Abdel Halim Khaddam.. What did he tell “Cedar News” about the Lebanese leaders ..

publisher: سيدار نيوز

Publishing date: 2007-12-02


A Special Dialogue conducted by Michel Zbeidy with former Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who opened files of the present and revealed secrets from the past, addressing the Lebanese and Syrians through Cedar News.

When one serves their country for thirty years, they are rewarded with honoring ceremonies. What happened for Abdel Halim Khaddam after thirty years of service to his homeland Syria while in exile?

The reality is that the main reason is political disagreements with the regime. These disagreements relate to Syria’s need for serious reforms in the economic, administrative, political, and educational fields. The nature of the regime militarized the state and institutions, leading to significant backwardness that pushed the Syrian state half a century behind.

This backwardness, the multifaceted backwardness I mentioned, occurred during your time in power… or did it begin after your departure?

  • The disagreements with President Hafez al-Assad started during my time in authority. I used to bring up in party meetings, conferences, and with President al-Assad dozens of times that the country cannot live in a state of stagnation. The whole world has changed, so we cannot live in a changing world with ideas from a bygone era. We didn’t reach a result. President al-Assad was sick, and I was waiting for his death to resign. President al-Assad passed away, and Bashar came to talk about administrative, political, and comprehensive reforms. I tried to encourage him, so I presented him with a set of memoranda for administrative, political, party, financial, and scientific reforms. Unfortunately, this man believes he is a farm owner.
  • Who is behind Bashar al-Assad?
  • I affirm to you frankly, there is no sane person behind him. If a sane person were behind him, he wouldn’t have fallen into the pitfalls he did, causing significant harm to Syria.
  • What did Syria want from Lebanon during Hafez al-Assad’s time, and what does it want from Lebanon today?
  • Let me tell you, there are several stages. Firstly, the stage of the civil war, we wanted to end this war to preserve Lebanon and rebuild a state with everyone’s participation. This stage lasted a long time until an understanding was reached with Amin Gemayel to cancel the May 17 Agreement. After that, the war stopped completely regardless of some limited skirmishes. Then we focused our efforts on implementing the agreements we reached with President Gemayel, which led to Rashid Karami becoming the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the disagreements and lack of trust among the Lebanese didn’t help achieve that. After President Gemayel, a new stage began in Lebanon, the stage of the two governments. At that time, we saw that the political solution was the only way to get Lebanon out of the crisis.

…! You believed in the political solution, but your solution was military.

Yes, the stage of the two governments came, and Syria played a significant role in holding the Taif Conference and its success in issuing those resolutions. We became convinced that there is no solution for the Lebanese except through consensus. Then the late René Moawad was chosen as the President.

  • Chosen or elected?
  • Honestly, I tell you, chosen by one party, but for this choice to be constitutional, elections were necessary.
  • So, those elections were just formal…!

Frankly, it was difficult to unify the directions without the Arab countries. Yes, René Moawad came as a result of an Arab agreement. He was assassinated after a few days, and the dilemma of vacuum returned. We made efforts to hold a session of the parliament in Shouf, and Elias Hrawi was elected. The reality is, there was a tendency to support Michel Aoun, but he declined when the issue was presented to him by President Hussein, so Elias Hrawi became the President. It was not possible for the President of the Republic to rule while there is a military leader in the presidential palace. It was necessary to end the situation of Michel Aoun based on a decision from the Lebanese Cabinet, and the Syrian forces were called upon to end Aoun’s situation. Now, as you can see, General Aoun has become part of the Syrian equation in Lebanon, alongside Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

