Abdel Halim Khaddam to Al Majalla: We will do everything we can to implement the Taif Agreement

publisher: المجلة

AUTHOR: ابراهيم عوض

Publishing date: 1989-11-07


Every Lebanese is familiar with the office of the Vice President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Mr. Abdul-Halim Khaddam, in the al-Sabki Gardens in Damascus, even if they haven’t actually visited it. The scene of the office and its wide white hallways are imprinted in minds through newspapers, rarely lacking his pictures on occasions of visits by senior officials, deputies, leaders, or heads of Lebanese parties and organizations, who often pay him a visit.

When Abdul-Halim Khaddam speaks about Lebanon, you feel as though he is speaking about Syria. You can read in his eyes and facial expressions the extent of his pain from the Lebanese bleeding, which he followed moment by moment for 15 years. He says it with a full mouth: “The security of Lebanon is linked to the security of Syria… and the relations between Syria and Lebanon must be distinctive.” He elaborates on the reasons for this with the following arguments:

“The nature of the national and strategic relations between the two countries dictates this result. What affects Lebanon, whether good or bad, reflects on the Arab homeland in general and on Syria and Lebanon in particular. We are one Arab people. Our aspirations are one, and our hopes are one. What God has created cannot be killed or torn apart by human hands. In addition, if we consider the human, geographic, and political position of Lebanon, we can clearly deduce the validity of this statement. Therefore, it was one of the fundamental elements for Lebanon’s independence and the establishment of the Lebanese state in 1943 and 1944. We all remember the discussions that took place at that time, considering that Lebanon should not be a base or a passage for anything harmful to the Arabs in general and Syria in particular.

I do not want to refer to the negative security impacts through the nature of the population intermingling between the two countries, as we all know this. But I want to mention something much simpler because it is linked not only to Syria’s national security but to Arab national security. It is the possibility of Lebanon being penetrated by the Israeli enemy and posing a threat to Syria. This indeed happened in 1982 when Israel, through Lebanon, reached the Lebanese village of Deir al-Ashayer, about 25 kilometers from Damascus. The Israeli offensive in 1982 forced Syria to send forces to Lebanon to confront the enemy. These Syrian forces, upon entering, managed to stop the Israeli invasion. Therefore, our forces that were present in Lebanon at that time were deployed for security purposes, not combat. They were spread across most Lebanese territories. If the Israeli enemy gained control of Lebanon, it would extend the Syrian front with it. Additionally, this enemy would reach positions that threaten Syria’s flanks, as well as its geographical events. Hence, we cannot look indifferently at such threats, and under no circumstances can we refrain from taking the necessary measures to avoid this situation.”

All of this confirms the concept of mutual security impact between the two countries, whether in the narrow sense of the word “security” or in its comprehensive strategic meaning, especially considering that there is a group that dealt with the Israeli enemy, and still does. Through this cooperation, Lebanon deviated from the Lebanese national commitment not to engage with the Israeli enemy, as well as from the commitments and foundations of the Lebanese state, which stipulate that Lebanon should not be a source of threat or concern for Syria. In this matter, no one can ask us to ignore it in any future development to rebuild Lebanon, restore its national unity, and establish its constitutional institutions.

As for the issue of distinctive relations between the two countries, it is a matter of common sense. We were, still are, and will remain one people. Living in two states does not negate our being one people. There is no need to go back to distant or recent history, for those who want to separate Lebanon from its Arab nation and attribute it to Phoenicia do not know the history well. They must understand, through a simple reading of history, that the Phoenicians were Arabs, and their state extended over the entire Syrian coast, reaching some territories in North Africa. If they say they are Phoenicians, Phoenicia is more comprehensive than Lebanon and includes Syria. Sometimes they speak of the pride of the mentioned religion as a symbol of Lebanese identity, forgetting that the mentioned religion’s pride is Arab in affiliation. Lebanon was not an independent state in its era because it was part of the Ottoman Empire, and its boundaries reached deep into Syria. If we go back to recent history, the Lebanese leaders of that time were working under the Ottoman state for Arab independence, not Lebanese independence. Those who were hanged on May 6th in Damascus and Beirut were Syrians and Lebanese (from present-day Lebanon), Muslims and Christians alike. Mentioning the name Shukri Ghanem, after whom the Fiyadiyya Barracks was named, and the role he played in Paris is enough to confirm that claims about the Lebanese identity of Lebanon, excluding its Arabness, are not accurate. Shukri Ghanem headed the Syrian Association in Paris; he did not head the Lebanese Association, and all the conferences that took place in Paris and elsewhere during Ottoman rule included Muslims and Christians seeking the Arab state and nothing else. If we follow the course of time, we will see facts that confirm without a doubt the nature, uniqueness, and distinctiveness of these relationships.

