Khaddam: Syria prioritizes the establishment of a unified Arab stance on various matters.

publisher: وكالات

Publishing date: 1999-02-10


A press conference was held on October 2, 1999, at the Syrian Arab Television building, attended by press delegations, news agencies, and Arab and foreign television channels. The conference was held to discuss the referendum on Hafez al-Assad’s fifth presidential term.

During the conference, the editor of the Egyptian magazine Last Hour posed the following question:

“Does President Hafez al-Assad’s participation in the funeral of King Hussein, may God have mercy on him, mark the beginning of a new chapter in Arab relations?”

In response, it was emphasized that Syria is committed to fostering a peaceful Arab environment. The current state of Arab affairs is a cause for concern, as it brings satisfaction to our enemies, but not to honest Arab leaders. Throughout various periods, President Al-Assad has made significant efforts to improve Arab relations. It is worth reflecting on the 1940s and 1950s when Arab aspirations revolved around freeing themselves from foreign colonialism and achieving Arab unity. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the focus shifted from unity to Arab solidarity in order to liberate the territories occupied in 1967. Since the mid-1970s until the present, the primary Arab goal has been to put an end to internal conflicts…

Considering the passage of time, it becomes evident that the rest of the world has progressed, while the Arab situation has regressed. While major political and economic blocs are forming, we witness an increase in Arab conflicts, disputes, and the growth of Qatari interests. This is a matter of concern for every Arab nation, including Syria. When the president made the decision to visit Amman, it was with the intention of forging a new path in Arab relations. It is important to note that Israel’s ambitions and attempts to mislead and influence our brotherly nation, Jordan, should not deter us from seeking security and stability. Syria is dedicated to the well-being of Jordan and supports its stability and security. Political disputes with any Arab country do not imply a desire for harm. We hope that this visit will contribute to improving the overall climate of Arab relations.

Question: Essam Hamza from Reuters asked two questions: Firstly, at the recent meeting of Arab foreign ministers, a committee was formed, chaired by Syria, to engage with major powers and discuss the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. Could you provide information on when this committee will convene and its potential actions? Secondly, Reuters inquired about Syria’s plans to enhance relations between Arab countries and Iraq in the near future, given Syria’s commitment to promoting Arab solidarity.


Syria places great importance on achieving a unified Arab stance on the various issues under discussion. During the meeting of Arab foreign ministers, a consensus was reached, which we believe is beneficial and serves the interests of all parties involved. The resulting statement consists of three key points:

Firstly, the rejection of military action against Iraq, a position agreed upon by all Arab nations.

Secondly, a collective agreement to oppose any interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Thirdly, the commitment to work towards lifting the sanctions in accordance with the resolutions of the Security Council. There is a shared Arab consensus on this approach. The committee members are currently coordinating to determine the meeting dates and develop an action plan for the committee.

Regarding Iraq’s relations with Arab countries, this issue is intertwined with the broader Arab context. It is not limited to the problems between Iraq and Kuwait alone; there are various challenges between other Arab nations as well. If we genuinely aspire to overcome these challenges, it is crucial to review the existing Arab system and establish mechanisms that guarantee mutual trust among all Arab countries. There must be effective controls and deterrents in place to ensure compliance, in addition to addressing a fundamental issue that may be even more significant than political matters. This issue pertains to how Arab nations can navigate the demands and challenges of the present era, such as economic and cultural globalization, and effectively respond to the evolving dynamics of the international arena. Arab countries should lay the groundwork for establishing a strong Arab economic bloc, and sincere efforts are already underway in this regard. Once established, political and other matters will become secondary concerns. The foundation lies in fostering new Arab relations governed by effective controls within a comprehensive Arab framework that encompasses economic, cultural, scientific, political, and security aspects. Under such a framework, relations between all Arab countries can thrive. However, within the current Arab context, it is challenging to exert control over Arab relations and confine them within specific boundaries.

The question posed by Munir Al-Hafi from Future TV is: What is your response to the recent statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding peace?

In response, the answer is straightforward. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is genuinely committed to peace, he should publicly announce the acceptance of resuming negotiations from where they left off and demonstrate a willingness to honor the commitments made by Yitzhak Rabin’s government. However, it is my belief that the Israelis do not genuinely desire a just and comprehensive peace. True peace entails the complete withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories and the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people. In essence, it necessitates an end to the Zionist project. The pursuit of a just peace contradicts the objectives of the Zionist movement, which it has strived to achieve since its inception and continues to pursue to this day.

Question: Following the passing of King Hussein, there have been suggestions that Jordan might move towards a confederation with the Palestinians or align itself with the Iraq project. What is your assessment of the most realistic scenarios in this region?

