The full text of Abdel Halim Khaddam’s interview with Al Arabiyah channel

publisher: الشرق الأوسط

Publishing date: 2006-01-07


The interview conducted by the “Al Arabiyah” channel, which was broadcast on Monday, 2 January 2006 (02 Dhul-Hijjah 1426 AH), with former Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, elicited significant regional and international reactions. It became the subject of discussion and controversy at both popular and official levels in Syria. The full text of Khaddam’s interview, conducted by “Al Arabiyah” correspondent Hussein Fayyad Quneiber in Paris, is published on the website of the “Al Arabiyah” channel.

Dear viewers, our special guest for this interview is Abdel Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian Vice President, who worked alongside the late President Hafez Al-Assad for 55 years in party affairs. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for 35 years, starting in 1970, and as Vice President of the Republic from 1984 until the tenure of President Bashar Al-Assad. Following his father’s passing, Khaddam held onto his party and official positions, but his influence waned over time, eventually leading to his resignation from all his party and political positions.

In this interview, we will delve into the reasons behind the rift between the strongman of the Hafez al-Assad regime and Bashar Hafez Al-Assad. Abu Jamal will address internal and external matters concerning Syria, including the state of relations with Lebanon and the factors contributing to their deterioration. We will also discuss Syrian involvement in the Iraqi and Palestinian issues. Welcome to   “Al Arabiyah” , Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Thank you. Welcome.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: First of all, you are here in Paris, away or distant. Why? And for how long?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: The reality is that I am neither excluded nor distant. I came to Paris with the intention of documenting an important phase in the history of Syria and the region. During this period, I held a significant leadership role in planning and implementing our foreign policy. I believed it was my national duty to chronicle this phase accurately and provide future generations with the correct facts and information. We were successful in establishing Syria’s prominent position in both the Arab and international arenas. Being in Paris allows me to write in peace, away from the political noise in Syria. I chose to distance myself from writing, not from political engagement. I will return to Damascus, as Syria holds a special place in my heart and mind.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Did you come to Paris due to threats or harassment from a particular party in Syria?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I came to Paris to focus on writing. I have not been mistreated or threatened. I left willingly, and my relationship with President Bashar Al-Assad is cordial and amicable. Difference in opinions does not change that. I have my own perspectives, but before my departure, I informed him and he is aware that I will be staying here for an extended period to work on my writing. The allegations of threats and harassment are baseless and unfounded, even to this day.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Why have you chosen to stay far away? Are you anticipating future threats?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Well, I mean, I anticipate that some individuals who misled him and instigated him…

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Are you concerned that if you return, you might face legal trials? Will charges be brought against you?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Firstly, all Syrians know who Abdel Halim Khaddam is. They are aware of the sacrifices I have made to elevate Syria’s position. They recognize the efforts I have exerted to enhance Syria’s status and influence. They also know that I have survived five assassination attempts, not because of personal disagreements but because I have been a staunch defender of Syria’s policies. This is all well-known. Therefore, if anyone dares to consider prosecuting me, they should bear in mind that one day they may find themselves in the defendant’s seat.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: I mean, do you possess incriminating evidence against others?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I have plenty. I have a lot to disclose, but… there is much that I choose not to reveal for the sake of Syria, for the benefit of the country. Those who attempt or contemplate such actions are fully aware of what I possess. They know very well the extent of the dangers associated with it.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: What specific matters does this seriousness pertain to? Who, in particular, is involved?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: The best interest of Syria requires that I refrain from speaking.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Abdel Halim Khaddam, where is your family currently residing? Are they here in France, or have some remained in Syria?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: They are in Damascus, but they have come to Paris for the holidays.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: So, their return is not due to security concerns?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: They will indeed return.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: In your last meeting with President Bashar Al-Assad, how was the atmosphere? Did any arguments or heated discussions take place between you? What did he tell you, and what did you say to him?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: In all our meetings, the atmosphere was friendly. He is a very polite man in his conversations with others. He used to show me affection and respect. I believe that a significant portion of this is due to his understanding of the relationship between me and his father. I have not heard any words from him that hurt my feelings or caused me harm. When I was leaving two days before my departure, he received me and we had a friendly and comprehensive conversation. Therefore, although there are differences in views, there is mutual respect.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: It is said that you left Syria during a challenging period, at a time when you no longer had the same influence you had before. What do you have to say about that?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: It is true that I left Syria during a difficult period. I left for the sake of Syria. As I mentioned earlier, I want to document the history of a phase in which I played a significant role.

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: You are the first Syrian official at this level to resign from the party’s leadership and from the government. Is this due to a personal disagreement with President Bashar Al-Assad, or are there other reasons?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I first met President Bashar Al-Assad in 1998 when his father was preparing him for succession. We had several meetings where we discussed the internal, Arab, and international situations. Our views were aligned in recognizing the need for serious reforms in Syria. These reforms encompassed political changes to expand the democratic space, promote freedom of party activities, protect public and individual liberties. We also addressed the economic situation and the imperative of comprehensive reforms to improve people’s living standards, combat unemployment, and meet national defense requirements. Our discussions extended to regional and international affairs, where we shared a common approach in safeguarding Syria’s interests and those of the Arab world. Given this alignment, when I assumed the presidency of the Republic, I chose to cooperate with him, providing all the help and assistance I could, drawing upon my extensive experience gained over the years in political work, and enhancing my knowledge to ensure the best interests of the country.

After taking the oath, I presented him with a study on party development, which encompasses the development of the political system in Syria. This study covered various topics, including freedoms and democracy, the economic situation, strategies for overcoming the economic crisis in Syria, the relationship between Islam and Arabism, and the concept of modernity. Following our discussion, he suggested that we bring this matter up for discussion within the party leadership. However, during the presentation, he expressed a different viewpoint, emphasizing the need to initiate economic reforms before political reforms. It is fair to say that the members of the leadership aligned with his perspective.

Subsequently, I presented a series of economic studies that I had prepared in collaboration with a group of experts. Having served as the Minister of Economy for two years, I possess a strong interest in economic affairs, as I believe they form the foundation for progress in the country, ensuring social security, stability, and resilience. I presented the study on party development to him on July 23, just a few days after taking the constitutional oath. On August 9, I presented him with an analytical study on the international landscape, encompassing global, regional, and Arab affairs in the aftermath of the collapse of the Union. In discussing international powers, I examined American policy, the decision-making process in the United States, the factors influencing those decisions, and the challenges faced by Arab nations in influencing this policy while Jewish groups exert significant pressure. I put forth several proposals for engaging with the United States, with the primary emphasis on a policy of dialogue rather than confrontation. This approach stresses the importance of adhering to national constants while engaging in dialogue, as compromising these constants, even partially, could lead to an endless cycle of concessions.

I also discussed the approach towards Europe, particularly France, Turkey, Iran, and Arab relations. I put forth a series of suggestions outlining a memorandum as a strategic framework for Syria’s foreign policy. I firmly believe that had President Bashar Al-Assad adopted this strategy, Syria would not have found itself entangled in these challenges. We would have been able to avoid the internal and external difficulties we faced. The core issue lies in the absence of a clear policy, which leads a nation down a perilous path in complete darkness.

Our leadership primarily focused on the economic aspect. In October 2000, we made significant decisions encompassing a range of economic reforms, which were forwarded to the Cabinet but remained stagnant. None of these decisions were implemented. As a result, after two years, the economic situation deteriorated, exacerbating the economic crisis, increasing unemployment, and deepening poverty. During a meeting with Qatari leadership, the President emphasized the need to initiate administrative reform, as economic reform cannot be achieved without proper management reform. While this theory is valid, the timing of its introduction was questionable, either in 2003 or late 2002. We agreed to commence administrative reform and I presented a study on Syrian administration, outlining the necessary reforms at various levels and the fundamental principles upon which effective management should be built.

During one of my visits to France, I met with President Jacques Chirac and requested the assistance of a group of experts to study Syrian administration and propose strategies for its development and modernization. A team of experts was indeed dispatched, conducted their study, and presented their proposals. However, these recommendations remained dormant within the government, with no implementation taking place. At that point, I became convinced that the process of development and reform, whether political, economic, or administrative, would not progress. Hence, I made the decision to resign.

