Syrian President Bashar Assad's speech made before the People's Assembly
Translated text of Syrian President Bashar Assad's speech made before the People's Assembly in Damascus
Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the People's Assembly; my Syrian sisters and brothers, I address you at this critical stage of the history of Syria and the region, with the events that you have experienced with your feelings and ardor for your homeland. You prove time and time again your faithfulness, loyalty and concern for the protection of its pride and dignity.
Syria has lived for the past two years at the heart of a number of interwoven and complicated events.
The most prominent issues that have preoccupied the world, become part of the plans of great powers and shaped their political objectives, go through Syria, directly or indirectly, whether it is the Middle East peace process, terrorism, the question of Iraq or the ramifications of the situation in Lebanon.
Within this framework, we can stress that our political approach toward these developments is based on two pillars: The first is the protection of national and pan-Arab interests through adherence to our identity, independence, loyalty to our principles and beliefs, providing the appropriate conditions for the protection of our political and social stability, as part of the stability of the whole region, and also enhancing all the above factors in order to regain our occupied lands.
The second pillar is our concern, within this framework, for achieving the objectives I have stated and dealing with the concerned parties with an open mind, without preconceptions and with a great deal of realism, flexibility and responsibility.
The issue of peace was at the heart of these events and cast shadows over other issues.
As far as we are concerned, we have stressed on many occasions that peace in our region will not be achieved until we restore our occupied land; and that many of the problems that have appeared recently find their solution in providing the opportunities for just peace, which removes the causes of tension, conflict, frustration and disappointment.
Syria has proposed the resumption of negotiations without preconditions. But we stress at the same time that the absence of these conditions doesn't mean discarding the frames of reference, the rules and resolutions which have to be met and implemented. We simply think that the peace process needs requirements: first of all, the will of the parties to achieve peace, second to have an honest sponsor, and third technical requirements like negotiations, terms of reference and standards.
What is lacking today is the will of the Israelis; the will of the sponsor, the U.S., and also the standards and criteria. So the peace process is stalled for the foreseeable future. But until that time we should not stop talking about the peace process.
We stress that we are prepared for negotiations without any preconditions in accordance with the Madrid terms of reference. In other words, we resume from the point we stopped at in the early 1990s.
Concerning Iraq, our position has always been based on consideration and appreciation of our national interests and the interests of the Iraqi people. We opposed the war. We thought that the war would lead to a state of chaos and confusion, not only in Iraq but in the whole region. That is why we expressed our keenness for national dialogue in Iraq; and we were among the first to call for elections on a national basis, without excluding any party. And here we have set a number of priorities: The first priority is the unity of Iraq, which is the most important thing for us, as it doesn't touch the Iraqis only, but it affects national and pan-Arab security, as far as Syria is concerned.
The second priority is elections, and to vote on a Constitution which will produce institutions. The third priority is independence. This automatically means withdrawal of the American troops. The strange thing is that all the U.S. delegations we received talked about these three priorities. So we asked them where are the differences you talk about then? We oppose occupation as a matter of principle, but the mechanism should be discussed with the Iraqis and not with others.
They started talking about Syria controlling its borders. We said that was impossible. Of course we don't claim that the borders are completely controlled. Usually the Americans say they could not control their borders with Mexico; Yet, they tell us to control our borders. It is a strange argument.
The last delegation we received was headed by William Burns last September. The delegation comprised people from the U.S. Defense Department, the State Department, intelligence, and the army. They talked with us clearly. They said they wanted to know whether Syria had the will to cooperate. Concerning cooperation, we have to distinguish our desire for cooperation and our capacity to cooperate. Having the desire does not mean that we have the capabilities.
Our concern in Iraq is unity and stability, but we have to wait.
My brothers and sisters, there is no doubt that the Lebanese situation, with its complications, is the most prominent and pressing event at this stage. I am not going to discuss the past; neither am I going into details of the events which were witnessed in Lebanon or the Syrian-Lebanese relations. But I'll stop at the consequences of Resolution 1559 and our position toward that resolution.
