Imad Moustapha: Give Syria a place at the table
U.S. and Israel are trying to marginalize Syria's role in the peace process
08:42 AM CDT on Saturday, October 20, 2007
Excerpts of an editorial board interview with Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha, who addressed the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth on Tuesday.
The Associated Press
Imad Moustapha said officials at the peace conference planned next month are inviting Syria as part of the group that contains Yemen and Oman. 'We are a key player, a major player,' he said. 'And here we're supposed to be just like Yemen or Oman as ... observers?' Will Syria be participating in the peace conference the Bush administration is convening in Annapolis, Md., next month?
Syria is part and parcel of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are a major player. Israel is occupying part of Syria. In the last 10 years, [previous U.S. administrations] consumed a lot of effort and energy trying to broker a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement. And we were on the verge of a peace agreement. It didn't materialize, but that does not mean that we should give up hope.
It's much easier to achieve peace between the Syrians and Israelis than with the Palestinians and Israelis, where the issues are more complex, more emotional. The extraordinary thing [today] is, the United States doesn't talk to us at all. They are having this peace conference, and we heard from the media that Syria would be invited as part of this group that contains Yemen, Oman. ... We are a key player, a major player. And here we're supposed to be just like Yemen or Oman as ... observers?
Our understanding is that the invitation will be extended to Syria only two or three days prior to the conference, so that we will say: "Sorry guys, this is not serious. We will not attend." And then the administration will say: "See? Syria is a spoiler." ... Our position is the following: If the Golan, which is the occupied part of Syria, will not be in the discussion, then definitely we will not attend.
We don't know why Israel launched an air strike on Syria on Sept. 6, but we assume they had some justification. If you were in Israel's shoes, could you understand why they wouldn't want you at the negotiating table?
We believe in Syria that the only way forward is to reach a peace agreement with the Israelis. We are realists. We do understand that the Israelis enjoy military superiority compared to the Syrian capabilities. ... We also understand that the Israelis know very well that, despite their sheer military superiority, they cannot impose on us forever their policies of occupation. ...
The Israelis know very well, and the United States knows absolutely well, that there is no Syrian nuclear program whatsoever. It's an absolutely blatant lie. And it's not like they think we have but they're not sure. They know. Let me be clear about it: Syria has never, ever contemplated acquiring nuclear technology. We are not contemplating it today. We are not contemplating doing this in the future – neither for military nor for civilian purposes.
Then what did Israel attack?
Israel attacked a military installation in Syria. This is not unprecedented in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. ... It's easy for Syria right now to launch a missile against an Israeli target. But where this will lead to – another destructive war in our region similar to what happened last summer in Lebanon? ... What did this [Lebanon] attack lead to? Nowhere. Israel attacked Syria a month ago. What did this lead to? They did not destroy our military capability. It served domestic reasons in Israel, and it served some special, narrow-minded agendas here in the United States.
How does it serve Israel's agenda to keep this quiet? Israel hasn't said a word about this attack.
Israel didn't say anything, but this suited Israel very well, because suddenly ... everybody in the United States is discussing this "Syrian nuclear program." Everybody – particularly The New York Times – every two or three days they have a new article about the Syrian nuclear program. And we are flabbergasted in Syria. I have written three letters to The New York Times telling them: Have you forgotten what you have done prior to the Iraq war, when you published all the fallout stories about the Iraqi WMDs? Don't you realize that you're being "Judith Millered" for the second time within five years?
I'm trying to tell The New York Times: Look, be careful. Can't you see that you are being led into extremely dangerous territory? You are accusing a country of doing something it has not even contemplated doing – based on nothing. Based on leaks from Israeli agents who are very happy playing this game.
What was attacked, and what was the damage? Were there any deaths?
Minor damage. The military significance of it was minor. ... Nobody died. None. It was a military warehouse. ... All I'm saying is that every story that has to do with a Syrian nuclear program is an absolutely false story, full stop. Nothing whatsoever that Syria is doing has to do with nuclear technology for reasons that are simple for anyone to analyze: We are realists. We understand that if Syria even contemplated nuclear technology, then the gates of hell would open on us.