During the preparations for a conference in Qatar, where my resignation was imminent, the leadership introduced a new topic of discussion — the development of the party’s ideology. They believed that evolving the party’s thinking was fundamental to societal and state development. While I held reservations regarding the sincerity of these attempts, I prepared a relatively extensive study, tracing the evolution of the party across different stages since its inception. In this study, I assessed the party’s strengths, weaknesses, and identified areas where it faltered. I presented a range of concepts, such as the need to perceive Arab unity as a cohesive unity, as exemplified by Egypt. Additionally, I proposed the unification of interests among Arab countries, the removal of economic barriers, and the harmonization of educational curricula to eliminate negative factors that have perpetuated the division among Arab nations over the centuries.

I made a clear distinction between the concepts of nation and nationalism. I explained that nationalism represents the connection between an individual and the people to whom they belong. On the other hand, the nation refers to the collective of individuals living in a country, regardless of their nationality. Therefore, the Arab nation encompasses not only Arabs in the Arab world but also all people residing in that country, such as Kurds, Turkmen, Berbers, Assyrians, and others. Similarly, there is a French nation, but its roots are diverse. There is also an American nation, which represents the people’s affiliation to their homeland. Nationalism, in this context, denotes the manifestation of individuals’ relationship with their people.

The purpose of this definition was to address divisions and fractures within the Arab world, which comprises multiple nationalities in both the Arab Mashreq and the Maghreb regions. It also presented a fresh understanding of socialism, emphasizing that socialism entails increasing production and resources to elevate the living standards of people and achieve justice. I stressed the importance of eliminating all obstacles that hinder national and foreign investment in development, as long as it doesn’t compromise the country’s independence.

Regarding freedom, I underscored that it is an integral component of human existence. Reason and freedom are inherent aspects of human nature. Societies that restrict freedom are destined for underdevelopment because curtailing freedom, instilling fear, and suppressing independent thinking only perpetuate fear and hinder progress. I expressed the need to unleash both public and individual freedoms, including freedom of political party action. Additionally, I emphasized that a party should not fear opposing viewpoints. When a party fears freedom and is apprehensive of differing opinions, it condemns itself to impotence.

Why didn’t you previously propose reformist ideas,

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: The question that arises from what I have just mentioned is that you have been involved in party work and the state for thirty to forty years. Why didn’t you put forth these reformist ideas and ideas about freedom and differing opinions earlier?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I will address this matter shortly, but allow me to continue discussing the reasons for my resignation. I spoke about democracy, political parties, and the importance of free elections. These topics have been under discussion for over a year. The Qatari conference took place, but the necessary decisions were not made. The meetings between President Bashar Al-Assad and myself were held almost every week or every ten days. In each meeting, I focused on two key issues: external pressure in foreign affairs and the internal situation. My point was that we cannot effectively confront external pressure while our internal situation remains as it is. Half of the Syrian population lives below the poverty line, another portion lives just above it, and only a small number of people enjoy prosperity. We cannot withstand external pressure while the Syrian people are deprived of their freedom, prohibited from engaging in political activities, and subjected to control by security services. I often likened the situation in Syria to a haystack. It is true that, until now, the opposition forces have not gained significant traction, even though all opposition parties are patriotic and have not taken any actions detrimental to the country’s interests. Nonetheless…

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: Including the Muslim Brotherhood.?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, including the Muslim Brotherhood. I will address that later. I likened the country to a stack of straw, susceptible to being ignited by any spark. I emphasized the need to remove those sparks by promoting national unity, engaging in dialogue with all segments of society, and reaching a formula that strengthens domestic cohesion. Whether it’s economic reform, administrative reform, or political reform, they all require substantial popular support. Every reform process necessitates bold decisions that may be challenging in the short term but are vital for the future. To manage the reactions and safeguard the reform process, national unity becomes essential. The reform process in Syria is directly linked to protecting the country from external pressure after all these years.

Upon reflection, I confronted myself with two options: to stand with the country or to stand with the regime. I chose the country because it represents the enduring reality. The regime is a temporary circumstance in the country’s history, like any other regime. Through this evaluation, what did I discover? I found a significant concentration of power with a lack of constitutional institutions. The party leadership and popular organizations were non-existent, merely serving as a cover for decisions made by the President. Additionally, the reform process had come to a halt, leading to an increase in corruption.

To illustrate the extent of the issue, consider a former public security employee prior to 1970, earning a salary of no more than 200 Syrian pounds, who passed away leaving a fortune equivalent to 4 billion dollars. Another example is an accountant in an airline company before 1970, whose children now possess a wealth of at least 8 billion dollars. Meanwhile, poverty is on the rise, and the country’s resources are in high demand.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Can we know some names, Sayed Abdel Halim Khaddam?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: They are individuals from the President’s inner circle, comprising relatives and close friends. While the state budget faces resource shortages, the privilege of mobile phone investments is granted to two companies, one owned by a relative and the other by a friend. The combined annual net income of these two companies amounts to 700 million dollars, approximately 1/6 of the state budget. This is an extraordinary and unprecedented occurrence in Syria’s political history since gaining independence.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: When you say relative, can we determine who specifically is the relative?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: By relatives, I mean cousins, close relatives, and individuals closely associated with certain friends. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians struggle to find enough food, some resorting to searching through garbage. Illegally, wealth accumulates in the hands of a small group of people, as the absence of the law allows for it. The present situation caters to the interests of this narrow circle that surrounds those in power. This raises the question: How can we justify this to millions of unemployed individuals, including hundreds of thousands of university graduates who have studied diligently but cannot find employment opportunities? Many of them end up working in jobs that are far below their educational qualifications. Meanwhile, we witness a recent university graduate from this inner circle amassing billions of dollars. As a result, I observed the rampant spread of corruption, an increase in poverty, a disruption in governance, and a continuous suppression of freedoms. I had no choice but to disassociate myself from a system that I had devoted a significant amount of time to building, with the hope that Syria could attain a position of influence in the region and an important standing on the international stage. Unfortunately, all of this has been lost in just five years.

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: I mean, to be objective, Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam, everything you have emphasized about the need for reform, granting freedom to the people, and putting an end to the control of security services over them—why didn’t you advocate for these changes during your more than thirty years in positions of decision-making power within the Syrian state?

Abdul Halim Khaddam: If we reflect on the party conferences from 1971 to 2005 and the meetings of the Qatari leaders during that period, we can see that the views I expressed were based on the objective of developing the country and achieving the principles on which the October 1970 movement was founded—a movement rooted in openness and popular participation. A constitution was drafted on this basis, and political party freedoms were granted during that time. However, negative circumstances and setbacks ensued. Nevertheless, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the significant global transformations in principles, values, ideologies, and lifestyle brought about by the information revolution, particularly in the field of information exchange and communication, along with the introduction of globalization policies by the American administration, various dormant issues emerged that were suppressed by the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union. These issues included ethnic nationalism, religious fundamentalism, tribalism, and sectarianism. In other words, the world started moving in a different direction from the dynamics of the Cold War era. At that point, I became convinced that Arabs needed to reform their systems, considering the people as the source of power, developing their intellectual capacities, and embracing freedom, as it is freedom alone that enables the growth of reason. When communist parties altered their ideologies and abandoned Marxism to become liberal parties, and when Vietnam transformed its principles and state structure in a way detached from Marxism, we had to acknowledge that we could not live in the present era while clinging to outdated concepts. Therefore, a process of change became necessary so that both Arabs and we in Syria could adapt to the new world and face its consequences. Globalization has become an undeniable reality. Events in Australia now unfold seconds after they are heard in Damascus. Withholding information from people has become impossible. Globalization has permeated the fields of culture, economics, and security. How can we navigate a world with unprecedented components while preserving our intellectual and political foundations that emerged during the Cold War? In light of the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided substantial support to Syria in its domestic, Arab, and international policies. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this support vanished. To compensate, we can only strengthen national unity through the review of our internal structure. This is the path to effectively engage with the new world and face its challenges.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam, are you suggesting that you attempted to propose reform ideas, but it was President Bashar Al-Assad and his team who failed to respond, contrary to what has been previously reported that President Bashar himself presented reform ideas but faced obstacles from the old guard? Is this what you meant earlier?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I will address this question once I have elaborated on my efforts. In 1998, I attended the Non-Aligned Summit in South Africa as Syria’s representative. The conference focused on globalization. Upon my return, I delivered a political presentation to a gathering of senior party members. I discussed globalization, the discussions that took place at the conference, and the concerns of developing nations regarding globalization. I emphasized that we cannot continue with the status quo. We must reform the system, society, and the state. The principle of equal opportunities among citizens must be upheld. I particularly emphasized the importance of freedom, highlighting that the deprivation of freedom leads to two dangerous outcomes: either intellectual stagnation resulting in backwardness or the breeding of extremism fueled by hatred. Both outcomes pose significant threats to the country’s security and stability. I firmly stated that Syria has no option but to advance and promote public and individual freedoms. This discussion was deliberated within the party’s leadership. Some members perceived my stance as a departure from the party’s core principles. In response, I clarified that the party’s doctrine remains constant, but the party’s thinking must evolve to align with the circumstances of the current stage. There was a time when we adamantly rejected negotiations with Israel. Therefore, the country cannot be bound by a mindset developed during a particular era. The Soviet Union, once the most powerful nation, possessed vast potential. However, its collapse was caused by the rigidity of its thinking, the concentration of power, and the exclusion of diverse perspectives. In 2001, I granted an interview to the Lebanese magazine Al-Minbar. The discussion covered various topics, with democracy and freedom being the most significant. I expressed my clear viewpoint, prompting many to inquire whether it represented my personal opinion or the regime’s standpoint. I reiterated that it was indeed my personal perspective. Furthermore, I published a book titled “The Contemporary Arab System,” which critically analyzes the present Arab system.