Since the resolution was passed, the Lebanese arena has witnessed a strong debate because it created, even among its supporters, serious problems in terms of the potential negative impact of its implementation on Lebanon and its stability in the absence of an appropriate mechanism for its implementation. This becomes possible if it does not take into account the objective conditions for implementation. Despite our reservations on Resolution 1559 - that it provides for the intervention of international parties under the pretext of Lebanese sovereignty - our decision was to deal with it in a positive manner in light of our care and concern for the unity and stability of Lebanon.
Here, I would like to shed some light on a number of points on how we take a certain decision. Most of you read the interview given by the American president to a French daily in which he said that the French president asked him to prepare a draft resolution to get Syria out of Lebanon. So, there is no connection between the resolution and the extension of President [Emile] Lahoud's term of office. We have discovered in the past few months that there are certain implicit and explicit provisions in Resolution 1559. They were prepared immediately after the war on Iraq.
The second point, as I said, is that when the resolution was passed it was passed in violation of the UN Charter; and it was selective. It was not upon the request of the concerned countries. But since we live in a world without a law or justice, to talk about this is a waste of time. The third point is that one of the basics of Syrian policy is its support for the United Nations. And Syria cannot, under any circumstances, oppose or confront the United Nations. The fourth point, as far as 1559 is concerned, among all its provisions, the one related to Syria is withdrawal. Contrary to the what many people believe, this is the simplest provision; because Syria is not against withdrawal. We started withdrawing in 2000. So when we talk about withdrawal, does any one in Syria say that we will remain in Lebanon? Of course not. So, this is the simplest provision.
The other provisions are problematic, as far as Lebanon is concerned. This will bring us back to the 1980s or even before. The fifth point is the report. I think in April we should be able to see where this resolution will go. We cannot say that this resolution is negative or positive. If it takes into account the objective conditions of its implementation, then it is positive. If it does not take these conditions into accounts, it will be a problem for Lebanon and for the whole region.
The main two points in this report are related to the mechanism of withdrawal and to the Lebanese resistance. The sixth point, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon does not mean the end of the Syrian role; because this role is defined by geographical and political factors. On the contrary, we will be free and open in dealing with Lebanon. The seventh point is what I said in an interview with a French television. When I was asked about Syrian forces in Lebanon, I said clearly that the normal position of Syrian troops is on Syrian territories.
We should not remain in Lebanon one day after there is a Lebanese consensus over our presence. This should not be a subject of discussion. Syria went to Lebanon in order to prevent division, not to cause division among the Lebanese.
A final point, withdrawal does not harm Syria's interests. On the contrary, it strengthens Syria's interests. That is why we started withdrawing five years ago. We have withdrawn over 64 percent of the forces; and this is something even many Syrians don't know.
You know we carried out four withdrawals before 1559 was passed. The fifth withdrawal was last September. The main thing is that these withdrawals ensured stability in Lebanon. That is why we told them that we don't have a problem with 1559; and we don't think it is against our interests. It is about withdrawal, and the Taif Accord, to which Syria is committed and has always supported, provides for withdrawal. Thus, we don't have a problem with the United Nations regarding 1559. So, in principle we don't have any problem. The important thing is the mechanism. The difference between 1559 and Taif Accord is that the Taif Accord has a mechanism while 1559 does not provide for a mechanism. They only said withdrawal and every state in the world is interpreting it as it wishes.
So, we believe in systematic and gradual withdrawal in cooperation and coordination with Lebanese institutions. A few people believe that it should happen immediately, regardless of any negative impact, and without shouldering any responsibility.
The Taif Accord is mentioned in the resolution; and it is also recognized by the United Nations. We should not look at the resolution as a pure evil. So it is in the gray area now; and it depends on how it is used. [UN envoy Terje Roed]-Larsen will come back to Syria in few days, or 10 days perhaps. So, we will continue dialogue. Larsen talked positively about the Taif Accord and about the cooperation agreement between Syria and Lebanon.
