West two-faced over rights violations in Syria – country’s FM

The economic sanctions which are having a harsh impact on the Syrian population highlight a clear contradiction in the West’s approach to Syria, insists Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.

­The Minister gave an exclusive interview to RT discussing how the government of his country sees the way out of the bloodshed Syria has been plunged into since March.

RT: Your Excellency, you expressed reserve at the last meeting of foreign ministers of Arab states in Cairo on the situation in Syria, whereas the opposition welcomed their contribution. Do you think the Arab League has been playing a constructive role?

Walid al-Muallem: Unfortunately, due to the so-called Arab Spring, some countries that had been playing a significant role in the Arab League’s operation are now busy with their own domestic issues, and this doesn’t help consolidated solutions.

Hopefully, this situation will be resolved in the short-term, and these countries will become efficient again in consolidating the common Arab cause – this is first.

Do you think it would be reasonable to discuss a country’s problems without its participation?

Second, a proposal was made at this consultative meeting to freeze Syria’s membership of the Arab League – this is very dangerous. Most participating countries spoke against this proposal.

How can one imagine resolving common Arab problems without Syria?

And thirdly, this proposal contradicts the League’s charter, as the board of the Arab states’ leaders has the power to suspend or freeze membership. This power was breached when making a decision on Libya, and we’re all well aware of what happened then. The UN Security Council used the Arab League’s decision when adopting its resolution, and then NATO used this decision for its purposes. When Arabs speak up with such proposals they understand the purpose of these actions, which is to undermine what remains of the common Arab cause.

RT: The opposition states that the Syrian leadership has little time left to implement the reforms announced by President Bashar al-Assad. They are saying that the Syrian people are paying with their blood for delays in these reforms. Why is there such a delay in implementing them?

WAM: First of all, there is no delay. On the contrary, a universal reform program underway in Syria will be implemented in a record six months compared to other countries, including Russia, where reforms lasted for several years. I repeat that this is a record short period of time. Those who speak about reforms know that certain laws should be passed to see them through.

They include laws on political parties and parliamentary elections slated for next February. There are also elections to local self-government bodies. A law on the media should also be passed. A commission has been set up to draft the country’s new constitution. How fast should these things go? These are crucial issues, solutions to which will determine the face of new Syria, a pluralistic and democratic country, a model example to other nations in the region.

Is hasty action reasonable? These are serious problems that require serious approaches based on experience and international law.

Judging from that, I would say that the country’s leadership is not slowing down reforms and the deadlines set by the Syrian president are very short. In less than six months, the country will see these reforms carried out.

That is why I’m asking, if the opposition really cares for the future of this country, why it wouldn’t begin dialogue and lay out some serious approaches to creating a new Syria?

As for the bloodshed, let me ask you whether there’s a regime anywhere in the world whose purpose is to kill its own citizens? Or rather, isn’t its direct purpose to protect its own citizens from terrorists?

We are confronted with armed terrorist groups who have nothing to do with reform. These groups are being armed and financed from abroad. Every day, Syrian television reports new arrests of these groups’ members who are sowing terror. What objectives do they have other than how to earn more money? Therefore, we should differentiate the national opposition which is in favor of political and economic reforms from those armed groups.

RT:Could you please tell us what trends these groups belong to and who is giving them direct support?

WAM: According to our information, these are al-Qaeda groups operating from Iraq; also, “traditionalist” forces and Muslim Brotherhood units have been discovered. These units are financed from two sources – by Islamist organizations in the Arab world, including the Gulf States, as well as organizations based in European countries. The second source is weapons- and drugs-smugglers. 

RT: Statements are made in the West one after another that the security forces continue to use violence against the protesters. We actually saw the security forces and armored vehicles in the streets of a few towns and around Homs ourselves during our visits to Syria. Why are so many troops needed in Syrian towns like Homs?

WAM: To start with, the West only pretends it is worried about human rights violations in Syria. In fact, it was the West that imposed economic sanctions that have hit the interests of the Syrian population so hard. This is an obvious discrepancy within the Western approach to Syria. They have a plan which clearly foresees impairment of the ruling regime in Syria, followed by its complete overthrow.