I have presented my complete perspective, and I would like to read you a few excerpts. “The Arab world’s need for democracy is as crucial as its need for rejuvenation. A nation cannot rise while it remains absent, its capabilities stifled, and its freedom curtailed. Freedom is the catalyst that unleashes the potential within individuals, and when utilized for the betterment of the nation, it can fulfill its aspirations and those of its future generations. Free societies that actively participate in shaping their destiny and managing their affairs have consistently excelled in the domains of science, knowledge, and socio-economic growth. With people exercising their right to choose, progress expands, and various forms of production flourish. The rule of law prevails, justice is achieved, efficiency is enhanced, and opportunism diminishes. Democracy empowers the people and their elected institutions to exercise control and be accountable. In the absence of people’s participation and oversight over the government and its organs, any country witnesses increased underdevelopment, loss of justice, weakened state institutions, and an inability to fulfill its fundamental duties.”

“In my book, I present my viewpoint on a modern state founded on democracy, where the people play a pivotal role in determining their own destiny. Regarding the Arab system, I propose a set of recommendations on how to transition from a state of fragmentation to one of unity and solidarity, potentially leading to a form of union. Therefore, I am not the sole decision-maker; rather, I was part of the decision-making process. In the realm of foreign policy, Syrians are well aware that our regime can take pride in its accomplishments. Foreign policy is widely discussed, while criticism is directed toward the domestic situation. Within the internal sphere, my role as a member of the leadership was limited. The leadership itself was inactive, lacking any substantial role. Executive authority rested with the head of state. However, during leadership meetings, which were infrequent, particularly after 2000 when President Bashar Al-Assad assumed the presidency, I would take the opportunity to address the internal situation and advocate for the need for reform. These discussions during leadership meetings were recorded in the minutes, whether held at the Presidential Palace or the Qatari Command headquarters.”

I recall two meetings, one of which involved the leadership discussing resolution 1559 and the associated dangers. During that meeting, a member of the leadership spoke about the strength of the internal front in the face of external pressure. I took the opportunity to address the issue, stating: “No one doubts the patriotism of Syrians and their rejection of all forms of external intervention and pressure. However, Syrians ask us, what have we done to fortify our country? What is the homeland? It is not merely a temporary residence but a symbol of dignity. Participation means freedom. The authority you hold is not for the benefit of your own children. Syrians assert that no one should hold a position within this authority unless they earn it through merit, not climbing, opportunism, or favoritism. We find no dignity or freedom in political life, as the security services dominate us. Poverty persists while a few individuals possess more wealth than the entire Syrian Treasury. How can you expect us to demand what you yourselves do not demand? This is why I call for bold and decisive actions to alleviate internal congestion and strengthen our unity on the home front.”

In another meeting, held a few days before the Qatari conference, the purpose was to assess the conference’s status. Several members of the leadership expressed their views, and I took the opportunity to speak a few but significant words. I said, “I hope you will consider my words seriously. Syria was once in danger, and now it finds itself at the epicenter of danger. The only way to protect Syria is by promoting national unity and engaging in dialogue with all parties, even those with whom we have had bitter conflicts. The current needs of the country necessitate the inclusion of every citizen in national unity. This calls for bold decisions, including constitutional amendments. Let us not commit the same mistake as Saddam Hussein did. He shut his ears and mind to the calls for dialogue from the Iraqi opposition, and what was the result? This refusal to engage in dialogue by Saddam Hussein led to an unforeseen consequence: the Iraqi opposition, which had ties with Syria and Iran, ended up providing political cover for the American war against Iraq. We should leave no room for any Syrian citizen to find justification outside the interests of our nation. I am not suggesting that there are Syrians who would collaborate with the Americans, but we must ensure that no Syrian citizen feels compelled to act against our country’s best interests.”

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: Are you suggesting that the Syrian regime could face a scenario similar to Iraq if the current situation persists?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: No, I don’t believe that the Iraqi scenario, in terms of military conflict, is a possibility at all. I have long held the view that the United States will not resort to military force against Syria. However, the psychological and political pressure imposed on the country is severely crippling and causes deep concern. Presently, Syria finds itself in a situation it has not experienced since gaining independence, facing Arab and international isolation, as well as ongoing threats. This is a matter of great concern for the Syrian citizens.

When the Syrian people perceive that their leadership is striving to achieve national consensus, working towards the return of all individuals and ensuring that national unity acts as a protective barrier for the country, then they will have confidence that the regime has made every possible effort. At that point, a popular consensus can be established in support of the regime, leading people to overlook past mistakes. National action can then address and rectify those mistakes. However, when we witness tens of thousands of Syrians being denied the right to return to their homeland and face imprisonment upon return, or when families endure lengthy and arduous processes to bury their deceased loved ones in Syria, doesn’t this breed hatred? Doesn’t it harm national unity? The welfare of the country should take precedence over the regime. In 1967, after the setback of June, the party leadership asserted that the aggression failed because the regime did not collapse. This led to a movement within the party, spearheaded by President Hafez Al-Assad, who was then the Minister of Defense. He advocated that aggression should be faced and the country defended by the people, not just the regime. This slogan formed the basis for the corrective movement in 1970, which achieved intermittent popular consensus. It is crucial to recognize that nothing is more perilous for a nation than being subjugated within its internal affairs. While the media may present a certain image externally, it does not accurately reflect the internal situation.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: So, you’re saying that the daily demonstrations, the ones in support of the regime, don’t reflect the true situation of the people?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, they don’t accurately represent the sentiments of the people. In Iraq, there were two million people participating in a demonstration, cheering for Saddam Hussein. But what did we witness afterwards? There is a distinction between people expressing their genuine national convictions. This can only occur if the regime completely changes its approach and operates on the principle that the people are the source of authority, that power stems from the people, and that an individual cannot unilaterally decide the fate of the country. Only through the free choice of the people can genuine popular support be achieved. In 1970, people expressed their convictions. President Hafez al-Assad toured Syria, and people enthusiastically showed their support by accompanying his car. However, things have changed drastically now. It’s a complete 180-degree shift.

