“Khaddam: The end of the regime is inevitable… and it has squandered all opportunities. We are working to unify the opposition inside and outside, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”

publisher: القبس AL Qabas

Publishing date: 20060208

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“Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam has begun his meetings in the Belgian capital with parties from the Syrian opposition, with one of the most prominent being his second meeting within two days with the General Supervisor of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni. These consultations will pave the way for other, potentially broader and more comprehensive, meetings. The programs proposed by these parties may require further convergence and discussion (Al-Qabas newspaper published the proposed working paper yesterday).

In fact, the distance between opposition forces has been considerable for months, before Khaddam submitted his resignation and chose to confront the existing regime, driven by personal interest.

Perhaps more time is needed to make the rapprochement with opposition parties more effective. What is certain is that the former Syrian Vice President is collaborating with active forces abroad, just as he is in contact with parties inside the country. He does this, as he expresses it, “to overthrow the regime and establish democratic governance in Syria, restoring its regional and international position, and reinstating the dignity of the Syrian people, pulling them out of the state that the regime has brought them to.”

Respect for the rules of hospitality

Another reason for Khaddam’s move from Paris to Brussels is to be able to express himself and conduct interviews with the media more freely. This is what Khaddam clarified in his explicit and detailed responses to questions from Al-Qabas.

The first question was about what is said regarding the Syrian authorities’ request from Arab officials to mediate between them and the opposition, and France’s request to pressure him to refrain from engaging in political activities.

On this matter, the former Vice President of the Syrian President answered:

  • There is no pressure from France to prevent me from engaging in political activities on its territory. What they asked of me is not to engage in media activities on their soil, as the rules in place do not permit a guest to address other countries from within France. From my part, I have respected these rules and halted my media activities in Paris.

Instructions for some Arab media!

Regarding Arab pressure, I don’t have serious information, but all I have is that some Arab media have received instructions from their governments not to publish news about the opposition in Syria.

As for the assertion that there is pressure to prevent the opposition from acting, that is determined by the Syrians themselves, not by any Arab or foreign state.”

 meeting with the Damascus Declaration

The internal opposition has issued the Damascus Declaration. Do you agree with its content, where do you agree, and where do you differ?

  • The Damascus Declaration encompasses many serious, positive, and good directions. It is a national grouping, composed of various organizations and individuals.

Naturally, I have my own perspective. The declaration represents a collection of orientations, but I am presenting a practical program for change and for what comes after change. This is the project that I will be launching soon (published by Al-Qabas yesterday). It is subject to discussion with Syrian forces and personalities who recognize the country’s need for change. It presents a democratic and popular alternative to the current regime.

The People are Agitated

Some say there is no opposition in Syria, only opposition figures. What’s your view?

  • If we want to describe the reality in Syria, we say there is an agitated people under a corrupt authority that has exacerbated their suffering. Their living standards have decreased, unemployment among citizens has increased, in addition to all of that, there are restrictions on public and individual freedoms, and there’s control and dominance by security agencies. Given all of this, the Syrian people are opposition-minded, and it would be unjust or incorrect to say there is no opposition. In any case, the near future will reveal the size and nature of this opposition.

Internal and External

What’s the opportunity for a meeting between the internal and external opposition?

  • Firstly, I am not part of the external opposition. I am part of a fundamental current within the country, composed of a faction within the Baath Party and some national forces and figures. Naturally, I have relationships with a large number of Syrian groups abroad. I am in daily contact with them, and we are all working towards building a front with a program. We are transitioning from the stage of political and media mobilization to the stage of working to achieve change.

Does your visit to Brussels fall within this framework?

  • It falls within the framework of both political and media actions.

The Syrian People are the Alternative

Does the opposition constitute a real alternative, and where do your contacts with them stand?

  • The Syrian people are the ones who constitute the real alternative, and they will produce the leaders of change and its political leadership through the ballot boxes after the change takes place. I don’t believe that anyone in the opposition or the Syrian people, in general, is working for a personal position. Everyone is working for a new position for Syria, where it regains its role and status in both the Arab and international arenas. President Bashar al-Assad has turned the country into a pawn after it used to be a key player in the regional and international policies concerning the region.”