  • One day, President al-Assad said about him: “This man is patriotic.”
  • I haven’t heard this statement.
  • Is this alliance a culmination of an agreement made with him to facilitate his return to Lebanon?
  • I want to tell you that I left political work since 1998 when General Lahoud was supported for the presidency.
  • Did you leave voluntarily or were you expelled?
  • No, no, I left. There were discussions with President Hafez al-Assad several times about General Lahoud. My perspective was that Lebanon cannot function with a military president. At that time, I gave the example of President Chehab. He was respected by all Lebanese, a wise man, and even though, Lebanese politicians couldn’t tolerate him. How could they tolerate General Lahoud when I know his nature, and he wants to deal with the country as if it’s a military barracks? Of course, there was insistence from President al-Assad to bring General Lahoud then. It became impossible for me to continue with the responsibility. Upon a decision from the Lebanese Cabinet, the Syrian forces were asked to end Aoun’s situation.
  • You were known as a tough negotiator during that period. Who is the Lebanese politician you considered a tough counterpart?
  • Honestly, “all of them, where’s the blessing.” They are all tough figures. The problem lies in forming the state, and the concept of nationalism isn’t available. The sectarian issue has always been prominent, and all parties, whether allies or adversaries, were tough figures. And you know that the negotiations between us weren’t consistent. We entered Lebanon during the period of understanding with the Lebanese Front.
  • You entered in an alliance with the Lebanese Front, frankly to support the Christians in Lebanon. After a short while, you turned against the Christians, translating that into battles in Zahle and Beirut. What happened?
  • Yes, we entered to support the Christians. Zahle was besieged, as you know, and so were Qoubayat and others. Delegations and Christian figures from the Lebanese Front, the Kataeb Party, and figures from Zahle like Elias Skaff, Elias Hrawi, Archbishop Haddad, and others came to us. We entered to lift the siege on Zahle and then pressure was exerted on Baabda and there was a semi-siege there. We entered to lift this siege. All matters were directed towards relieving pressure on the Lebanese because we were convinced that pressuring the Christians would lead to Lebanon’s paralysis, and that’s not in the interest of any Arab state; it’s only in Israel’s interest.
  • Yes, but how did things change?
  • There are two reasons: firstly, the contacts some parties had with Israel. Secondly, a difference with Egypt regarding the Sinai Agreement. And remember that President Sadat stated that Lebanon would witness bloodshed. There are documents that will be published, and now is not the appropriate time to publish them, because I don’t want to dig into the past when the Lebanese need unity and cooperation to face the dangers.
  • Speaking of Israel, it was recently revealed that there were communications between the Assad family and Ariel Sharon. What’s the truth behind this?
  • During the time of President Hafez al-Assad, my responsibilities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began until 1998. During Bashar al-Assad’s time, I wasn’t responsible for foreign policy, so I don’t know anything about these communications, except that I don’t rule them out.
  • To what extent will the Syrian regime go in fighting the International Tribunal?
  • The regime knows it committed this crime and wants to obstruct the Tribunal, even if it leads to Lebanon’s destruction, without realizing that destroying Lebanon’s national unity has repercussions not only on Lebanon but on the region as well.
  • Will the decisions of the International Tribunal personally affect President Bashar al-Assad?
  • Yes, I believe so based on conclusions. I have information that Bashar al-Assad will be among the accused.
  • Could the Golan Heights be a price for saving the regime?
  • There is no agreement on this issue, and there won’t be any agreement between Bashar al-Assad and any foreign power.

And why is that?

  • Because Bashar doesn’t have anything to offer to the outside. There’s no possibility of an agreement regarding the Tribunal or its investigation results, because the investigation is under international and Lebanese community supervision. I don’t think any state can close this file. If Assad gives the Golan to Israel, he will be tried for committing high treason by giving up homeland territory.
  • Who supports the Syrian opposition?
  • The Syrian opposition doesn’t receive support from any side. It relies on its internal components, composed of various factions that operate within their capabilities. Politically, it relies on the Syrian people.
  • Does the opposition maintain communication with the inside of Syria?
  • Yes, yes, yes. As opposition, we communicate with the inside. All factions of the opposition have extensions inside. And I tell you, if there were free elections without any interference, you would see that the opposition would win the majority, but this is theoretical because there can’t be elections under this regime.
  • We know that Syria is far from sectarianism. But in light of sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon, could these conflicts extend to include Syria?
  • As you said, the Syrian people are a people with a strong national spirit. Yesterday, I was reading about Syria’s history. In 1936, during the formation of the Syrian government, it was agreed that the President of the Republic would be Shukri al-Quwatli, the President of the Parliament would be Faris al-Khoury, and the Prime Minister would be Jamil Mardam Bey. Faris al-Khoury was a great national leader from a very small sect, the Protestants. He was the President of the Parliament and Prime Minister several times. The sectarian issue in Syria doesn’t exist. Of course, there are sensitivities towards what’s happening in Iraq and Lebanon, but its limits don’t reach a stage of tension. As for the corruption factor of the regime, it’s present in all sects, especially among the Alawites. The Alawite brethren were subjected to humiliation and harm by the Assad family and their associates.
  • Will Abdel Halim Khaddam pay the price today for serving an individual and a sect instead of serving a country and its institutions!!!?
  • I’m not seeking any position.
  • Are you a candidate for the presidency of Syria?
  • I’m not concerned about positions; my concern is the salvation of Syria. I don’t aspire to a position, as I have held the highest positions. I knew that upon my departure, I would be sent to the judiciary, and my assets and my children’s assets would be seized.
  • When you left, did you know you wouldn’t return to your homeland?
  • Absolutely not. When I left the regime, I decided to work to overthrow it, and it will undoubtedly fall. Therefore, I know that I will return. The homeland is more important than anything I own. Syria is heading towards collapse; you don’t know the extent of backwardness and illiteracy.
  • You spent thirty years in power, and today you talk about illiteracy!?