Returning to your question about the old guard and the new guard, this narrative of revenge was propagated by the security services. They aimed to divert attention from the failure to implement reforms and attributed this failure to the old guard. In reality, the so-called old guard, who were part of President Hafez al-Assad’s administration, consisted of only one person, named Abdel Halim Khaddam. The security services even attempted, through certain newspapers’ reporters, to emphasize the role of the old guard. However, they are well aware that this individual, who continued to work for the country and the interests of Syria, was the one demanding reform, modernization, change, and renewal. So, what are the reasons that led to the current situation? The first reason is the concentration of power, and the second reason is the incorrect interpretation of Arab and international events.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: I mean, excuse me, are you referring to the personal isolation of President Bashar Al-Assad?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, personally. The second reason is the incorrect interpretation of international and regional developments and the flawed decision-making based on these interpretations. Let me provide some examples. In early September 2004, Daryl Issa visited Syria and met with the President. Martin Indyk also visited and had a meeting with the President. This is what I heard from the President. Daryl Issa stated that he would work towards strengthening Syrian-American relations. Martin Indyk criticized the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq. He then informed President Bashar that Prince will be arriving in a few days with a large delegation. In any case, the United States of America does not prioritize Lebanon. Similar statements were made by others within the leadership. It was ingrained in President Bashar Al-Assad’s mind that the United States of America would approach him, initiating negotiations for Iraq while ensuring Syrian influence in Lebanon. This misinterpretation resulted in certain outcomes.

Subsequently, the incorrect reading of situations and flawed decision-making led the country into a series of difficulties that it is currently experiencing. The third reason is emotional responses and reactions, which are unfavorable characteristics for any official. Acting upon emotions and reactions hampers the ability to make discerning judgments.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: Whose emotions are you referring to?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I am referring to the emotions of the president himself. By emotions, I mean that when he is given certain information, he becomes enthusiastic and takes impulsive decisions. However, after some time, he realizes that the information he received was inaccurate and takes steps to rectify the mistake. But why do we react in such a manner? I mean, President Hafez Al-Assad had a remarkable ability to exercise self-control. This is an essential quality for those responsible for governing any country. Additionally, it is important to consider the influence of those surrounding the decision-maker, who cultivate the notion that he is infallible. If he makes a mistake, they justify it. If he is wronged, they portray his injustice as fair. Consequently, facts and justice are distorted. It is regrettable for those within the circle to foster such illusions.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: I mean, may I include some names like Asif Shawkat and Maher Al-Assad? How are your relations with these two individuals in particular?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Actually, during my time in power, I had no direct contacts with the armed forces except through the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff. If the job requirements necessitated it, I would interact with them, but there were no political relations between me and them.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: There was a heated debate between you and Farooq al-Shara during the 10th Congress of the Baath Party. During the debate, you criticized Syria’s foreign policy. Don’t you feel resentful when you see Farooq al-Shara becoming the second most influential figure in Syria, considering that you were the one who accompanied Hafez al-Assad for over 30 years?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Firstly, I don’t feel any resentment because I refuse to associate Farooq al-Shara with my confrontation. Secondly, there was no intense confrontation. He made a mistake in managing the session. Thirdly, as I mentioned earlier, the Political Committee rejected the report he presented. Fourthly, he was never the second or even the tenth most influential figure in Syria. I mean, I don’t want to belittle myself by acknowledging any significant interaction between me and him. That is far from the truth.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: You have a good acquaintance with Ghazi Kanaan. You worked together on the Lebanese file. The official Syrian narrative states that he committed suicide. Do you have reasons to doubt this account?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Actually, I don’t have any information, and nobody from the inner circle has approached me or vice versa regarding the late Ghazi Kanaan. However, considering the circumstances he was facing and the psychological pressure he was under, it is plausible that suicide occurred. I mean, I cannot provide a definite opinion, but suicide is a possibility. I am not aware if a thorough investigation has been conducted in this matter. If such an investigation leads to substantial conclusions, then we can assess the situation accordingly.

Fayad Quneiber: I mean, what were the psychological conditions that might have been significant or serious enough to drive him to commit suicide?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: The day before, he was invited to have breakfast with one of his friends, and several people were present. He appeared to be in a cheerful state and showed no signs of contemplating suicide. On the following day, there was a different picture. He seemed nervous, left his office, but where did he go? Whom did he call? Who called him? What was communicated to him? Nobody really knows. At least, I don’t know.

Fayad Qunaiber: Have you been in contact with him recently?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: In reality, it has been over a year and a half since I had any contact with Ghazi. We used to talk on the phone occasionally, but he was preoccupied with his responsibilities at the Ministry of Interior, and I was occupied with my work. Our meetings became infrequent and eventually ceased within that period. I believe his arrest was not his choice, and the halt in our meetings was not his decision.

Fayyad Qunaiber: I mean, was he instructed to stop meeting with you?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I think so.

Fayyad Quneiber: Who was exerting pressure on him or keeping him away from the forefront, and who held influence before that?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Well, there are different factors. Undoubtedly, the situation in Lebanon had a significant impact. It affected Ghazi, but it did not affect Rustam Ghazali, even though some sought to hold Ghazi responsible for the developments in Lebanon while overlooking Rustam Ghazali. Ghazi made mistakes in Lebanon, and that is not up for discussion. However, he made his mistakes respectfully and tactfully. On the other hand, Rustam Ghazali acted as if he were the absolute ruler in Lebanon. I learned that he insulted President Hariri, Nabih Berri, and Mr. Walid Jumblatt on separate occasions. I asked President Bashar why he allowed him to remain in Lebanon. Such behavior hurts both him and the country. He acted unreasonably towards Lebanese leaders, insulting the Prime Minister and others. Furthermore, he also told me that there was a mistake involving Najib Mikati. I responded by saying that if Najib and Suleiman Franjieh made mistakes, then his friends were at fault for their involvement. He said it was fine for Ghazi to nominate him, to which I replied that Ghazi was mistaken and should be replaced. He assured me that he would address the issue and apologize. However, the situation only worsened over time. I told him, “My brother, you are the commander of the army and the president of the republic. Do you know the officer who committed these offenses? How can you abandon him?” Returning to the story of Ghazi Kanaan’s nomination after President Hariri’s assassination… I mean, on February 28, 2005, I told him that this criminal had a hand in Hariri’s death. This is what led to the situation in Lebanon.

Fayyad Quneber: Did I mention this to President Assad regarding Rustam Ghazali?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, indeed.

Regarding Rustam Ghazali, he mentioned that in any case, they wanted to have a composition like this.

The president addressed the People’s Assembly and acknowledged the mistakes made in Lebanon. I told him that I wanted to protect him by forming an investigation committee, transforming it into a field court, and holding those responsible accountable for the mistakes that occurred in Lebanon. Why should you bear the burden? He responded, “Can’t we hold anyone accountable after the conference, and the Foreign Minister, who implicated you in Resolution 1559, will be confined to his home.” He also said, “Now, what can we do? Can we hold someone accountable after the conference?” He mentioned that if I attended the conference or if I were a member of the conference, Rustam Ghazali would be handed over by the head of the security branch in Damascus countryside, who has connections in Lebanon. This raises the question of why Rustam Ghazali was being protected when everyone knows about his deeds and actions. This is a question being asked by both Syrians and Lebanese.

Fayyad Quneber: Do you believe that you were excluded from the decision-making circle or kept at a distance? Do you think your positions on the Lebanese issue were a factor in not considering your opinions later on? Or are there other Syrian reasons behind it?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: First of all, I have kept myself at a distance from the decision-making circle since 1998. At that time, President Hafez Al-Assad’s health was deteriorating, and his son began to exert authority, particularly in the Lebanese matter. I chose to withdraw from the circle of decision-making. However, withdrawing from the decision-making circle does not mean that I was not keeping up with events or remaining uninformed. I was aware of everything, but I only intervened when I believed it was necessary to provide advice or give an opinion on a specific subject.

Fayyad Quneber: How did you receive the news of Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in Syria? What was the impact of this news on the Presidential Palace, President Assad, the inner circle, and officials in general?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Well, we were in a meeting with the Qatari leadership when the news broke. We were sitting in the room with other leaders when the news reached us. I was personally shocked, and everyone present shared the opinion that this was a disaster for Lebanon and harmful to Syria. I didn’t have any direct contact with President Bashar Al-Assad or the inner circle to know their reactions at the time. However, if we consider Farooq al-Shara’s statement, it can give us an indication. Moratinos was present, and when journalists asked him about the explosion in Lebanon that killed President Rafik Hariri, his response was that there was a major explosion in Lebanon that claimed the lives of several Lebanese brothers. He didn’t even mention Rafik Hariri by name. It seemed that the name had become unknown to him, while Moratinos spoke at length about President Hariri and his qualities. This statement reflects the internal sentiment towards President Hariri.