What specifications are required to establish a serious partnership among the opposition forces in all their formations?

  • It’s not a matter of partnership between forces for power-sharing. The issue is the unification and cooperation of all opposition forces to produce a new system based on democracy, ensuring public and individual freedoms, and the rotation of power through the ballot boxes. Then, the people will produce their new system and demand the release of public freedoms, including the freedom to form parties and press laws, the abolishment of the state of emergency, all exceptional laws, and the implementation of serious economic reforms to improve citizens’ living standards and administrative reforms. It’s about adopting the principle of equal opportunities and changing the way citizens are treated.

Positive Contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood

Are there reservations regarding the Muslim Brotherhood?

  • I have no reservations. The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the political components in the country, and it’s their right to engage in political activities. It’s worth noting that the policy of isolation and exclusion causes significant harm to the country. We all remember the outcomes of the policy of isolation in Lebanon, where after more than thirty years, the Lebanese are calling for cooperation and overcoming what the policy of isolation produced.

Will there be a meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood?

  • There are ongoing contacts through intermediaries.

What’s the atmosphere of these contacts?

  • What I sense is that the atmosphere is positive.

Contacts with Hikmat Al-Shihabi

What’s your relationship with General Hikmat Al-Shihabi now?

  • General Hikmat Al-Shihabi is a friend, and he currently resides in Los Angeles, United States. We have occasional contacts.

Inevitable End of the Regime

Do you think the regime in Syria is capable of enduring for a long time?

  • It has lost all justifications and factors for its continuation. It survives through force and security apparatuses, which indeed confirms that the end of the regime is inevitable.

Some parties urge you to sever your ties with the regime. How is that done?

  • True, I have been a member of the leadership of the Baath Party since 1970 and served as the Foreign Minister until the spring of 1984. Then, I became the deputy to the president responsible for foreign policy.

Internally, there were many differing viewpoints from what was prevalent at the time. My perspective revolved around Syria’s need for internal reforms—economic, political, and administrative—to enable it to shoulder its national and patriotic responsibilities. There were disagreements within the leadership on these matters, and minutes from the Qatari leadership meetings are on record. I bear a part of the responsibility for every foreign policy mistake from 1970 to 1998, as I was responsible for implementing foreign policy. As for domestic policy, I had no involvement, except as a member of the Qatari leadership, where I presented my viewpoints. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, my conviction grew about the need for changes in concepts and approaches. We cannot invest in policies that the Cold War generated, especially after Syria lost its main Soviet support. Therefore, I believed that Syria’s concern should be how to secure the country rather than entangling it in conflicts whose consequences it cannot bear.

I tried to protect Bashar from himself

You have said a lot about President Assad, but how were you allowed to leave Syria?

  • Personal relations were good. He dealt with me with a lot of warmth and respect. Of course, this isn’t enough. I am a politician, and what matters to me are political relations. It’s natural that no one expected me to take the steps I took until the moment I left Syria. I used to give him advice, trying to protect him from himself and those around him who were pushing him towards the abyss, making him take dangerous decisions that conflicted with the country’s interests. This includes the decision to extend the term of the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

Decision 1559 was made in Damascus and announced in New York.

I advised against taking such a decision, but I was surprised by the decision to extend it. I was even more surprised when I learned that there was an opportunity to avoid the issuance of Resolution 1559. When he contacted the Spanish Prime Minister, opposing the withdrawal of the extension in exchange for convincing European countries to abandon the Security Council meeting and issue the mentioned resolution, the Spanish Prime Minister succeeded in persuading his colleagues after a long effort. He asked his Foreign Minister to inform the Syrian counterpart that the Europeans had agreed to the Syrian initiative. Therefore, it was Syria’s responsibility to inform the President of the Lebanese Parliamentary Council, Nabih Berri, to cancel the session of the Parliament designated for amending the constitution. The response from Farouk al-Sharaa to the Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos was: You contact Mr. Nabih Berri.

