Khaddam: I was the first and last Syrian official to meet Khomeini… This is the minutes of the meeting (episode 10)

publisher: الشرق الأوسط

Publishing date: 2021-05-05


Vice President of the late Syrian President, Abdel Halim Khaddam, today reveals in memoirs published by “Al-Sharq Al-Awsat” newspaper the details of the relations between Syria and Iran following the victory of the “revolution” in Tehran and the establishment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s “Hezbollah” in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982.

Khaddam states that Musa al-Sadr, the head of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council in Lebanon, played a significant role in establishing relations between Damascus and several Iranian figures opposing the Shah’s regime, who took power after the success of the “revolution”. Among them was Ibrahim Yazdi, who invited Khaddam to visit Tehran in August 1979 for talks with “the Leader” Khomeini and senior officials with the aim of establishing relations between the two countries.

Khaddam narrates: “On the third day of the visit, Ibrahim Yazdi accompanied me to Qom to meet with Khomeini. Thus, I was the first Syrian official, in fact, the only Syrian official to meet with him,” where he “spoke briefly but decisively and clearly, confirming that the (revolution) had achieved its victory… and asked me to convey his gratitude to President Hafez al-Assad and his regards to him, and his keenness on strong relations with Syria.” He adds: “After my return to Damascus, I presented the details of the visit to President Hafez and the party leadership. My perspective was that all conditions were ripe for cooperation with the new regime in Iran, despite the contradiction between our system’s nature and that of Iran’s.”

Regarding the establishment of “Hezbollah,” Khaddam states: “The broader Iranian involvement in Lebanon occurred during the Israeli invasion of Lebanese territories in early June 1982. The Iranian leadership then decided to send a brigade from the Revolutionary Guard to Syria, in agreement with us. Indeed, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard brigade arrived a few days after the start of the fighting and the majority of it headed to Lebanon, to the Baalbek-Hermel area… to establish (Hezbollah) and organize the Islamic resistance operation, support it, and train it.”

The initial beginnings of relations between Syria and the leadership of the “revolution” in Iran were through the Iranian opposition to the Shah’s regime, with whom we established good relations with certain factions. Musa al-Sadr, the head of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council in Lebanon, played a major role in those relations, through the “Liberation Party of Iran,” whose prominent leaders included Mehdi Bazargan, Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi, Sadeq Tabatabai, Sadeq Qotbzadeh, and Mustafa Chamran. After the success of the “revolution,” Mehdi Bazargan became the Prime Minister of Iran, Sadeq Tabatabai became the Deputy Prime Minister, Ibrahim Yazdi became the Foreign Minister, and after his resignation, Sadeq Qotbzadeh succeeded him, and Mustafa Chamran took over the Ministry of Defense.

We welcomed the success of the “revolution” led by Khomeini with great joy and deep optimism, at a time when the region was under the pressure of Arab divisions and Israeli attacks. President Hafez al-Assad sent a warm congratulatory message to Khomeini, expressing Syria’s eagerness for comprehensive cooperation with Iran and the Syrian people’s satisfaction with the revolution’s success.

In early August 1979, I received an invitation from Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Yazdi. I arrived in Tehran on August 15th, and I was received by Yazdi and Tabatabai, along with several Iranian officials.

In the evening, I met with Sadeq Tabatabai, who was politically astute and had a broad culture, combining religious commitment with an open mind. He was the nephew of Musa al-Sadr and one of the most enthusiastic leaders for relations with Syria. What caught my attention was when I was in my hotel room and turned on the television, I was surprised by the repeated phrase: “Teach your children Arabic…” That statement had a significant impact on me.

Early in the morning of the next day, around 3 AM, one of my aides entered my bedroom and woke me up, informing me that Sheikh Mohammad Montazeri (the son of Hussein Ali Montazeri) and a group were requesting a meeting with me. I was surprised that the visit was at this time and without a prior appointment, so I asked my aide to have them wait in the reception area while I dressed.

Montazeri was an enthusiastic young supporter of the “revolution.” He began by criticizing the Ba’ath Party and its members, particularly the leaders in Iraq. He then delved into explaining the goals of the “revolution,” which he believed would change the world. I had to listen because I realized that engaging in a dialogue with him would not be fruitful. After about two hours, he asked to perform the Fajr prayer, and he had his way, leaving with the sunrise.