Fayyad Qanbeer: It was said that you were invited to have lunch with President Hariri personally just a week before his assassination at his house. Do you remember what transpired during that meeting? Can you recall your last encounter with him?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Indeed, during our last meeting, we discussed the relations between him and the Syrian leadership, as well as the situation in Lebanon. I advised him to travel, especially after he informed me that Lebanese security forces were withdrawn from his protection. He had an agreement with Lahoud to provide him with sixty protection officers, but they were reduced to only six. I told him that this was a clear sign. He was concerned and wanted to resolve the issues with the Syrian leadership in any way possible. He didn’t want to find himself in a confrontation with them. However, he was determined not to go along with the issue of elections in Beirut and Lebanon. This conversation was quite extensive, and I could sense his nervousness.

Fayad Qunaiber: I visited his house during a tumultuous atmosphere to offer my condolences. It was said that even some Lebanese politicians who were previously friends of Syria and your personal friends were hesitant to shake hands with you, Abdel Halim Khaddam. Can you tell us about the atmosphere during those moments?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: First of all, no one hesitated to shake hands with me. If we specifically talk about Walid Jumblatt, he not only greeted me warmly but also embraced me with tears in his eyes. So, this claim of reluctance is inaccurate. Everyone knows about my condolences to Abu Bahaa. They are aware of the extent of our friendship since the 1980s, when he played a role in canceling the May 17 agreement, organizing the Geneva Conference, and later the Lausanne Conference, which had repercussions on Syria. It was President Hafez Al-Assad who supported the idea of Rafic Hariri as the Prime Minister of Lebanon. There was a long history of collaboration, where he worked for the interests of both Syria and Lebanon, including covering up mistakes made by the Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister in the Arab and international arenas.

Fayyad Quneber: It has been reported that Hariri played a role in facilitating a meeting between Jacques Chirac and Bashar Al-Assad. How accurate is this information?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: In truth, I don’t have any information on that matter, as President Bashar was able to arrange the meeting without my involvement. I did not extend the invitation for President Chirac to visit. President Bashar was going to travel to Spain and spend a night in Paris. He had planned to meet President Chirac before that. So, I’m not aware if President Hariri advised him in that direction. It was also during that time that tensions started to arise between President Hariri and the Syrian leadership.

Fayad Quneber: All of this leads us to discuss Lebanon. You have a long history that began with Syria’s entry into the country in 1976 and ended with tears shed in Rafic Hariri’s house, where I visited twice to mourn. Abdel Halim Khaddam, who do you think is responsible for killing Rafik Hariri?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: To answer that question, we must wait for the results of the investigation. There is an ongoing international investigation, and all parties acknowledge and support it. It is too early to attribute blame to any particular team. However, what I want to emphasize is that the political campaign directed against the late President Hariri has caused a crisis for the Lebanese people. We need to wait for the investigation to unfold. The question of whether the relations between the Syrian leadership and President Hariri were good or not may shed light on the issue between the man and the Syrian leadership.

Fayyad Qunaiber: Before delving into this topic, Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam, I would like to know if you have expertise regarding the internal affairs of Syria. Were there any Syrian parties in Damascus or Beirut that issued threats to the former Lebanese Prime Minister before his assassination?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, there were indeed numerous threats made to the late President Rafik Hariri.

Fayyad Qunaiber: Are you referring to death threats?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I mean, when the head of the security service would mention to his visitors that he was toying with his gun.

Fayyad Qunaiber: Are you talking about Rustam Ghazali?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, precisely. Such threats were prevalent, both in Damascus and — There were serious discussions concerning President Hariri.

On one occasion, I was summoned to Damascus, and I heard this discourse directly from three sources: President Assad, President Hariri, and Ghazi Kanaan. I heard President Hariri express extremely strong words.

Fayyad Qunaiber: Are you referring to the brief meeting between him and President Bashar Al-Assad?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: No, this was months before that, well before the extension. I heard exceedingly strong words. I learned about it from the President.

Fayyad Qunaiber: Whose words are you recounting?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: President Bashar Al-Assad, who informed me during our meeting. I told him, “You are speaking about the Prime Minister of Lebanon.”

Fayyad Qunaiber: So, he directed those words towards him while he was still the Prime Minister, I mean, prior to his resignation.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: He was indeed the Prime Minister at the time. The speech was attended by Rustam Ghazali, Mohammed Khalouf, and Ghazi Kanaan. How could he address such a speech to the Prime Minister of Lebanon? How could he deliver it in the presence of junior officers? That’s when I realized a mistake had occurred. He asked me to call and meet with President Hariri to resolve the crisis that was left for President Hariri.

Fayyad Qunaiber: Excuse me, can we know, I mean, what were some of the details of that speech? Where did its severity lie, for instance?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I mean, the severity was present in the fact that they wanted to bring in the President of Lebanon. They desired this. I would not allow it. I would crush anyone attempting to deviate from our decision. I can’t recall the exact words, but they were extremely harsh. President Hariri left the room, his blood pressure rose, and he started bleeding from his nose. Ghazi Kanaan took him to his office and tried to calm the situation down. I mean, this incident is well-known.

Within the leadership, on one occasion, there was discussion regarding Resolution 1559. There was a campaign against President Hariri, claiming that he was engaged in an unprecedented action in Lebanon, namely, rallying his sect around him. They alleged that this went against Syria, and so on.

Subsequently, I contacted the President to inquire about this discussion within the leadership. I intended to relay it…

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: I contacted President Assad?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, of course. He is the man I have always been in contact with. Why was this discussion happening?

The political situation in Lebanon is based on sectarian divisions. Well, Rafiq Hariri had gathered his sect around him. What about Nabih Berri? Amal Movement is a Shiite movement, Hezbollah is a Shiite party, Marada is a Maronite movement, and the Lebanese Forces are a Maronite movement, a Christian movement. So, why is it dangerous for Syria if Rafiq Hariri’s sect rallies around him, while Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri pose no danger if their sects rally around them? I mean, a few days later, Mohsen Dalloul came to me and asked me to inform the late Abu Bahaa to leave Lebanon because his situation was complicated in Syria.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: How many months before his assassination?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Well, at no moment did it ever occur to me that Syria would assassinate Rafiq Hariri. Hence, the climate implies creating specific impressions among people, which either confirms or contradicts the outcome of the investigation.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: What is the truth behind the reports that a meeting was attended by six senior Syrian officials, and I was one of them, where the idea of eliminating President Hariri was proposed, and you voiced your objection?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: This is absolutely false, whether it is in the proximity or the remoteness of the claim. No such meeting has taken place.

Fayyad Quneber: Can we believe the reports that, at some point, a Syrian security agency may have been involved in the assassination of President Hariri without necessarily knowing and without the knowledge of President Bashar al-Assad?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: We have to await the investigation, but in principle, no security or non-security agency within the Syrian state can make such a decision independently. President Bashar himself, in his interview with Der Spiegel magazine, denied the accusations against Syria. He stated, “If there are Syrians involved, it means I am involved.” I mean, it is not possible for a security agency to be involved on its own.

Is the security apparatus involved? This matter will be determined by the investigation.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: Abdel Halim Khaddam was the only Syrian official who came to offer condolences to President Rafik Hariri. He visited Beirut. Before that, I was the only official in Syria who visited Minister Marwan Hamadeh’s clinic after he survived an assassination attempt. Was I sent by President Bashar Al-Assad?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: No, I went in my personal capacity and not in my official capacity because of the friendly and cordial relationship between me and President Hariri. I visited Mr. Marwan Hamadeh due to our friendly relationship. I paid tribute to President Hariri and attended his funeral because he was a friend.

I am well aware of his contributions to Syria and how he served Syria in different stages.