Another question pertains to recent claims made by certain Arab newspapers regarding Syria’s possession of chemical weapons. These allegations seem to be part of a broader agenda targeting Syria or other nations. Some observers have linked these claims to the timing of the referendum, suggesting that the West intends to influence its outcome to satisfy its own interests. What is your evaluation of the significance of raising this issue?


Firstly, regarding the speculations surrounding Jordan’s future after the demise of King Hussein, I would caution against placing too much emphasis on these analyses. There are plans that aim to undermine the Arab nations, which are not new and serve the interests of Israel in dominating and controlling the Arab world. However, it should be understood that the desires of others cannot simply be imposed. From my perspective, Jordan is currently focused on consolidating its internal situation, considering the presence of a new king. I do not believe Jordan can be preoccupied with such speculations. Iraq, likewise, is not a playground owned by any external entity. It is a sovereign nation where the destiny of its people should be determined by the Iraqis themselves.

Regarding the idea of a confederation or federalism with the Palestinian side, it is a notion that has been raised at various stages but has yet to be realized due to numerous factors. These factors involve both Palestinian and Jordanian considerations. I believe it is important for all of us to work towards creating a new Arab environment in which Arab nations take charge of planning their own future, actively engaging without undue concerns. Regardless of the circumstances and the difficulties associated with such plans, aimed at fragmenting the Arab situation and serving Israel’s interests, they will not succeed. The Arab nation is ancient, with a rich history, and has overcome challenging times. Although the journey may be complex, future Arab generations will undoubtedly strive for a better future.

Regarding the issue of chemical weapons, these allegations have been circulating for some time. They are part of an Israeli campaign aimed at isolating Syria, despite Israel itself possessing various types of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Israel manufactures a range of armaments, from aircraft to missiles, and benefits from a level of protection not provided to any other nation by an American state, which is the American guarantee of Israel’s security. These campaigns form part of the ongoing efforts against Syria. However, we remain resolute and steadfast, adhering to our progressive and national policies. We have a clear vision of the reality and the future, and we act in the best interest of our country—by “our country,” I mean not only Syria but the entire Arab world.

Question: The question comes from Hamdy Rizk, an Egyptian journalist representing Al-Musawwar magazine. Can you provide an overview of the meeting between Presidents Assad and Clinton in Jordan, and what conditions does Syria have for restoring warm relations?

Answer: The meeting, due to the occasion, was relatively brief, and there were exchanges of statements expressing the desire to enhance the state of relations.

Question: Thanaa Al-Imam, correspondent for Monte Carlo and MBC TV, asks: How does President Assad perceive Islam, and have there been any notable changes in this perspective since the first Gulf War?

Answer: Firstly, President Hafez al-Assad is a devout Muslim, practicing his faith. As Arabs, we consider Islam not only a religion for Muslims but also a cultural and historical heritage that extends to Christians as well. Therefore, our perception of Islam, both within Syria and beyond its borders, encompasses its role as a religion. We, as Muslims, view Islam as a cherished heritage and culture shared by all Arabs.

Question: A journalist from India asks: What is the current status of the peace process, and is there a possibility of resuming it? Are there any efforts being made to bring Syria and India together to foster closer relations?

Another question: The correspondent from the Voice of Lebanon radio station raises the issue of the prevailing extreme and radical atmosphere in Israel on the eve of the Israeli elections. What is the outlook for peaceful negotiations on all fronts? Do you anticipate the possibility of Israel launching a large-scale aggression against Lebanon?

Answer: We can state that the peace process is currently stagnant due to Israeli policies and their understanding of the concept of peace. Israel believes that peace can be achieved while maintaining occupation, military supremacy, and exerting control over the region. However, this perspective is flawed. As for the possibility of resuming the peace process, we have a clear example in the case of the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Authority’s agreement with Israel at Wye River. Despite being signed under American supervision and pressure, and in Israel’s favor, this agreement deviated from the fundamental principles on which the peace process was based. The Israeli actions following this agreement demonstrate their disregard for such a weak agreement. Israel continues to exert pressure and carry out continuous attacks on Lebanon, taking advantage of the current situation in the Arab region to pursue its aggression. However, regardless of these provocations, Israel will not be able to achieve any security gains for Syria or Lebanon. Will there be an assault? Lebanon faces assaults every day. Will there be a planned large-scale attack? It is challenging to provide a specific estimation as a widespread attack under the current circumstances would invite significant pressure against Israel, including American pressure. However, if such an attack were to occur, it is important to note that Israel did not achieve any gains in April 1996 when it launched a massive attack. Eventually, Israel was compelled to accept an agreement that recognized the legitimacy of resistance. Military force has not enabled Israel to attain any gains.

Question: Yasser Abdel-Azim from the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan asks: Are there any new arms deals between Syria and Russia? Has Iran played a role in resolving the outstanding debts between Syria and the Soviet Union?

Another question is regarding Egyptian-Iranian relations. Has Syria made any efforts to facilitate the restoration of relations between Egypt and Iran, and if so, what progress has been made?