When Moratinos contacted him, Berri answered: We are an independent sovereign state and not subject to Syrian directives. This means that Bashar al-Assad backtracked on his initiative. Thus, the Security Council convened after hours and issued Resolution 1559. Therefore, this resolution was made in Damascus and announced in New York!

“The Arab Lawyers” session’s bids are a scandal. Bashar considers the country his private farm.

Al-Qabas: Every time the Syrian President prepares to deliver a speech where he is expected to announce reform steps, he rarely touches upon the topic of reform. How do you explain this?

  • This man considers the country an inheritance from his father’s farm.

One of the major mistakes of President Hafez al-Assad was the inheritance process. President Bashar considers the country his own farm where he decides as he pleases. He lacks a reformist vision and seeks to maintain his regime by employing security apparatus.

In his recent speech before the Arab lawyers, many thought Bashar al-Assad would announce serious reforms. The lawyers’ conference was convened to support him, but some delivered demagogic words reminiscent of Ahmad Saeed and the “Voice of the Arabs” radio. The head of the lawyers’ syndicate, Sameh Ashour, stood up and said: He doesn’t dare say that he only defends the free, and he demanded the repeal of the emergency law, the release of political prisoners, the rotation of power, and the achievement of true democracy.

What was the response?

The response was that there are no reforms. He talked about the economic development plan and said that the priority is the economy, thus disappointing people’s hopes.

As for the issue of salary increases, it was a heavy joke on the citizens. Salaries increased by 5%, but the prices of other goods increased as well. This indicates incompetence and ignorance in addressing economic and livelihood conditions. This treatment does not happen through price hikes but through addressing the economic structure. The Qatari leadership had previously made a series of economic reform decisions in October 2000, but nothing was implemented. He is a president stumbling in ignorance, arrogance, and impulsiveness.

Speaking of impulsiveness, I previously mentioned in interviews that President Bashar is quick-tempered and holds him responsible for everything happening in Syria. However, some say he is influenced by his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and his brother Maher. There’s a contradiction. What’s the truth in that?

  • Bashar al-Assad is the president of the country, and he issues the decisions. His susceptibility to the influence of his brother and brother-in-law is not a problem of the Syrian people but his personal problem. He’s the one who should bear his responsibilities.

Half of Syrians live below the poverty line. I asked the former Syrian Vice President:

In a previous interview, you mentioned that desperate Syrians are eating from the garbage. What is meant by that? And if you’re speaking the truth, why did Syrian citizens (not just officials) react to your statement?

He answered: The intention is not that they are literally going to the garbage. The intention is that the level of poverty the country has reached has caused half of the Syrians to live below the poverty line, and the other half is nearing it, except for a small group living in a kind of prosperity.

Why in a “kind” of prosperity?

  • There’s a category among these well-off individuals who try to live with dignity, while there are those who don’t know what to do with their money, so they travel to Scotland and Switzerland to play golf.

Two meetings with the leader of “The Brotherhood”

Sources close to the former Syrian Vice President revealed two meetings held with the General Observer of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, as part of efforts to unify positions against the current regime. The sources explained that the working sessions were held with “The Brotherhood” and that a common vision was developed to collaborate with other opposition forces and national figures to rescue Syria from its crisis. It was agreed that Syrians should determine change independently of any external intervention. Further meetings will be held within this framework.

Rejecting the “Parliament Play” They accuse me of corruption, while the Asad circles are the corrupt… I demand an investigative committee.

Al-Qabas asked the former Syrian Vice President: Why do you think the regime chose to respond to you through the parliament after your famous interview with Al-Arabiya?

  • Because they are foolish. They gathered these miserable deputies and asked them to perform this play on the parliamentary stage. In reality, both inside and outside, people know that this constitutional institution is just a tool and not a serious entity.

The regime charges you and your children with corruption. How true is that?

  • I challenge any official in Syria to present a single file with any direct or indirect mark against me, my children, or even relatives up to the twentieth degree, whether it’s a contract or any form of involvement. This means they have no shame when they level these accusations… People know who looted the country’s wealth and Iraq’s wealth and who blackmails the people. Everyone sees what Mohammad Makhlouf, Rami Makhlouf (Bashar’s cousin), Kamal Assad, and others from the President’s closest relatives up to the tenth degree have done, including the first generation, such as Jamil Assad, to the fourth generation.