I was responsible for foreign policy, and I always criticized internal mistakes and tried to rectify them. I couldn’t do much because decisions were limited to the President and the Prime Minister. Let me tell you, over 60% of the population lives under the poverty line. Six million young people are unemployed. Syria is in its weakest state economically, with corruption in state institutions and the ruling family. All these issues put Syria in a dangerous situation. That’s why I stood against the regime, hoping for a radical change that would restore Syria to its natural position. We used to export our talents to Arab countries, and now we need them.

  • During your time in power, you supported the resistance in the south, and it made every Lebanese wonder why there wasn’t a similar resistance in the Golan Heights. Why did Syria encourage resistance in Lebanon but not in the Golan Heights?
  • Let me explain. After the 1973 war and the agreements between Egypt and Israel, President Assad realized that a war with Israel was unrealistic. All available evidence indicated that a war required Egyptian-Syrian cooperation. We tried to develop relations with Iraq to fill the gap left by Egypt, but unfortunately, that phase lasted for several months before tensions escalated between the regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. As a result, the classic military resistance was no longer feasible. President Assad understood that any action in the Golan Heights would lead to escalation, which he wasn’t prepared for. He gave strict instructions to security forces to prevent any resistance or military actions in the Golan Heights. This military and political decision was made by President Assad. Regardless, if there was a direction towards resistance against Israel from Lebanon, especially after we fought the 1982 war in the Bekaa, the mountains, Aley, Baalbek, and Zahle, and then a ceasefire was established, we aided the resistance in pushing Israel out of Lebanon. Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon, and it was supposed that a decision would be issued to withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon. Because the pretext President Hafez Assad had was that we couldn’t withdraw from Lebanon while Israel was present in the West Bekaa and the south. However, this withdrawal never happened. The situation calmed on the Lebanese front for a while, until Bashar al-Assad came along. He believed that keeping the southern front tense at times was necessary, so some operations continued in the south.
  • Because no one is immune to mistakes. Where did Abdul Halim Khaddam make the greatest mistake in Lebanon? And was he the planner or coordinator of Syrian policy in Lebanon?
  • Firstly, there’s no person completely immune to mistakes. There is no situation that’s purely right or wrong, but each has stages with their own mistakes and right decisions. I will clarify these matters in my memoirs.
  • Let me ask you about your opinion on some Lebanese figures.

Saad Hariri:

  • An emerging politician with qualifications who practices politics objectively.

Walid Jumblatt:

  • One of the most important Lebanese and Arab politicians. He is a good reader and analyst in politics, well-informed, a Lebanese and Arab nationalist.

Amin Gemayel:

  • Sheikh Amin is a Lebanese politician for a long time. He has his mistakes and achievements. He could have achieved more had his presidency been under better conditions, without pressures from both the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party. But I say that if Amin Gemayel had been president under the right circumstances, he could have done a lot.

Samir Geagea:

  • I don’t know him. But Samir Geagea, as we see him today, is not the same Samir Geagea we knew before. He has become more moderate, working to strengthen national unity and avoid sliding back into the past.

Suleiman Frangieh:

  • I don’t know him, I don’t know him. I met him once during condolences for his grandfather, so I didn’t interact with him directly.

Emile Lahoud:

  • His big mistake was running for the presidency, and his bigger mistake was seeking an extension.