The late Riad al-Solh was the Interior Minister of the Arab government in Damascus and the father of Riad al-Solh. The late Amin al-Hakim, from Koura in northern Lebanon, was a minister in the first Syrian government. After that, many Lebanese officials served in Syria or Syrians served in Lebanon. During the National Pact, the ministers George Saadnawi and Haneen Saadnawi were, one in Syria and the other in Lebanon. Then the late Prince Adel Arslan was a minister in Syria, and his relative, the late Prince Majid Arslan, was a minister in Lebanon. During the time when the late Riad al-Solh was the Prime Minister in Lebanon, the late Afif al-Solh was a leader in the National Bloc in Syria. The late Shukri al-Shukair remained Chief of Staff of the Army in Syria for a long period. General Afif al-Bzouri was the commander of the army in Syria. In addition to dozens of senior officers. In 1941, Béchara El Khoury held the position of Prime Minister in Syria, which was the position of the Directors’ government. Now there are two deputies, one in Damascus and the other in Beirut, namely Krikor Ablghitian and Melkon Ablghitian. Mr. Edmond Rabbat, a prominent legal figure in Lebanon today, was one of the prominent figures in Aleppo, served as a deputy there, and became a deputy in the Lebanese Parliament. If I want to go back, there are hundreds of examples. In addition, until 1950, we had a common economic interest, a common customs, and a common currency. Did all of this come from nowhere, or was it based on real and realistic facts? Of course, I do not want to refer to events that occurred in Lebanon confirming this inevitability, including the conference held in 1936 at the home of the late Salim Salam, which brought together the leading political and popular figures in Lebanon at that time. If someone wants to remember history and has forgotten its facts, let them go back to the facts of this conference and the discussions that took place in it.

  • Before the Syrian Vice President concludes his explanation of what the special relations between Syria and Lebanon mean, he also recalls this incident, saying:

In 1976, with the outbreak of war in Lebanon, 800,000 Lebanese refugees arrived in Syria, 200,000 of them stayed in hotels, while the rest stayed with their relatives for months. This confirms the family ties between the people of both countries.

  • What is your comment on the outcome of the Lebanese MPs who gathered in Taif?
  • What has been achieved in the meetings of Lebanese MPs in Taif is significant for ending the civil war in Lebanon. It requires all Lebanese people to work earnestly and sincerely to implement it because the Document of National Accord forms the basis and framework for rebuilding the Lebanese state and removing the obstacles that have hindered achieving this goal.

Syria, under the guidance of President Hafez al-Assad, will do everything it can to implement the Taif Agreement. President Assad emphasized during the Lebanese crisis that there is no solution to this crisis except through a national consensus among the Lebanese. Syria has made significant efforts in this direction over the past years. We hope that the Document of National Accord will open wide doors to security, peace, and stability in Lebanon, and contribute to Lebanon’s restoration of its national unity and the reconstruction of its institutions based on the principles outlined in the Document of National Accord.

  • Some claim that Syria has intentions to annex Lebanon?
  • Syria has no intentions to annex Lebanon, neither in form nor in any other way. Syria advocates Arab unity, and Arab unity is the doctrine of the Syrian state and society. However, Arab unity is one thing, and the claims of annexation are another. We work towards achieving Arab unity from the ocean to the Gulf. Unity may be achieved between Syria and an Arab country that is thousands of miles away before it is achieved between Syria and Lebanon.

This indeed happened when unity was established between Syria and Egypt, but it did not happen between Syria and Lebanon. The issue of partial or comprehensive Arab unity is linked to objective factors that cannot be overlooked. I would like to mention here that President Camille Chamoun proposed a project for a confederal union in 1978, and the ideas were discussed with him. However, we did not continue this discussion in later stages due to some developments in the Eastern region. While there may be objective factors that do not currently make the issue of Arab unity viable, this does not prevent the establishment of good and distinctive relations between Syria and Lebanon or any two Arab countries. Those who raise such claims aim to cover their projects aimed at keeping Lebanon and the Lebanese in a state of anxiety that would serve Israel.

It is also essential to note that the late President Elias Sarkis sought to improve relations between Syria and the Lebanese Front, especially with the Kataeb Party, particularly with Bashir Gemayel, who had a strong grip on the “Lebanese Forces” and the eastern region. At the request of President Sarkis, a meeting was held between a Syrian official and Bashir Gemayel. During the meeting, Bashir Gemayel offered the Syrian official to relinquish vast areas of Lebanon and keep for himself the mountainous region and the areas where Christians lived in the north, Beirut, and assist him in eliminating Walid Jumblatt and his group, as well as in eliminating Palestinians in Lebanon. Naturally, the Syrian delegate was shocked to hear this offer, which he strongly rejected. A few days later, he met with the late Elias Sarkis and presented Bashir Gemayel’s position. President Sarkis was astonished, and he called one of his senior aides, briefed him on the matter, and asked him to go to Bashir to verify the matter. The Lebanese official returned to inform President Sarkis that the offer was indeed true.