Why are they doing this? To minimize Syria’s influence in the region and force it to abandon its independent stance. The West seems to think that economic sanctions will help topple our government.

This is exactly why we should try to prevent this plan from being implemented. Secondly, we have not used tanks for seven months. We did use them in the very beginning to provide proper protection for soldiers who were safe inside them. But no tank has fired on the battlefield so far.

It is natural that no country would welcome a terrorist group financed and armed from abroad. These groups are a threat to citizens’ security and the work of state institutions and schools. Yesterday, three kids were killed in one family. There was a baby girl among the victims who was not even 17 months old. Is that what they call reforms? Or is it terror? Now you understand why I can openly confirm that we did deploy our security forces in the regions where militants are operating.

RT: Your Excellency, the Syrian opposition maintains that Russia’s Security Council resolution veto was supportive of the Syrian government’s position, whereas you say that this step prevented foreign intervention into Syria’s domestic affairs. As you know, Russia proposed a new resolution to the Security Council which is under consideration. What further steps can we expect Syria to take should this new resolution be approved by Western powers?

WAM: First of all, we do not expect the West to approve Russia’s new resolution. Secondly, vetoing that resolution has created benefit to Syria, but not only Syria. It gave us more time to implement reforms. Russia, above all other states, requires the Syrian government to implement the reforms in question and maintain a comprehensive dialogue.

We did more than just make use of Russia’s veto. We used it to lift external pressures from our reform process. And we agree with Russia that any foreign intervention into our domestic affairs is unacceptable, just as is any attempt to increase economic sanctions against Syria, since they infringe upon the interests of Syrian citizens. In the course of our consultations it became clear that Russia is even more demanding than other countries in urging Syria to complete reforms and maintain a comprehensive political dialogue. Another issue here is that Russia’s vetoing the proposed resolution gave new life to the Security Council itself by stripping the USA of its decision-making monopoly on the international stage – and that’s a very important thing. Just look at what their monopoly did in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The truth is that the policy the United States is trying to implement here, in our region, is far from unbiased. It’s not even their own policy. It is a policy that serves Israel’s interests. That’s the truth. I worked in the United States for ten years, and I know this to be true.

RT: Your Excellency, you have doubtless taken steps to alleviate the impact of economic sanctions in place against Syria. What role is Russia playing and what plans have you made with Moscow to cope with and resolve this situation?

WAM: The West, that is the European Union, Japan, and the USA, have levied economic sanctions against us that impede our economic development. They expected these sanctions to bring down the ruling regime.

Quite naturally, under such circumstances Syria must rely on its own resources and capacities. I am hereby saying that we have enough strategic resources. We have over a year’s supply of food and basic products to meet the population’s demand, starting with grain, and so on. Secondly, we need to develop economic ties with countries pursuing an independent policy, countries which haven’t joined this Western plan – I mean such countries as Russia, India, Malaysia, and China. There are enough states with developed economies and advanced achievements in science and technology. And these are the states we shall develop our relations with. Thus, by relying on our own capacities and building co-operation with friendly states, we hope to make it through the current situation.

RT: Your Excellency, it seems that Turkey is close to recognizing the National Council. How will Syria respond if this takes place?

WAM: I don’t want to get ahead of events, but Turkey knows the scope of Syrian-Turkish relations. We signed 50 intergovernmental agreements followed by growth in trade and cultural exchange. The end goal is to establish strategic relations between the two countries. We have been working towards this, which in practice means that citizens of both countries can visit each other under a visa-free regime. Hopefully we won’t go as far as to destroy the results of all our efforts over the last ten years.

RT: Could we move on to a different subject now? Did Damascus set any preconditions before agreeing to receive Palestinian prisoners? It’s known that the West has been putting pressure on Syria for hosting the Hamas leadership. Did Syria lay out any specific conditions before agreeing to receive Palestinians released from Israeli jails?

WAM: First, we have to remember that Syria has been part of the Palestinian issue. We handed over the Golan Heights in an attempt to resolve the issue. It’s impossible to break this strong link between Syria and the Palestinian problem, which is manifested both in our support for the resistance movement and in attempts to resolve the problem at regional and international levels. Therefore it’s natural that there could be no conditional requirements.