We told them go and say on my behalf that we support al-Taif Accord. We support 1559; and we supported withdrawal a long time ago. We don't have a problem with that. We have an interest in withdrawal. If we go back to 1999 and early 2000, we have an interest that our forces finished their mission and they remained in order to ensure security. And the last bullet was fired after Beirut was unified. Ten years later, when the forces remained without anything to do, of course their readiness would decline, and they would not do their job properly. They would become a financial liability, a political liability. This is natural and normal in any country in the world. I intentionally postponed my speech in order to monitor what the Syrian people want. I see a consensus on this issue.
As I said, we have an interest in the withdrawal. And regarding the latest developments, some people in the media talked about the cards that Syria has in the face of the United Nations. I haven't heard at any moment in time that Syria wanted to have cards against the UN. And I believe that even the superpowers can't do that. The situation in Iraq is a clear example: Even when a superpower goes against the international will, it suffers.
In the past few days we had meetings with Arab officials. The media said they put pressure on Syria and convinced Syria. I need to explain that. When Larsen came twice to Syria, once late last year and once last month, we told him that we would cooperate with you; when you have a clear vision we are prepared to withdraw. When we meet Arab officials, we explain our viewpoint to them, that we are not against Taif Accord, and we are not against UN Resolution 1559 at all. The Arab officials showed understanding and they supported us.
The problem is not withdrawal, it is concerned with resistance on the Lebanese level; and it will create a problem if it is not dealt with reasonably in the report. There is a hidden provision not in 1559, but in the uses of 1559; and it is settling Palestinian refuges in Lebanon. We found that there was a momentum for the Palestinian track.
The assassination of Arafat, the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, pressure on Iraq, pressure on Syria, all that creates a scene that I am sure you can understand.
The atrocious crime which claimed the life of Prime Minister Hariri targeted Lebanon's stability and unity; and it also targeted the role and position of Syria in Lebanon and the whole region. That is why we stress that finding the culprits and those who stand behind them is a Syrian necessity in as much as it is Lebanese necessity.
Some international parties started to work unjustifiably, on first sight, with coordination and incitement in one direction; and they started to throw arrows of betrayal and treachery toward Syria which hasn't withheld its capabilities and even its blood in support of some of those people.
But Syria will be greater than caring or responding to these machinations. Of course this doesn't mean that all our acts in Lebanon were correct. We have to acknowledge clearly and transparently that there have been mistakes made on the Lebanese arena, because we went along with certain details and went too far with some Lebanese at the expense of others.
We believed that dealing with the status quo enhances Syria's role in helping Lebanon achieve stability. But the reality was not like that. Of course some people have exploited the presence of Syrian forces for narrow material or electoral reasons which led to a number of negative accumulations. We should not of course deny the role of those loyal Lebanese brethren with whom we stood in one trench in the face of enemies of Lebanon and Syria, and worked together for the good of Lebanon and Syria.
As far as we in Syria are concerned, after the Taif Accord and after the unification of Beirut, the priority was peace. The second priority was launching the political process, particularly the parliamentary elections in 1992. As I said, we tried to get along with all parties and we wanted all parties to be with the state, particularly after the war. It was the state of militias, as some people said, but that continued for longer than necessary, and the name of Syria was used by some people for their own reasons. Some called themselves Syria's allies and used their relationship with Syria in order to achieve their private interests. Some Lebanese used to call them political traders. Of course trading in products is a respected activity but trading in politics is like slave trade. They were political traders. They used to sell and buy positions; and they moved from one position to another; and most of them are well known to you. We took a decision toward a Lebanese state. The problem started with those people who started talking about sovereignty. Of Course talking about sovereignty is honorable for every one. And we fully support those Lebanese who talk about sovereignty. But we want to know the nature of this sovereignty. We discovered it is not the sovereignty of the Lebanese; it is rather the sovereignty of any country, except Syria, over Lebanon.
