Khaddam: Syria needs political change

publisher: الجزيرة .aljazeera.

Publishing date: 2006-01-05


Abdul-Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian vice president, has called for political change in Syria, saying the Damascus government has outlived its time and is unlikely to survive much longer.

Asked whether he supported regime change in Syria, Khaddam replied: “Yes,” adding that he had no personal interest in leading the drive to oust Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

The former vice president, who was deeply involved in the Syrian presence in Lebanon and left his post in the Syrian government in June, spoke to The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Paris on Thursday.

“What concerns me is for the Syrian people to recover their freedom and their ability to decide their own fate,” he said.

Khaddam said al-Assad’s “mistakes” on the domestic and international front had weakened the Syrian government beyond repair to the point where “it can no longer reform itself. It has become like a model 1916 car”.

“I am convinced that the regime committed big mistakes against Syria and Lebanon … and consequently it must shoulder its responsibility in front of the Syrian people,” Khaddam said. “I think the regime has no chance of surviving in the long term.”

Former stalwart

Khaddam, a one-time stalwart of the ruling Baath Party, formally declared his break with the Assad regime in an interview with Al-Arabiya satellite TV station on 30 December in which he lashed out at the Syrian leadership and criticised it for corruption and failure to reform.

For its part, Syria has frozen the assets of Khaddam. “The Finance Ministry has decided to place in escrow the assets of … Khaddam, his wife, his sons and their families as well as their children, awaiting the conclusions of the inquiry,” the official daily Ath-Thawra reported on Thursday.

The decision was announced three days after the paper reported that Damascus intended to try Khaddam for high treason, investigate him for corruption and seize his assets.

In the Al-Arabiya interview, Khaddam that Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, was threatened by Syria months before he was assassinated.

That claim made him the first former top member of the Syrian government to confirm allegations in a UN commission report that Bashar al-Assad threatened al-Hariri in an August 2004 meeting.

The two leaders were at odds about Syria’s desire to extend the mandate of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president. Al-Hariri was known to oppose the extension.

The UN probe into al-Hariri’s killing has already implicated Syria, but Damascus has denied the allegations.
Personally responsible

On Thursday, he repeated his criticism of al-Assad and said the Syrian president was personally responsible through his decisions and behaviour for isolating Syria.

“The regime has weakened itself as a result of wrong vision and mistakes made on the domestic and international fronts,” Khaddam told AP.

“President Bashar Assad took grave decisions, unilaterally and against our advice,” he added, citing the decision to extend Emile Lahoud’s term in the Lebanon president’s office.

Syria’s push for the three-year extension of the staunchly pro-Syrian Lahoud’s presidency is September 2004 – which required a constitutional amendment – was considered responsible for the crisis in Lebanese-Syrian relations that led to al-Hariri’s 14 February 2005 assassination and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in April after nearly three decades.

Khaddam said such mistakes, in addition to the Syrian government’s failure to effect political and economic reforms, caused him to give up on the regime and decide to speak out.

He denied that he was encouraged to publicly break with the Syrian government by Saudi Arabia or any other country and said such talk was baseless.

There had been speculation that his TV appearance on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya was intended as a message from Saudi leaders to the Syrians.

French interview

In a separate TV appearance, Khaddam,  said al-Assad should be thrown in jail.

“He should go. To the house … to prison,” he said on the France 3 station when asked about the Syrian president’s future.

“The most important thing is to save Syria from this regime,” he said, adding that “those who were behind the assassination in Lebanon continue to kill because their goal is to create chaos in the country”.

He said he believed his life was “in danger” even in France but insisted that he was not scared