Khaddam continued, saying: Syrians are intelligent and not gullible to be deceived. I suggested to Bashar al-Assad to agree to the formation of a committee to investigate all corruption cases from 1970 until today, headed by the President of the Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate, Sameh Ashour, and the Secretary-General of the Arab Lawyers Union, and the Chief Justice of the Court of Cassation in the Arab Republic of Egypt, and a member of the United Nations Anti-Corruption Committee and a member of an international study group, etc. Let them start investigating me, and I will provide them with all the information: files and individuals, from 1970 until today… Then, these people will be ashamed, and they will stop making accusations against me to cover up what they have done and are doing.

The Alawites… the Most Affected Now

Al-Qabas: There are fears within the Alawite sect that their children will be persecuted if you succeed in overthrowing the rule.

Khaddam: There are no sectarian issues among Syrians. The problem with the regime is that it divided the country into two groups: the group loyal to the authority, consisting of various segments of Syrian society, and the group deprived within the state. Thus, the regime created a form of political sectarianism centered around loyalty or disloyalty to the regime.

The Alawite sect is part of the national fabric and is the most affected by the ruling family. The coastal regions, where many Alawites reside, are the most deprived and impoverished. They are the most exposed to the assaults of the first, second, and third generations within the ruling family, who have violated their dignity, wealth, freedoms, and lives.

It’s natural that there’s an inclination among the members of this sect, just like among other citizens, toward change and liberation from a tyrannical and corrupt regime. The regime is trying to spread fear among the Alawites by appealing to sectarianism, while at the same time, they are spreading among other segments of society the notion that the government is sectarian. They know that this behavior harms national unity and damages the country’s safety. However, I am confident that everyone realizes the danger of this approach and is committed to national unity, which serves as the sanctuary for all Syrians.

I Don’t Live in a Palace

During a sideline conversation, Al-Qabas asked Khaddam: There has been much talk about the palace you live in in the French capital, Paris.

  • I hope you can visit me in the house I live in to see whether it’s an ordinary house or a palace. These statements are part of the lies we’ve been talking about.

If change doesn’t occur, extremist currents will threaten the region.

Al-Qabas: There are concerns that any change in Syria could lead to a repeat of what happened in Iraq?

  • The situation in Syria is different from Iraq. Change will not lead to any internal issues. The evidence is that many changes have occurred in Syria without causing internal turmoil.

  like what ?

  • All the coups that were happening. The Syrian people exhibit a high sense of national responsibility. All segments of the population have suffered and continue to suffer from the problems of this regime. The issue is not between these segments, but between the Syrian people and the regime. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of the people’s components want salvation, as they are living a nightmare with no end in sight. The danger is not in change but in the continuation of the regime. If there is no change, then extremist currents will arise in Syria that threaten stability in both Syria and the region. Whoever wants stability for Syria and wants to close the door on extremism must support the process of change, not hinder or abort it.

Some consider that the Syrian regime is not afraid of a popular uprising…

  • Khaddam (interrupting): I am against any military intervention in the change. The backwardness of Syria is due to the military’s involvement in politics.

The army has national duties, not political duties.

From a restaurant to the Central Bank governorship!

Question from “Al-Qabas”: Some circles say that monetary reforms are currently being implemented, and a new bank has recently been opened, and salaries have been increased in the public sector. What is your assessment?

Khaddam: Everything you hear about reforms is not genuine. When you appoint a restaurant accountant as the governor of the Central Bank of Syria, you should realize the nature of this reform.

But, did Toni Blair work at a café when he was studying in Paris?

  • First, the British Prime Minister worked at a restaurant when he was a student. We all worked when we were students. Blair continued his political life, and his party brought him to the position of Prime Minister. The governor of the Central Bank is responsible for monetary policy in the country; it’s the most important economic position. Even though the job is technical, someone who recently worked at a restaurant in Damascus is placed at its helm. For investment, the statements from the government are false. Nobody will come to invest in Syria while being aware of the corruption in the judiciary, administration, and the ruling family.