That is why, as you can see, when any foreign official comes to Lebanon and stands in an official or in an unofficial place and makes statements about their internal affairs, they are happy; but when we say anything in Syria we become against sovereignty and against independence.
This makes me stress two main facts. The first fact, which I have already stressed several times, that we don't have any interest in Lebanon when the bazaar of cheap calculations and narrow interests is open. And if we have any interest, it is of national and strategic nature, related to the national security of Syria and Lebanon. We carried with our brethren the burden of this relationship in light of our vision and our commitment to unity of our fate. As far as the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon is concerned, we shoulder this responsibility on our own. The second fact is that Syria's power and its role in Lebanon do not depend on its presence in Lebanon, because this strength has to do with the facts of geography, history, politics, culture, spiritualism and humanity.
That is why we don't want our relationship with Lebanon to be a victim of the mistakes of others, mainly politicians. Syrian citizens have been throughout the past decades the major supporters of the Syrian role in Lebanon. The Lebanese and Syrian citizens built this pure relationship without any temporal interests. I want to say to all Syrian citizens who have feelings of frustration and disappointment toward treachery, betrayal and lack of loyalty toward what Syria offered to Lebanon: this is not the general case in Lebanon. This represents a number of groups we know fully well and those who stand behind them. Notice how television cameras usually zoom in onto a small group of people, but if they zoom out, you will discover there are not so many people supporting them.
Please, we should not pay attention to reactions that appeared at certain moments, most of which are pre-planned and mediated. The heart of Syria that gave Lebanon blood can't be harmed by certain wrong doings.
We, the Syrians would continue to give to Lebanon because you are the grandchildren of the Syrian Arabs.
Based on these facts and considerations, completing the steps which we have conducted within the framework of the Taif Accord, and in line with 1559, we are going to withdraw our forces in Lebanon completely to the Bekaa valley, and then to the Lebanese-Syrian borders. I agreed with the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud that the Syrian Lebanese Supreme Council will meet this week to discuss and approve the withdrawal plan. When this measure is finished, Syria would have met the Taif Accord and implemented the requirements of Resolution 1559. All that doesn't mean that Syria has neglected its responsibility toward our Lebanese brethren with whom we have a unity of objective and have been together in the crucial times of our history. Syria will remain their supporter at all times, and the battles of honor that we have fought together will remain a symbol of solidarity between the two peoples, and this will be enhanced in the future, God willing.
I'll tell them that another 17th of May is looming on the horizon. I want you to be prepared to bring it down as you did before.
My sisters and brothers, Through this information and these ideas, I wanted to explain to you what we have done in the past days, and to explain the reality toward current issues, particularly to those who believe that we deal with developments with intransigence, or that we lack sufficient flexibility. In fact our policy is based on cooperation with others whether they are superpowers or small countries on the basis of friendship and mutual respect. Objective dialogue can solve all existing problems. All that doesn't mean that you will feel safe soon. Of course you will hear attacks on this speech immediately after I finish.
That is why before they say it is not sufficient, we will tell them it is not sufficient.
We will tell them that we sacrifice our souls and blood for you President Bashar.
That is why, in taking such decisions, and under any condition, we base them on popular support; and when we are unified, the people and the state, we do not fear anything. As you notice, its natural that these events affect the internal situation; and they put pressure on our developmental performance. It is not only because we are preoccupied with these developments, but because of the tension they create in the general atmosphere. This obstructs what we want to do on different levels. The question is how to face this. I say, through more openness and through our preoccupation with these developments. This will not prevent me from following up the detailed internal situation because it is my top priority.
On such a crucial moment, I didn't want to talk about the internal situation. But since I'll make a few sentences, we are preparing for a regional conference of Baath Party; and hope this will be a leap for development in this country. Brothers and sisters, Syria has its role and has its priorities in its Arab environment and regional environment. This makes some people happy and some people not so happy. Syria's role will remain and will be strengthened more and more with the will of God and the will of our people. Our first objective will be protecting this role; the second strengthening it and the third developing it. Thank you very much. Assalamu alaikum.