  • But did President Sarkis work to bring Bashir Gemayel to the presidency?
  • Before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Sarkis’ policy was governed by the following equation:
  1. Do not compromise relations with Syria.
  2. Do not compromise the interests of the Lebanese Front.
  3. Do not agree to strike the Palestinian presence in Lebanon.

He acted on the basis of this equation during his presidency, leading to a stagnation of the situation and a lack of movement. After the invasion, a situation arose in Lebanon that we all know. A small group of Lebanese dealt with the Israeli invasion and sought to gain benefits. The majority rejected the invasion and refused to deal with its consequences. In such a situation, and as I believe, because I have not seen President Elias Sarkis since the Israeli invasion, the latter may have thought that Bashir Gemayel could play a role in the situation that arose at that time. This belief might be due to the fact that President Sarkis was in the last days of his term on one hand, and under pressure from different sides on the other. Perhaps these pressures made him believe that the accession of Bashir Gemayel to the presidency could help in the departure of the Israelis from Beirut. This is a conclusion that is not based on tangible facts. Still, President Sarkis was under significant pressure.

  • Some demand the immediate withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. What is your position on this demand?
  • Those who talk about the Syrian army are trying to conceal a fundamental issue, which is the issue of reforms in Lebanon. They refuse to consider political reforms. As one of them said, either we govern Lebanon or we emigrate to the United States, Canada, and Australia. Either we govern or we migrate. This reveals the nature of the national relationship between those holding these beliefs and the homeland. Those who only cling to the homeland if they are in power are no different from apartheid in South Africa. This racist mentality is no longer valid in this era. The Syrian army entered Lebanon for specific purposes. The first was to protect the unity of Lebanon because the unity of Lebanon is a red line that cannot be compromised.

The second was to assist in restoring national reconciliation to the sisterly country.

The third, as revealed by subsequent developments, was to counter threats to Syria’s security. This entry was not Syria’s desire. Syria can, without deploying a single soldier in Lebanon, find means to help the Lebanese maintain their unity. This is something everyone should understand, but we entered Lebanon based on the semi-collective desire of the Lebanese. It was an official request from the Lebanese government at that time. In May 1971, President Suleiman Frangieh and his government requested Syrian military assistance to stop the fighting and lift the sieges threatening some areas and villages, including Zahle, Al-Qubayyat, Ainata, and others. A delegation from Zahle, including all deputies, religious figures, and popular leaders, came to Damascus at that time. Delegations from the Phalanges Party, including Pierre Gemayel and his sons Amin and Bashir, George Saadeh, Karim Bakradouni, Joseph Abu Khalil, and Joseph Al-Hashem, also came. A delegation from the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Camille Chamoun, and joint delegations from the eastern region.

So, we entered Lebanon at the request of the government and the plea of the Lebanese, especially the people of the eastern region. However, apparently, after we entered and stopped the fighting, some wanted to use Syria to create an imbalance in the internal balance in their favor, eliminate the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, and weaken or exclude the Lebanese national forces.

When we rejected that and affirmed that Syria could not accept the liquidation of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon or weaken the Palestinian resistance, at that time, the campaign against Syria began when we were working to achieve national reconciliation and solve the Lebanese-Palestinian issue. This is when the Israeli invasion of the south in 1973 and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 occurred.

Syria did not send its forces to Lebanon to stay there forever. These forces have other tasks, but they will remain until the national reconciliation is implemented according to the document proposed by the Arab Committee. This includes ensuring the implementation of national reconciliation and constitutional reforms, as well as ensuring Syria’s security. Some might ask, “What is your concern with national reconciliation, and what does it have to do with your security?” Our answer is that the government of national reconciliation is the one that restores stability to Lebanon to achieve security. We adhere to achieving this goal.

Therefore, it is related to achieving national reconciliation, which constitutes a security guarantee for the Lebanese and a security guarantee for Syria. Syria supports what is mentioned in the proposed National Reconciliation Document by the Triple Arab Committee, whether it relates to the special relations between the two countries, as organizing these relations is in the interest of Lebanon as well as Syria, or in terms of Syria’s assistance to the government of national reconciliation.