At eleven o’clock, I went to meet with Dr. Mehdi Bazargan, the Prime Minister. Ibrahim Yazdi, the Foreign Minister, and Sadeq Tabatabai, the Deputy Prime Minister, were present. Bazargan spoke about the revolution’s goals and the popular consensus supporting it. He spoke confidently and passionately, then he talked about Syrian-Iranian relations, emphasizing that the revolution in Iran would work on building strong ties with Syria, its sister.

I engaged in conversation, congratulating them on the success of the revolution on behalf of the Syrian leadership. I also talked about our high hopes for its success in transitioning Iran to a new phase, where Arab-Iranian cooperation would be integrated. We discussed our common goals in resisting the Zionist movement and Israel, as well as confronting American imperialism and foreign ambitions. Our viewpoints were completely aligned.

It’s worth noting that Messrs. Bazargan, Tabatabai, Yazdi, Chamran, Hassan Habibi, and Sadeq Qotbzadeh were from the “Liberation Party of Iran,” led by Mr. Mehdi Bazargan, with Musa al-Sadr being the spiritual leader of the party.

Yazdi and Tabatabai participated in the conversation, and their discussions followed the same direction. Everyone emphasized the importance of developing relations between the “revolution” in Iran and Syria and the need for close cooperation against Israel and American imperialism.

At 8 o’clock in the morning, I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for talks with Yazdi. When we entered the meeting room, I was surprised to find a number of ministry officials present. I expressed the Syrian people’s and leadership’s satisfaction with the success of the “revolution” in Iran, which marked a profound shift in the region’s dynamics. I highlighted the significance of cooperation between Syria and the Iranian “revolution,” as well as the shared goals between the two sides.

Yazdi spoke about the “revolution” and its main objectives, placing the liberation of Palestine and confronting global arrogance at the forefront. He affirmed that the cooperation between the “revolution” and Syria would yield fruitful results for both peoples and for Muslims.

We agreed to enhance relations, continue consultations between the two states, collaborate in all fields, and coordinate efforts and stances on the issues of mutual concern. On the second day, I participated in the Friday prayer at Tehran University, marking Jerusalem Day. The prayer and the event were notable, with a large turnout exceeding several thousand participants, chanting slogans for Jerusalem and against Israel.

It was a magnificent sight to witness thousands performing the congregational prayer and passionately chanting for Palestine. On that occasion, I delivered a speech expressing our stance on the Palestinian cause in general and on Jerusalem in particular. I conveyed greetings to the Iranian “revolution” and its leader Khomeini, and wished success to the revolution in achieving its goals.

On the third day of the visit, Ibrahim Yazdi accompanied me to Qom to meet with Khomeini. Thus, I became the first Syrian official to meet with him.

We arrived around noon and headed to the leader of the “revolution’s” residence in a popular neighborhood. We entered a simple house in that neighborhood. At the entrance, there was a small room with an office desk and table where a cleric sat. After we greeted him, we entered another small room, not exceeding two and a half meters in length and width, with a regular mat on the floor. Khomeini was sitting there, and he stood up to welcome us. He, as well as we, sat on the floor. He listened to his Arab interlocutors in Arabic and responded to them in Persian.

After exchanging greetings, he welcomed me, and I conveyed congratulations to him from Syria and President Hafez al-Assad for the success of the “revolution” under his leadership. I expressed our high hopes for the revolution’s success, particularly in confronting Zionist aggression. I also conveyed President al-Assad’s regards and assured him that the Syrian people are keen on strong relations with Iran. We appreciate the tremendous development that the revolution will bring at a time when we face Zionist aggression and American pressure.

Khomeini gave a brief speech, but it was decisive and clear. He affirmed that the “revolution” achieved victory against tyranny and injustice through the people’s support. He stated that the “revolution” would stand with the oppressed and deprived, support the Palestinian people, and confront the forces of global arrogance. He asked me to convey his gratitude to President Hafez al-Assad and his regards, emphasizing his eagerness for strong relations with Syria.

The meeting was short but symbolic, yet of great importance. I sensed the determination in every word he spoke. He was self-assured, confident in the ultimate triumph of his revolution.

The new system wasn’t all-encompassing in the true sense of the word. Decision-making centered around the leader of the “revolution.” It wasn’t a democratic system either; while everyone could speak freely, it was within the framework of the revolution’s objectives. There was room for differences in interpretation, but unity prevailed in stance.