Investigators in Hariri’s assassination have a complete picture. Khaddam: The slogan of subversive interventions in Lebanon is “Either me (the Assad regime) or chaos.”

The circumstances of the assassination of the former Syrian Interior Minister, General Ghazi Kanaan, and the fate of the international investigations into the assassination of the late President Rafik Hariri, were the focal point of the detailed dialogue conducted by “Al-Qabas” in Brussels with the Deputy President of Syria, Abdul Halim Khaddam.

Did General Ghazi Kanaan commit suicide or was he forced to?

  • I used to believe he committed suicide. However, after Bashar al-Assad published his interview with “Al-Aswaq Al-Arabi” and accused him of being involved in a conspiracy, it became apparent that he was most likely killed, as assassination is part of the regime’s culture.

Interventions in Lebanon

President Bashar al-Assad said that Lebanon has always been a source of disturbances?

  • Lebanon is a brotherly country, facing complex circumstances, some of which are internal causes, and some are non-Lebanese causes. This became evident during the civil war. I believe everyone should help Lebanon strengthen its national unity and avoid internal conflicts because a stable and secure Lebanon is important for every Arab country, especially Syria.

The recent attempts by the Syrian regime to ignite internal issues in Syria, harming Lebanon and leading to conflicts that threaten its national unity, are dangerous and harmful to Syria as well. The Syrian regime should stop any intervention in Lebanon’s internal affairs and any attempt to create division among the Lebanese. This fire will not only burn Lebanon but also Syria and other Arab countries. Therefore, my call to the Lebanese brothers is to first uphold their national unity, as the absence of this unity will cause great harm to everyone. Priority should be given to the stability of Lebanon and the enhancement of national unity.

Other matters become minor when internal stability is at risk.

Hariri’s assassins

After a few days, we commemorate the first anniversary of the assassination of President Rafik Hariri. In your opinion, is the international investigation committee capable of directly accusing the assassins and the parties behind them?

  • After a year has passed since the assassination of President Hariri, the Lebanese and Arabs feel the gravity of the loss caused by this crime to Lebanon and Syria. In reality, the head of the international investigation committee received questions from me and answered them.

I believe the investigation committee possesses sufficient evidence to determine clear and straightforward accusations against those who decided, planned, and executed the act.

Is there something you know about the assassination that you haven’t announced yet?

  • In reality, what I have, I have stated before the investigation committee, and it is not my right to speak to the media as the information I provided has become part of the investigation, which is confidential. However, I am convinced that the decision was made in Damascus, in cooperation with Beirut.

Sabotage in Beirut

How do you view the recent burning of diplomatic centers in Damascus and Beirut?

  • I am mostly in Paris and follow what happens through the media. The Syrian regime wants to create a precarious situation in Lebanon to say: either me or chaos. Therefore, I cannot deny the role of the security apparatus of the regime in what happened in Beirut. It should be noted that what happened in Damascus or Beirut is planned and organized, aiming to convey messages internally to scare people from chaos and externally to say either me or extremism.

In any case, such maneuvers have become exposed and have caused significant damage to Syria’s reputation. I strongly condemn these actions as they insult Islam, its values, Syria, and its values. I have expressed my regret and condemnation for these incidents in messages sent to multiple parties.

Hezbollah’s responsibilities

How do you view Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and its relationship with Syria?

  • Hezbollah is a Lebanese party that played a commendable role in driving Israeli forces out of Lebanon and liberating the south of Lebanon. Consequently, just as it took responsibility for liberation, it is required to take responsibility for preserving the unity of the country. This requires prioritizing the unity and stability of the Lebanese people in its relationships with any party, whether Damascus or others.

What is Abdul Halim Khaddam’s opinion on the issue of demarcating the borders between Lebanon and Syria and the issue of diplomatic exchange?

  • The issue of border demarcation should have been settled since the 1960s. Demarcating the borders between two Arab states does not mean canceling relations. Borders are drawn between all Arab countries. Why not do the same with Lebanon? The same applies to diplomatic relations.
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