Hassan Nasrallah:

  • A resistance leader who has achieved many accomplishments. However, he made a mistake when he shifted from the south to Beirut, thereby projecting a surface background to his political motivations, which he exercises under the pressure of Bashar al-Assad.
  • In 2007, will it be the year of return and change?
  • Yes, 2007 will be the year of change and return.
  • When you left Syria, what did you bring with you?
  • My children, grandchildren, and my documents.
  • When you return to Syria, what’s the first place you’ll visit?
  • First, I will visit my city.
  • Will you visit Hafez al-Assad’s mausoleum?
  • I will visit my city and return to Damascus.
  • What would you say to the Lebanese people who hold you responsible for some of what happened in Lebanon?
  • My plea to the brothers in Lebanon is that they recognize the great dangers facing them. Especially Nabih Berri, who takes positions contradicting what I used to know about him, as a nationalist. I tell him that the homeland is more important than any other position. Nationalism in Lebanon still outweighs patriotism, and Lebanon is still under threat. Therefore, I urge them to put the nation first, to put Lebanon first.
  • Did America secretly coordinate with Iran to create a Sunni-Shia balance in the region?
  • Let me tell you that this is not a matter of balance, but a matter of interests. Iran is a major country with grand ambitions to be the leading power in the region. When the Baker report was released, the President of Iran stated that the region led by the Iranian nation was ready to help America exit Iraq if it positioned itself as the leader of the region. Iran has its own strategy. While it’s true that America considers Iran as a major adversary, America’s policy is based on interests. They cooperated with a major adversary in Afghanistan. They also needed someone in the spotlight during their war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
  • The same thing happened in 1990 when America wanted Arab countries to stand against Iraq. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Syria played this role. You were the Foreign Minister at the time, and the price you paid was Lebanon. You loosened your grip on Lebanon. There were no longer any red lines, meaning the removal of General Aoun and entry into the eastern region.
  • You shouldn’t believe that. General Aoun was never in opposition to America. We received seven messages warning us not to take any military action in Lebanon. However, the military decision was made by President Assad. Of course, President Assad knew the Americans’ need to liberate Kuwait.
  • Does this mean there was a kind of harmony and leniency?
  • No, there was an opportunity to gain something from the situation.
  • Going back to Iran. You were the Foreign Minister of Syria when you stood with Iran in the war against Iraq during the Gulf War. What concerns me here is that you closed the borders with Iraq, causing hundreds of Lebanese companies that relied on the Gulf as a consumer market to close.
  • If we look back before the war, there was intense tension between Damascus and Baghdad, and security policies. The US government even stormed the Syrian embassy in Baghdad and cut relations. The alliance between Syria and Iran was against the regime in Iraq, not against Iraq itself. There was cooperation, but there were points of disagreement. The goal wasn’t to open the door for Iran inside or outside Iraq. With strained relations, oil flow stopped, and the borders were closed from the Iraqi side. The pressure wasn’t only on Lebanon; in developing countries, political conflicts often outweigh national interests.
  • Was politics a goal of young Abd al-Halim Khaddam, or did politics come to him and circumstances put him in a position of responsibility?
  • First, I come from a political family. I started working in politics at the age of 15, joining the Ba’ath Party in 1947. I was a lawyer, a governor, and Minister of Economy. My party position opened the door to political positions. My local and family position made me a factor in politics.
  • Are you still a believer and committed to the principles of the Ba’ath Party after being expelled from it?
  • Let me tell you, there’s a difference between the party’s principles and the regime’s behavior. The Ba’ath Party hasn’t had a real role in Syria’s political system since 1963. This military group limited the country, and at this stage, it began to deviate from the party’s principles. So what happened on March 8, 1963 has no connection to the Ba’ath Party, and thus, there’s a difference between the party’s principles and its actions. The principles are about freedom, democracy, justice, Arab unity, and far-reaching aspirations. As for the thoughts, they represent what the mind devises to meet certain needs. The thinking was frozen in 1963 and went through many stages, eventually becoming disconnected from reality. That’s why I always insisted that we need to review its thought and approach, so it suits and serves the current reality. You can’t talk about Arab unity emotionally, as in 1958, and thus, you can’t skip over reality. Unity starts with working on economic consensus among Arab countries, ultimately leading to comprehensive unity.
  • What is your legal status in France?
  • I am like any visitor.
  • A visitor or an exile?
  • No, I’m a visitor and have no restrictions. The French government has generously offered me security protection, and I’m comfortable with that.
  • Will there be a second government in Lebanon?
  • I estimate that it will take a long time because this crisis is difficult to resolve as long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power in Syria. He created this crisis and engineered it to cover up files related to the international court.
  • Will the Syrian military return to Lebanon?
  • Why would the military return? They have a paramilitary force they can use, just as they used the security apparatus before.
  • Thank you, and I hope to see you soon in Damascus and Beirut.
  • My hope is in God, and I hope Lebanon emerges from this crisis. If the Lebanese don’t rise to the level of their country’s interests, catastrophe will befall Lebanon and the Lebanese people. Interview by Michel Zbidi – Cedar News – Paris – New York.