Here, I would like to mention our relationship. There were two phases in our relationship with President Hariri. The phase during President Hafez Al-Assad’s tenure was very good. I remember two incidents. The first was when the Labor Union attempted to carry out strikes. President Hafez Al-Assad called the President of the Workers Union in Syria and requested him to invite President Hariri to a meeting with the Union to persuade them not to strike. At that time, President Hafez told Mr. Ezzeddin Nasser that Rafiq Hariri was a Syrian necessity and we should not weaken him. This was an incident. When General Lahoud was elected President of the Republic, he visited Damascus. President Hafez Al-Assad asked him about the next Prime Minister. President Lahoud replied that it would be Dr. Salim El-Hoss, and President Hafez Asad responded, “No, Rafic Hariri should come. Lebanon needs him, and we need him.”

Fayyad Qunaiber: But it was President Hoss who assumed the position.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Pay attention to why? The obstacles created by President Lahoud led to President Hariri’s resignation and the appointment of President Salim Al-Hoss.

In the second era, during President Bashar’s tenure, the treatment was different. There were severe campaigns against President Hariri led by President Lahoud and the Lebanese intelligence services. President Bashar Al-Assad was influenced by these campaigns, resulting in constant tensions with Syria. The Syrian leadership tried to handle these tensions positively and made certain concessions to avoid further displeasing the Syrian leadership.

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: In addition to Rustam Ghazali, who were the individuals involved in inciting President Assad against President Rafik Hariri?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Firstly, within the Lebanese episode, there were President Lahoud, Jamil Al-Sayed, the security services, and some Lebanese individuals who were affected by President Hariri. Serious incitement came from the Lebanese side. Let me give you a small example. John Obeid known, historically a friend of Syria, opposed the extension decision and was one of the candidates for the presidency. A report from Lebanese intelligence, sent from Anjar to Damascus, claimed that John Obeid, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, had a secret meeting with the American ambassador in a car at night to conspire against Syria. We believed the report. John Obeid was implicated. This is an example of what was happening. Why would John Obeid, as the Secretary of State, choose to meet the American ambassador in a car? Isn’t it more reasonable for him to hold such a meeting at the ministry or his house? I mean, the incidents that were taking place were actually part of a plan orchestrated by certain Lebanese parties to drag Syria into what occurred.

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: In Syria, apart from the individuals you mentioned, who were the instigators?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: There were a few individuals, but their impact was limited.

Fayad Qunaiber: Were the instigators in Lebanon solely from the security services, or were there also political leaders involved? Can you provide some details?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Primarily, it was the circle around the President of the Republic. Some individuals have no influence or decision-making power in public matters, neither in Syria nor in Lebanon. They act as conduits, transmitting intelligence information to the security services in that manner.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: Does the hypothesis of Ahmed Abu Adass convince you? The hypothesis that a suicide bomber, who belonged to fundamentalist parties, carried out the attack as initially reported?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Whoever proposed Ahmed Abu Adass’s hypothesis is extremely foolish. Whoever proposed the “Hajj” hypothesis is extremely foolish as well. An explosion of such magnitude, which required a thousand kilograms of specialized explosives and the use of sophisticated equipment to disable the jamming devices in President Hariri’s cars, can Ahmed Abu Adass be capable of executing such an act? If he was in the car, where is his body? Where are his remains? This theory is nonsensical, an absurd security operation. The suspicions have increased among those familiar with the situation. Therefore, I don’t believe any rational person can claim or accept the notion that Ahmed Abu Adass was responsible for the crime.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: So, you’re suggesting that the matter required the involvement of a security apparatus that held control at the time in order for the events to unfold as they did.?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I mean, this matter, of course, I don’t want to make accusations, but it necessitates advanced technology, a substantial amount of explosives, a functioning surveillance team of at least twenty people, and the management of such a major operation. Who within any organization could acquire 1500 or 1000 kilograms of explosives? Neither Ahmed Abu Adass nor Ahmed Abu Hummus. This is a large-scale operation with an orchestrating entity behind it. Who is this entity? This is what the investigation should uncover.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: So, are you implying the involvement of a Syrian, Lebanese, or Israeli apparatus? We want to know. We want more specific information.?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I am referring to an entity because I don’t want to make accusations. There is an investigative committee in which I personally have confidence. All parties in Lebanon trust this committee. Once their findings are issued, we may be able to identify the responsible entity. However, this major operation could only have been carried out by a powerful entity with extensive capabilities.

Fayad Quneber: What is your opinion of Detlef Melis’ report regarding the circumstances of the assassination?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: We are all aware of the circumstances. I mean, the campaign against President Hariri led by some individuals whom we consider our friends. Suleiman Franjieh stated that the project targeting President Hariri was initiated by a foreign entity in 1996, a week or ten days prior to the assassination. President Omar Karami stated that Hariri and Jumblatt were executing an American project, and similar remarks were made by Talal Arslan, Asim Qansu, and Waham Wahab. This group launched a malicious campaign against President Hariri. Subsequently, the oil issue emerged.

Hussein Fayad Quneiber: Referring to the accusation of distributing oil for electoral purposes?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, yes, all these campaigns.

Hussein Fayad Quneiber: Do you believe that the Meles report was unjust to certain Lebanese and Syrian parties, and that it leveled accusations without providing concrete evidence, as some critics claim? Or do you view it as an accurate depiction of the events leading up to the assassination?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: As a lawyer, I see the report as a professional and technical document. It provides a summary of the available information. It cannot reveal everything it has as it would compromise the integrity of the investigation. Melis is a respected and professional judge, and his report is of high quality. Its purpose is to prevent the investigation from becoming overly politicized, despite the fact that the crime itself is political in nature. While the crime is indeed political, it is important to avoid politicizing the investigation. The suspects will have their say once the report is released, and they may change their tune when the report is not under scrutiny. Those who speak of opposition and attempt to convince the Syrian leadership that the Arab street will rise in support of Syria are making the same mistake that was made with Saddam Hussein, where they wrongly predicted that Arab regimes would collapse if an attack on Iraq were to occur.

Fayyad Quneber: However, President Bashar Al-Assad has repeatedly stated that he is not Saddam Hussein and that he has not committed the same mistakes.?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Indeed, he is not Saddam Hussein, as the situations in Syria and Iraq differ, as well as the nature of Syrian society. However, there was cooperation between the Syrian and American intelligence services, and opposition to American policy continued actively until June 2005. How did this happen? Who was hesitant and cooperating with the intelligence services? Additionally, why was there the extradition of Saddam Hussein’s brother?

Fayyad Quneber: Barzan Al-Tikriti.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I don’t think I’m angry.

Fayyad Quneber: Ghadban Al-Hassan…

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Why? It was done as part of reducing American pressure and appeasing them. Why did some Arab countries mediate to open dialogue with the United States? Saddam Hussein’s sons came to Syria.

Fayyad Quneber: Uday and Qusay…

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Uday and Qusay were discovered to be in Syria. They were detained for security reasons and returned to Iraq after setting the border. Tariq Aziz also arrived at the Syrian border but was denied entry. Measures were taken to satisfy the Americans regarding Iraq, even at the border to prevent infiltration. However, there is a misinterpretation of American policy. Negotiations and dialogue with the Americans were supposed to take place immediately after President Bush’s visit. At that time, Syria’s regional and international situation was favorable. However, we missed the opportunity due to the increasingly complex regional and international situations surrounding us. Therefore, the issue is not merely about the presence or absence of American pressure. Yes, there is real American pressure, but the key is how we manage the crisis in order to alleviate these pressures. Let’s evaluate the concessions we have made. I must emphasize that this does not imply making decisions that would escalate pressure against Syria, as that would be a grave national mistake. However, we should have taken actions and made decisions that would not facilitate these pressures. Currently, the Americans are exerting significant pressure.

Fayyad Quneiber: Which specific decisions are you referring to?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Extending Lahoud’s term is one such decision.

Fayyad Quneiber: Do you think it would have been possible to avoid the issuance of Resolution 1559 if contacts had taken place or if specific language had been adopted beforehand?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Certainly, it is said or believed that the resolution was a French-American initiative. Indeed, the decision was essentially a French-American agreement. However, when did this agreement take place? It happened after the deterioration of Syrian-French relations. How were Syrian-French relations strained?