  • However, there are Lebanese leaders who, during their recent visit to Tehran, issued statements criticizing the Taif Agreement and declaring their rejection of the provisions of the National Reconciliation Document announced by the Triple Arab Committee. How do you explain this, especially the concerned leaders, including Walid Jumblatt and Nabih Berri, who are known to have an agreement with Syria?
  • As far as I know, the Lebanese national forces support the Arab efforts to resolve the Lebanese crisis. However, it is natural for these forces to have their perspective on the solution. Each organization in Lebanon has its own perspective on the solution. I believe that when the Arab Committee can reach common ground, the Lebanese nationalists, as far as I know, will support these results. Naturally, the common ground ensures serious reforms to the political system and achieves equality among the Lebanese in rights and duties.

We know very well that the national forces are eager to achieve national reconciliation and a political solution to the Lebanese crisis, which is reassuring. Of course, we should not only focus on what some national leaders say regarding their lack of trust in the other party and their maneuvers. Still, we should also observe the statements and practical actions of some individuals from the other party who are working to obstruct national reconciliation and impede the Arab solution.

  • Some sectors express concerns about losing privileges they have enjoyed and have called for guarantees to preserve them. What is your opinion on these concerns?
  • Analyzing all the facts and events that Lebanon has experienced since its independence, one objectively concludes that any country where a certain group enjoys privileges not shared by other citizens will not witness stability. Therefore, it is also natural for the process of national reconciliation to lead to the end of all forms of privileges and distinctions in Lebanon, making the Lebanese equal in rights, duties, and connected to their interests, aspirations, and hopes for the nation rather than sectarian affiliations. The privileges that some speak of may have been provided to specific individuals or organizations. However, they have resulted in negative consequences for broad segments of those in whose name these privileges were exercised. Talking about guarantees conceals the desire to maintain these privileges. No one can provide guarantees in a country where citizens are divided between oppressors and oppressed, with some having privileges and others facing deprivation and inequality. True guarantees for everyone lie in relinquishing privileges and building a democratic state. It is unjust to say that the Maronite sect is worried about its fate. The citizens belonging to this sect were not the owners of these privileges; some individuals among them were the beneficiaries. Those living in national areas are not more prosperous than their brethren from other sects. Privileges in governance are enjoyed by the ruling individuals and those around them, often serving the interests of a limited group that attracted privileges to serve either political or economic interests. If those enjoying these privileges are concerned about them and fear their downfall, what about the privileges that Lebanese citizens from the Sunni sect enjoy? They suffer from deprivation and inequality like other Lebanese citizens. If the premiership is considered a privilege, what is its value when the Prime Minister cannot lead the Cabinet or change anything within or outside the institution? There are tangible examples of this. All the presidents who succeeded in Lebanon turned their cities into capitals. If you, being from the city of Tripoli in Lebanon, and the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami stayed in power for a long time, can you point to any significant or minor accomplishments for Tripoli through his premiership? Let’s compare the state budget spending in any presidential region and what is spent in Tripoli, where we find that the Prime Minister’s position was not a privilege; it was merely a ceremonial position. There is no difference between the Prime Minister and any minister in the Cabinet, except for the protocol order. Another example is President Salim Hoss. We all know that “Abu Tamam” was a strong man, one of the early builders of Lebanon, with significant political and social weight in the country. Yet, when he was convinced that the Army Commander did not fulfill his duties in handling certain events in Beirut, he requested a change and replacement of the commander with another one. However, the President rejected the request at that time. What was the result? The powerful Prime Minister left, with his great influence, while the Army Commander remained. So, what privilege is this that needs discussion? Then there is one person who becomes the Prime Minister and enjoys this privilege. But what about the hundreds of thousands of deprived people in various Lebanese cities and villages?
  • Several Sunni leaders, including the Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Hasan Khaled, were assassinated in areas where Syrian forces are present. These incidents have raised many questions. What is your perspective on this issue?

– Yes, assassinations occurred in areas where Syrian forces were present, and we believe that enemies of national reconciliation in Lebanon and opponents of the peace process are behind these assassinations, driven by some intelligence agencies based in the Eastern region. The occurrence of such assassinations in areas of Syrian presence is possible. In Syria, for example, dozens of assassination incidents occurred in 1979 and 1980. In the United States, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and there was an attempt to assassinate President Reagan. Criminal incidents can occur in areas where Syrian forces are present, just as they can happen in any other country.

  • Are there any proofs confirming your accusation against the mentioned intelligence agencies?

– There are indications.

  • Has anyone been arrested? Are there specific names?

– I don’t have information on this matter because I do not follow security issues.

  • One last question, how do you explain the entry of some guards of the Iranian Revolution into Lebanon?

– First, the number of these individuals does not exceed 400. They have been in Lebanon since 1982 during the Israeli invasion. Everyone knows that there are political organizations in Lebanon with ties to Iran, receiving assistance for their operations against Israel.

  • Another final question: Have you given assurances to General Aoun?

– We have not given assurances to anyone. The assurance for every Lebanese is reconciliation, commitment to it, and abandoning unrealistic dreams.