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Tue 1 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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Standing firm

In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Abdullah Dardari, Syria’s deputy prime minister talks about the measures his country will take after the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1636 on Oct. 31

In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business magazine, Abdullah Dardari, Syria’s deputy prime minister talks about the measures his country will take after the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1636 on Oct. 31

For an in-depth feature and analysis of the evolving situation surrounding the investigation into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri and the situation relating to Syria read the next issue of Arabian Business on November 6.

Q. Is this what you expected in terms of a resolution?

A. I don’t know about expectations. I think it is not very different from expectations. The original draft of the resolution was very harsh. It was toned down. Toning it down and taking out the threat of specific sanctions is an indicator that there are countries on the security council who see at least partially, or fully, the Syrian point of view. We are committed to full cooperation and we will do so even though one has to define ‘full cooperation’ because we believed that we did provide full cooperation in the past and then the report came and accused Syria of not providing such full cooperation. One maybe has to adopt new tactics or new approach to ensure that full cooperation is reflected in the next report.

Q. How will you prove that your own investigative committee is conducting itself in a transparent way and that your findings are conclusive and impartial?

A. We have to define what is cooperation and make sure that whatever we provide is agreed upon and approved by the commission because last time we had a gentleman agreement with Mr. Mehlis; with very good intentions we thought that we did provide the necessary cooperation. The committee that Syria set up will work closely with the UN commission and therefore the dialogue will produce the best modus operandi between them in order to ensure that the UN commission believes and fully accepts the work of the national investigative committee.

We are very committed to open, transparent cooperation. There is no doubt about that. Our strategy is to make sure that the countries that stood by us in the Security Council have enough evidence in the next meeting of the SC, that Syria is providing serious and transparent cooperation so that they can strengthen and depend their support for the Syrian position in the next meeting. We don’t count on a radical change in the American position. But one can say that there are countries that are willing to help, they believe in Syria’s innocence and its our job to give them more evidence.

Q. Do you foresee a change in the French position?

A. That will be one of the challenges. I think the French don’t have the same agenda as the Americans and therefore if we can demonstrate that our cooperation is full, candid and transparent this would influence I think the French position to our favour and would definitely strengthen the position of Russia and China who are trying to defuse the crisis.

Q. The resolution is suggestive in that it could finger or implicate the president and he could be swept up in the entire investigation—eventually leading to regime change. How do you see things?

A. I wouldn’t jump to such conclusions at this stage. Regime change or no regime change this is a question for the Syrian people to decide. The Syrian people and government are united in this and we are seeing interesting and exciting manifestations of national unity on this particular issue. Syrians are realising that Syria is targeted; its role in the region is targeted. The language that we hear sometimes in Lebanon that we don’t want sanctions on the Syrian people and we want good relations with the Syrian people but the Syrian regime is a different story. Not many people are buying that in Syria. The question of sovereignty is very clear and we are adamant about our sovereignty. If the US wants to politicise the whole exercise, yes they can push [this investigation] in different directions. If this exercise is going to be professional…then we will provide a professional, technical and an independent job.

I was listening to Condi Rice yesterday and she was talking about things that have nothing to do with the Mehlis report. She was talking about regional issues; Iraq, Palestine and terrorism. The politicisation is there.

Q. Are there parallels between this resolution and UN resolution 1441 of Iraq in the run up to the war in 2003?

A. The differences are very big. Look at the Arab position before and now. Look at the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia—those countries are changing. The timid approach vis-à-vis Syria after the assassination has changed to a much warmer and more understanding approach. There is genuine Arab concern for Syria. Don’t forget that the invasion of Iraq took place without a UN resolution so there are elements in the US policy trying to create similarities but I think the overall environment is not the same.

Q. If you were in a room with Condi Rice behind closed doors what would you tell her?

A. I would tell her there are so many interests in common between Syria and the US, if the US puts American interests first, rather than Israel’s interest. Dialogue between the two countries is the best means for dealing with the issues that maybe still problematic between them.

Q. There is talk that the three activists of the Damascus Spring: Riad Saif, Aref Dalilah, and Maamoun Al Homsi, will be released shortly. Is this true?

There will be a number of moves on the political reforms in Syria, including the parties law, the Kurdish question and political prisoners that will take place within the next few weeks.

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