Why? France was against extending General Lahoud’s term. As we know, both parties consider the Lebanese issue as part of French internal policy. The information available to the French indicated that the extension of Lahoud’s term was imminent. At that time, we were discussing the external situation. This was in late March 2004. It was agreed that I would visit Paris and meet President Chirac. However, we received a telegram from our ambassador in Paris stating that the success of the Vice President’s visit was contingent upon resolving the gas supply issue with Total. I discussed this matter with President Assad.

In the end, it boils down to the interests of the involved countries. The French argue that when there is an interest to be given to American companies, they expect France to support them, and when there is an interest for France, a political interest arises and they award contracts to American companies. When Syria has political interests, they approach us seeking our support. I told him that politics also involves financial considerations. President Chirac, the leader of the right-wing in France, would be greatly embarrassed if businessmen were to question why he supports Syria while Syria grants contracts to a Canadian company whose main partner is an American company. I also mentioned that the United States has imposed sanctions on Syria, although they are not directly related to this matter.

He informed me that a tender had been announced and launched. Subsequently, I traveled to Paris and met with President Chirac. The atmosphere during the meeting was not the same as before. I attempted to ease tensions and reaffirm our principles in our relationship with France. I discussed Total, Syrian laws, and the tender process, emphasizing that political interference from France was untimely. President Chirac responded that Syria knows its interests and it is a matter we have no involvement in. He suggested that we focus on our interests with a French-Italian company and make our choices accordingly. I felt uneasy about the situation.

After a week, the French ambassador requested a meeting with me. I granted him an audience, and he conveyed an invitation from President Chirac to visit Paris in a week’s time to continue discussions on Syrian-French relations. Naturally, I interpreted this as President Chirac’s intention to rectify the misperception that had arisen. Therefore, I promptly agreed, expressing my gratitude and acceptance of President Chirac’s invitation. I informed the President that he had declined the visit, to which he responded, “During the meeting, there was an insult to Syria.” I asked him, “Where is the insult?” Tensions are commonplace in discussions between nations; they do not necessarily imply insults directed at one party by another.

This individual sought to correct the situation. He said, “No, you will not go.” I replied, “Well, if I’m not going, let’s arrange a visit for you. You can go to Paris, as you are going to Spain, and spend a night in Paris. Meet with President Chirac.” He replied, “Well, let me discuss the matter. Certainly, let me come, which may not happen.” This incident created tension among the French. Of course, the Canadian company that secured the contract is partnered with the American company Oxy Tontal, and the business agent responsible for executing the contract is a Syrian from a close circle. This tension created an atmosphere for France to align with the United States under the pretext of preventing Lahoud’s extension in Lebanon, which, in turn, would exert pressure on Syria. He asked, “What should be done?” I advised him that the only way to address Resolution 1559 is through serious dialogue with the Christian side, including the Patriarch, Qorna Shahwan, and I mentioned several names, as well as the involvement of Walid Jumblatt.

Fayyad Quneber: Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam, why didn’t the dialogue take place with this Christian side when you were in a position of decision-making authority? I mean, Samir Geagea was in prison, Michel Aoun and Amin Jamil were in exile, and Gebran Tueni returned later. Patriarch Sfeir made numerous calls to implement the Taif Agreement, but these calls went unheard. Why were the objections of the Christian side not heeded during your tenure in the decision-making circle?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Firstly, this is not true, okay? Omar Karami formed the first or second cabinet, headed by President Elias Hraoui, Omar Karami, Smir Geagea, who was accused of the assassination of the late President Rashid Karami. Omar Karami convinced Samir .

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: Before Hariri assumed power.?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, in 1991.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: On that day, Geagea refused and appointed Roger Deeb.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: The appointment of Roger Deeb did not happen without cause. It was the result of a dialogue with the Lebanese Forces and other Christian factions. Even General Aoun, who was under siege, requested President Hraoui to propose his appointment as Minister of Defense in the government he intended to form.

On the contrary, we engaged with all parties. I remember calling President Omar Karami, who came to Damascus in the evening. I asked him, “What do you think about taking up the prime ministerial responsibility?”

The man,   was surprised and taken aback. He said, “Of course, I agree.” I told him, “But we need to consider that it will be a government of national unity, and there will be individuals whom you dislike.” He asked, “Who?”

I replied, “Samir Geagea.” At that point, his expression changed. He said, “What should I say to President Karami if I meet him before God?”

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: You mean President Rashid Karami, who was assassinated.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Yes, President Rashid Karami, who was killed by Samir Geagea. What answer can I give him before God if he asks how I allowed my own assassin to become a minister alongside me? I told him, “In response to President Rashid Karami, I accepted him to halt the killings in Lebanon.” He became agitated and inclined to reject the proposal. I advised him, “Don’t give me an immediate decision. Go to Beirut and discuss the matter with your friends and allies.” After his return to Beirut, he called me and said, “What is this situation when the government is formed, and the names of Samir Geagea and Eli Hobeika are included? Syria has exerted significant effort, but there will be no dialogue or cooperation.” Samir had appointed Roger Deeb. Differences arose between him and the Lebanese factions within the government. Eventually, Roger Deeb left, but it was not at Syria’s request. We were determined to ensure unity among everyone.

Some politicians in Lebanon objected to the government’s composition. We told them, “War leaders must come forward. How can we end and disarm militias and warlords who consider themselves to have shed blood and made sacrifices while being out of power? They must be in power for it to serve as an avenue to end and disarm the militias.” And that’s what happened.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: So, Samir Geagea’s imprisonment was not a consequence of abandoning the tripartite agreement, known as the Khaddam Agreement?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Let me clarify. The tripartite agreement is a separate matter.

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: I mean, you were not involved in Samir Geagea’s imprisonment. The decision to invade General Aoun’s positions was a Lebanese decision?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: General Aoun’s fate was entirely decided by the Lebanese. President Hraoui sent Khalil Hrawi and Antoine Jadid to exert pressure and demand Syrian intervention to resolve General Aoun’s situation. We told him: We want a decision from the Council of Ministers, convene the Cabinet and make the decision. We were actually hesitant and sought peaceful solutions, but President Hraoui reached the point of saying he wanted to resign. We were there in Lebanon to assist the Lebanese authorities. The decision to intervene was made accordingly. However, after the intervention, we attempted to include General Aoun as a minister in the government and as Minister of Defense, but we did not have the opportunity. As far as I know, he was implicated in the Church issue, and later the case of the late President Karami was opened. I was not involved in this matter, and it was not discussed at the political level in Syria.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: Let’s turn to the brief and well-known contentious meeting between President Bashar Al-Assad and the late President Rafiq Hariri, followed by a meeting between Hariri and Rustam Ghazali in Anjar. Both meetings were tense. Were you aware of them? What transpired during those meetings?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: President Bashar asked me for possible solutions. I told him that the only way forward is national unity, dialogue with the Christian side involving the Patriarch, and the reconciliation with Walid Jumblatt. Dialogue should not be avoided. Security measures need to be complemented with political dialogue, and you should actively engage in it.

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: So, if I understand correctly, the dialogue with the Christian side was not solely focused on the reconciliation with Walid Jumblatt, but also aimed at restoring the Christian side?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: No, I’m not referring to a dialogue exclusively with the Christian side for the purpose of reconciling with Walid Jumblatt. It was Walid Jumblatt who initiated tensions. I told him: After…

He said, “I cannot speak to the Patriarch or meet him, etc.” I proposed that Syria addresses Walid Jumblatt, Nabih Berri, Hassan Nasrallah, and Rafiq Hariri, urging them to engage in dialogue with the Christian side. They should agree on a government of national unity with equal representation from both sides, whose primary task would be to hold elections and develop an electoral law. At this point, the President interrupted me and instructed me to develop an election law that satisfies the Christian side. I replied, “Exactly, because regardless, there are ten deputies in favor and ten deputies against, in short, it’s significant. What matters is that the country’s climate changes. The negative atmosphere needs to be transformed.” He agreed.

