooperation agreement between the two countries, and we were about to call for a meeting of the security committee of the countries neighboring Iraq.”
Asked if the US raid would affect the course of the indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel, Al-Muallem said: “There is a political crisis in Israel at this point in time, and until this crisis has been resolved, there will be no negotiations” with Israel. A joint statement was issued on the Syrian Foreign Minister’s visit to Britain. It underlined that the meeting between Al-Muallem and Miliband witnessed “frank, useful, and constructive talks on bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East.” Both sides “expressed their common will to work together to ensure stability in the region based on their common interest.”
The statement said that both countries stress the need for Lebanon and Syria to build on the historic agreement on the exchange of diplomats. They stressed the need for the exchange of ambassadors and the demarcation of the border as soon as possible. According to the statement, both parties look forward to seeing successful-, transparent, safe, and honest elections in Lebanon as well as full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.