Answer: Regarding the issue of armaments, there is a lot of speculation, but we should not pay much attention to it. Israel is attempting to spread numerous rumors in order to leverage these rumors as new gains from the United States of America.

As for Iran’s role in settling Syria’s former Soviet debts, there is no such role because our relations with Russia are strong, and there is direct communication between the two parties. Mediation is not needed in this matter.

Concerning Iran-Egypt relations, we are committed to ensuring that these relations follow a normal course. In fact, there have been exchanges and meetings between Cairo and Tehran, particularly on the sidelines of conferences involving the foreign ministers of both countries. As we observe, the situation between the two countries is currently calm. Cairo has no desire for escalation, and the same is true for Tehran. Both parties demonstrate good intentions and a willingness to cooperate.

Question: Is there any recent development in Syrian-Jordanian relations?

Another question: What are your perspectives on the future of relations with Turkey?

Answer: There is a security committee that holds regular meetings between Syria and Turkey. As for the matter of relations with Jordan, there is currently a new phase in Jordan. It is important to allow this phase to unfold without rushing into questions, as the focus should be on rebuilding and stabilizing the internal affairs after the mourning period. During the President’s meeting with King Abdullah, the discussions revolved around enhancing the bilateral relations between the two countries and their mutual desire to foster positive relations. We welcome this intention, but specific details regarding the nature and direction of these relations have not been discussed yet. Both countries aspire to establish strong ties, and we hope that this objective can be accomplished.

Question: A question from Al-Ahali Cairo newspaper… What is Syria’s position on the aggression against Iraq? Another question: On the same subject from the Tunisian newspaper Al-Shorouq, has Syria made any efforts to restore relations between Egypt and Iran, and if so, what has been achieved?

Answer: Syria’s position is rooted in our comprehensive understanding of the regional situation. We firmly believe that certain objectives serve Israel’s interests and aim to dismantle Iraq. Regardless of the status of our relations with Baghdad, it is evident that such a plan would lead to the destruction of a vital Arab country. This destruction would be akin to a large bomb detonating in the Arab world, scattering its burning fragments everywhere. Therefore, our unwavering stance against any policy or plan aimed at dismantling Iraq is driven by our commitment to safeguard the national security of every Arab nation. We perceive any issue, based on our standards, as having an impact not only on Syria but on all Arabs. When the Iraq-Iran war occurred, we took a firm stance against it. Unfortunately, many of our Arab brethren launched unjust campaigns against us, accusing and blaming us unfairly. However, after a decade, they admitted their error and recognized the correctness of Syrian policy. When Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, we considered it a grave transgression. We clearly understood the serious consequences this act would have for the Arab situation. Thus, we took a stand and participated in the coalition forces because we believed, and still believe, that such cases have detrimental implications not only for Arab national security but also for the entire Arab future. Therefore, our position has nothing to do with our differences with the Iraqi regime. If any other Arab country were to violate the borders of another Arab nation, we would adopt the same position. Our stance is independent of our relations with specific countries. Whenever Kuwait or any Arab country falls victim to aggression, whether from an Arab or foreign party, we stand in solidarity with them.

However, in the Arab arena, decisions are the result of the intersection and convergence of Arab policies during these Arab meetings. It is widely known that there are Arab countries hostile to Iraq, and we are fully aware of the ongoing hostilities and mutual threats and statements between these parties. The question remains whether we can reach a common position with these countries, calling for non-interference in internal affairs, rejecting armed action against Iraq, and lifting the siege on it. We believe that achieving such an outcome would be a significant and momentous decision made by Arab foreign ministers. This matter is not driven by emotions but rather by the dynamics within the Arab arena, as previously mentioned. We acknowledge the existence of forces that still harbor hostility towards Iraq. Can we convince a substantial bloc? In our opinion, this bloc plays a crucial role in Arab action. However, if this bloc aligns with us on the points that ultimately benefit Iraq, halt its aggression, and lift the siege, then this matter becomes highly significant.