After some time, a meeting was held within the National Front, but I was absent. Farooq al-Shara gave a political presentation where he discussed Resolution 1559 and mentioned cooking interests between President Chirac and Hariri in Sardinia. When asked if Hariri would become the Prime Minister, he responded with a “No.”

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Who asked the question? President Bashar?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: No, no. It was the Minister of Foreign Affairs. President Bashar did not attend the meeting. I became aware of this later and immediately contacted the President. I told him, “The Foreign Minister made these statements within the Front. Such remarks will leak to the French and complicate the situation with France. What do we stand to gain from this? I’m truly upset.” He responded, “What does Farooq know about Lebanon? What is his involvement there? Take the phone and call President Hariri, and inform him that there is no Prime Minister in Lebanon other than you.”

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: So, President Bashar asked you to make this call?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: Exactly, and I made the call a few days later. I actually spoke to Rafiq and said, “Brother, if you hear any words from the President, this is what he told me.” In fact, as I understood from both the President and Rafiq, they had a friendly meeting after a few days. Rafiq was entrusted with forming the government, but problems started arising. Within three days, on Monday, the government was formed.

He said, “Your group and others, are they causing problems?”

Hussein Fayyad Qunaiber: Could you please clarify who you refer to as “your group”?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I am referring to Rustam Ghazali and the issues he was facing. I asked him if he had contacted President Berri. He replied,

“Yes, I visited him, but the meeting didn’t go well. President Berri misunderstood and thought it was Rustam who contacted him. Abu Mustafa also faced significant pressure before,

especially from Rustam Ghazali.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: In what way was President Berri pressured by Rustam Ghazali? What kind of pressure did he experience?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: President Berri is committed to upholding the prestige and independence of the Parliament. For instance, when the Parliament passed a law amending the rules of procedure, pressure was exerted on Nabih Berri within 48 hours. He faced severe criticism and was coerced into convening the Council to revoke its decision,

which had been issued just 48 hours earlier. Nabih aimed to preserve the institution’s prestige in his capacity as the Speaker of Parliament, but the complexities and entanglements in Lebanon are widely recognized.

Hussein Fayyad Quneiber: Mr Abdel Halim Khaddam, returning to the period when I was involved in decision-making in Syria. Assassinations in Lebanon have been a recurring occurrence. Following the assassinations of Hariri, Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Gibran Tueni, and the assassination attempt on Marwan Hamadeh and May Chidiac, there were previous cases, including the assassinations of Kamal Jumblatt, Bashir Gemayel, René Moawad, and Mufti Khaled. Based on the information available to you at the time,who, in your knowledge, was responsible for these assassinations?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: During that period, leading up to the Taif Agreement, there was indeed a civil war. Various forces were operating within the Lebanese arena, both Lebanese and external forces acting through the Lebanese factions. Consequently, infiltration was relatively easy, and anyone who was deemed feasible was dealt with. Following the election of President Moawad, we received information. If I recall correctly, the late George Hawi mentioned that a sergeant from Akkar in the Lebanese army was planning to assassinate President René Moawad. Naturally, we were deeply concerned. General Hikmat Shihabi and I traveled to Tripoli, where we met with President Moawad in Al-Haykaliya. I remember it was a Sunday. I asked him: Mr. President, why hasn’t the government been formed yet? Remember that we urged you to expedite its formation to prevent a power vacuum in the country. I told him that he had a specific vision. In response, he said, “I’ve had a change of heart. I am considering the danger posed by Qutb. I want to try to convince President Suleiman Franjieh to join the government.” I replied, “Mr. President, form any government you wish, with or without poles. The important thing is to form a government that serves as an insurance policy for your life. There are those who will attempt to assassinate you to create a power vacuum in the country. Therefore, please form the government immediately.” He informed me, “I will be going to Beirut on Tuesday, and I will announce the formation of the government on Tuesday evening. I believe it will be the second day of Independence Day, and we will celebrate Independence Day with a new government.” I advised him to form the government even if there were gaps in it that could be filled later. The crucial point was to have a government in Lebanon because those seeking to assassinate him to create a power vacuum would understand that it was no longer possible due to the existence of a legitimate government. This conversation took place a few days prior to the assassination. Indeed, a few days later, the government was not yet formed by Wednesday morning, the morning of Independence Day, when the heinous crime took place. It was a truly significant crime that shook Lebanon and dashed hopes for the restoration of peace. René Moawad represented Lebanese moderation, just as two other politicians did: President Rashid Karami and President René Moawad.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: So you are the one accused of assassinating President Moawad?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I cannot, truly cannot. I have no data, but it was the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities to investigate all crimes. They may or may not be aware of the truth, but the situation should not remain as it is. However, it has been a long time, and people are still nursing their wounds. Currently, there is increasing pressure. I believe that the task of any country’s leadership in the world is to avoid succumbing to pressure and strive to prevent it.

As for American pressure, I will discuss two phases: the era of President Hafez al-Assad and the era of President Bashar Al-Assad. If we look at the period between the 1990s and the death of President Hafez al-Assad and review Syrian-American relations, we deliberated on the situation, aiming to safeguard the country and prevent it from sliding into confrontations where we lacked the means to resist. This stance was evident. The invasion of Kuwait followed the American request for the participation of Egyptian and Syrian forces through Saudi Arabia. We were informed that the Americans had informed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that they could not form an alliance to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait without Arab support. We discussed the issue, weighing the negatives and positives of participation. We concluded that participation would alleviate international pressure on Syria and lead to the formation of a supportive alliance with the Gulf Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. We made the decision and I personally reported it to the late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh. The decision pleasantly surprised King Fahd. What happened thereafter?

A meeting took place between President Bush and President Hafez al-Assad in Geneva in October. Secretary of State Baker visited the region, specifically Syria, multiple times to facilitate arrangements for the Madrid Conference, and Syrian-Israeli negotiations were held in Washington. Over the course of ten years, President Hafez al-Assad met with President Clinton on three occasions, particularly during the Democratic administration. The American Secretary of State visited Syria once, and Syrian delegations traveled to the United States. There were exchanges of Syrian media, economic, and intellectual delegations with the United States as well. After the negotiations between the Syrian Foreign Minister and Israeli Prime Minister Barak in Washington, the Syrian Foreign Minister visited the Qatari leadership to make a political offer. How did he begin his speech? He stated: President Clinton supports Syria and understands its position. He holds respect for President Assad. Albright is on our side and comprehends our standpoint. Barak desires peace. He requested a few months to address his circumstances. Barak affirmed that President Assad is the most significant president in the region after Muawiya.

When the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Syria speaks like this, saying that Clinton is with us and Albright is with us, does it imply that there is conflict and tension with the Americans? Of course, I conveyed my thoughts to the Foreign Minister and expressed to him: You have been working in the State Department for over 20 years. How can you conclude that Clinton is with us when the United States openly declares its alliance with Israel? It would be a great misfortune if the Syrian Foreign Minister, as you mentioned, interprets American policy in such simplistic terms. Can anyone claim that President Hafez was not a patriot? While we engaged in dialogues with the Americans, we were supporting the resistance in Lebanon, aiding the Intifada in Palestine, and objecting to American pressure on Iraq while working to alleviate the burdens imposed on the Iraqi people. There was indeed a dialogue, but our adherence to principles remained steadfast.

Hussein Fayyad Quneber: In a statement I made to you a year ago, I expressed doubt regarding the likelihood of a meeting between Bashar al-Assad and Ariel Sharon. After this challenging year for Lebanon and Syria, do you anticipate a Syrian approach to negotiations with Israel to alleviate international pressure on the Lebanese front?

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I do not wish to speculate about such an outcome. I am hesitant to anticipate such a development because the general climate in Syria, as well as the popular sentiment, does not lean in that direction. Yes, there may be attempts to resume negotiations, but it is important to distinguish between attempts to resume negotiations under specific conditions and a meeting with Sharon.

Hussein Fayad Qunaiber: Abdel Halim Khaddam, thank you for this exclusive interview. I appreciate all your responses. Dear viewers, thank you for following along, and goodbye.

Abdel Halim Khaddam: I extend my gratitude to the Al Arabiyah team for providing this opportunity to discuss matters of importance to Syrians and Arabs during this period. I wish you all continued success.