May 11, 2003

Bashar Assad Interview Lally Weymouth

Bashar Assad Interview

Lally Weymouth interviews the Syrian leader in the WaPo.

Some snippets:

Q: Saddam Hussein is gone. No one seems to be sorry.

A: Nobody is sorry. It's good that he's gone . . . but [the outcome] should be better.

Q: Are you worried about U.S. military action here?

A: Powell said there are no plans for U.S. military actions against Syria.

Q: Do you believe him?

A: Yes, Powell is the rational wing [of the administration].

Q: Are you hoping to have a better relationship with the U.S.?

A: We are working for it. Cooperation in combating terrorism is evidence. We helped save the lives of Americans last year.

Q: What is your response to stories that Iraq put its weapons of mass destruction in your country during the war?

A: Why would Syria let them put these weapons in this country? There's no benefit for Syria.

Q: Syria is said to have a chemical and a biological weapons program. Is that true?

A: No.

Q: If you don't, why won't you sign the chemical weapons treaty?

A: Because Israel did not sign it.

Q: Isn't it time to withdraw your troops from Lebanon and let that country become a free and sovereign state?

A: This is related to a peace treaty, to a complete [Israeli] withdrawal.

Q: The Israelis withdrew from Lebanon.

A: They didn't withdraw completely. They still occupy Shebaa Farms [a disputed area that Lebanon claims but is historically part of Syria].

Q: Many in the U.S. believe that there is a new Middle East. Saddam's gone, and the administration is trying for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli question. Where will Syria fit in?

A: We have played a role in this region for years . . . not related just to the will of the United States.

Q: Are you going to adjust to the new situation?

A: We are going to be active.

Q: You can move with the train or stay by the road.

A: I can walk parallel to the train and sometimes come close and sometimes get into the train and sometimes leap to another car. There is not only one train.

Much that is revealing in this interview so go to the link and read the whole thing. The final answer pasted above is somewhat amusing. Weymouth is basically prodding Bashar saying: Iraq's is under effective U.S. control and the regional dynamics have changed immensely--are you gonna play ball--move along with the U.S. "train"? Assad signals by his answer that he wants to reject a singular U.S. hegemon in the region ("not only one train"). And that he will cooperate (likely mostly on terror groups, turning over Saddam regime personnel that have found their way to Syria (if any remain), and not playing its classical "spoiler" role regarding the overall peace process ("sometimes come close and sometimes get into the train") but not cooperate on other issues like WMD disarmament before Israel ("sometimes leap into another car").

Note: Weymouth asked Bashar if Syria had a chemical/bio weapons program. Predictably, he answered no. A more interesting question may have been whether Syria possesses any WMD period. I suspect Syria indeed has such a program but, like Israel's nuclear capacity, will not make it public. Thus my contention that he will not cooperate with potential U.S. demands on Syrian WMD disarmament.

Finally, this exchange is worth noting:

Q: There have been stories in the Israeli press about recent meetings between a Syrian official and an Israeli about starting up peace negotiations. Any truth to this?

A: This is the Israeli way -- to make it appear as if Syria is working in secrecy. . . . Why should we create back channels? This does not give you popular support . . . which is very important in a peace process. Neither now nor in the future will Syria engage in secret negotiations.

This would be a change from occasional below the radar peace feelers his father was willing to pursue.

Posted by Gregory at May 11, 2003 11:37 AM
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