The other thing is that we are against the policy of polarization in the Arab arena and we absolutely do not seek to establish blocs in this arena. We want all Arabs to be in the same arena and in the same positions… But if we cannot, we will try to remove the negatives and fill the gaps, but polarization will be harmful or the Arab division will be very harmful. If Syria maintained that it only agreed to what was stated in the statement of its Foreign Minister, the conference would have failed and it would have been impossible to issue such a position. So what does that mean… A new division in the Arab arena is as if we turned a large part of the Arabs into a cover against Iraq. In politics, emotions are important, but we must also see the impact of the event and the repercussions of this event on public interests and national security. As for national security, let us be a little humble and very clear. Now there is no system for Arab national security. There is a joint Arab defense treaty. Unfortunately, this treaty has not been implemented in all the conflicts that have taken place in the region and in our wars with Israel as well. It was not implemented. Egypt and Syria were fighting. In the Arab conflicts at this stage, as we know, there has been a problem between Algeria and Morocco, between Tunisia and Libya, between Egypt and Libya, between Egypt and Sudan, between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar In all these problems, the Joint Arab Defense Treaty was not invoked so that we could develop a formula for national security. We must develop a formula for economic security because we cannot establish our national security without establishing our economic and cultural security. National security has requirements. If it is not based on an economic base, it is difficult to provide these requirements. If we take all the alliances that were established in the past, these alliances are economic on the one hand and military on the other. NATO was accompanied by the European Community and its economic base on the one hand, the Warsaw Pact and the Comicon Agreement between Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union. Therefore, the saying of national security is not in the limited sense the military issue and the traditional security issue. National security should be seen in its comprehensive form… Economic security, political security and cultural security. The security issue comes as a result of the intersection and complexity of different interests in the Arab arena

Question: Would Syria have taken the step of restoring relations with Jordan if it had not happened?

Answer: Since it has already happened, why should we speculate about intentions?

Question: Considering Syria’s commitment to Arab solidarity, is it possible for Syria to act as a mediator in resolving the issue of islands between Iran and the United Arab Emirates?

Answer: Throughout the different stages of this issue, we have engaged in discussions with the Iranian side. We are actively seeking to facilitate a dialogue between the brotherly state of the United Arab Emirates and the friendly state of Iran. In our various contacts, when addressing the regional situation, we consistently raise this matter and express our hope for the two parties to reach an agreement that eases tensions in the Arabian Gulf region.

Question: From the Jordanian newspaper Al Rai.. Is there an opportunity to restore relations between the Palestinian Authority and Syria, especially as one of the opposition leaders shook hands with the Israeli president?

Answer: Syria’s policy regarding the Palestinian cause is not contingent upon the loyalty or opposition of Palestinian factions. To us, the Palestinian cause in Syria is a national issue. This perspective is not new. If we look back at the history of the Palestinian problem, we find that Syrian leaders and volunteers played a significant role in the Palestinian revolutions during the British mandate. Syrian volunteers joined Palestinians in their fight against Zionist groups, gangs, and the British occupation. The political stance adopted by the PLO leadership, in our view, does not serve the Palestinian cause. The first flaw in this stance is neglecting the national dimension of the Palestinian cause and considering it solely an independent Palestinian decision. Ultimately, the independent Palestinian decision is subject to the whims of individuals within the Palestinian arena, leading to fluctuations in the cause.

Given the sacrifices made by Syria and the Arab nation, including shedding precious blood for the sake of Palestine, we cannot tie our beliefs and interests solely to being Syrians. It is worth noting that Palestine is an integral part of the Arab world, and the Palestinian people are an inseparable part of the Arab nation. Let’s assume, for instance, that the Palestinian people were from New Zealand. Even in that scenario, would it be in our interest for Israel to seize their land, expand, and grow while we refrain from taking a stance against such a policy? This is an internal matter within the Palestinian arena. However, when it comes to the land and the future of the Palestinian cause, we hold a different position.

Regarding the opposition, our policy is not determined by the actions of individual opposition leaders. Whether an opposition leader shakes hands or refrains from doing so, their organization should hold them accountable for any mistakes and support them if they act in the best interest of the cause. Our position is shaped by our vision, policy, and strategy.

Question: Regarding Syria’s position on the Yemeni call for an Arab summit, the establishment of an economic bloc in the Gulf region, and the inclusion of Syria and Lebanon, what is your opinion on this?

Answer: Firstly, it is undeniable that holding the summit is necessary and significant. The summit should have taken place regardless of any disagreements. However, if the summit is held with each party firmly adhering to its own viewpoint, the outcome is predictable – a failed summit. Therefore, the decision to entrust the matter to the foreign ministers in light of the prevailing Arab tensions is a positive and commendable step. The document issued by the foreign ministers, if followed up on, can help alleviate tensions. Continued efforts and considerable patience are required.

Regarding the ideas presented by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they are undoubtedly commendable. However, the proposal was introduced through the media, and we have not received a specific project for discussion. Any initiative that leads to the establishment of an Arab economic bloc, as long as it does not contribute to political polarization, is encouraged, even if it involves only two Arab countries. Our hope is to avoid polarization in the Arab arena and further complications in the current situation.

Question: The political relations between Syria and Egypt are very strong. Why is there no economic agreement between Syria and Egypt similar to the one between Lebanon and Syria?

Answer: As I mentioned earlier, the political relations between Syria and Egypt are strong. Presidents Assad and Mubarak have consistently directed their respective governments to take more progressive steps in economic relations. We hope that these directives will be implemented. Undoubtedly, advancements in economic relations between the two countries will serve as an inspiration for other Arab nations to join in similar endeavors.