INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Asad: Israel Does Not Desire Peace

Published: Mon 9 Jul 2001 03:03 PM
P 091503Z JUL 01
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5527
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS DAMASCUS 003036
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV SY
SUBJECT: ASAD: ISRAEL DOES NOT DESIRE PEACE
REF(S): FBIS EUP2001070700109
1. (U) SUMMARY: ACCORDING TO A LENGTHY INTERVIEW WITH
GERMAN NEWS MAGAZINE DER SPIEGEL 7/9, SYRIAN PRESIDENT AL-
ASAD ACCUSED ISRAELI PM SHARON OF PUSHING THE REGION
TOWARDS WAR; ASSERTED THAT SYRIA WANTED PEACE BUT WOULD NOT
SHY AWAY FROM WAR IF FORCED INTO IT; AND WAS UNAPOLOGETIC
ABOUT SYRIAN SUPPORT FOR HIZBALLAH. ASAD, WHO DEPARTS 7/10
FOR A STATE VISIT TO BERLIN, ALSO OFFERED A TORTURED
DEFENSE OF HIS CONTROVERSIAL REMARKS REGARDING JEWS DURING
THE POPE'S VISIT TO DAMASCUS LAST MAY. THE INTERVIEW IS
PART OF THE SARG'S EFFORT TO BURNISH ASAD'S CREDENTIALS
INTERNATIONALLY AND PAVE THE WAY FOR HIS TRIP TO GERMANY.
END SUMMARY.
2. (U) HIGHLIGHTS:
-- PM SHARON: "IT'S OBVIOUS THAT SHARON AND HIS GOVERNMENT
ARE SEEKING A WAR. THEY WISH TO PLUNGE THE WHOLE REGION
INTO CONFLICT."
-- HIZBALLAH: "POLITICALLY AND MORALLY, WE TOTALLY SUPPORT
HIZBALLAH AND ITS JUST CAUSE OF REGAINING THOSE TERRITORIES
IN LEBANON WHICH ARE STILL UNDER OCCUPATION...SYRIA DOES
NOT CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF HIZBALLAH"
-- CONFLICT WITH ISRAEL: "SO LONG AS WE REMAIN COMMITTED
TO THE PEACE STRATEGY, WE WILL NOT LET OURSELVES BE DRAWN
INTO WAR. BUT NEITHER WILL WE SHY AWAY FROM IT, SHOULD WAR
BE FORCED UPON US. MOREOVER, THERE IS A WHOLE RANGE OF
THINGS THAT WILL HIT ISRAEL HARDER THAN WAR. WE HAVE ONE
OR TWO IN OUR LOCKER."
-- INTIFADA: "ARAFAT HAS NEVER BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THE
INTIFADA....THE INTIFADA IS NOT THE WORK OF ONE MAN, ONE
STATE, OR ONE PARTY, IT IS THE REVOLT OF THE PALESTINIAN
PEOPLE."
-- PROSPECTS FOR PEACE WITH ISRAEL: ASAD DENIED THAT SYRIA
SUPPORTED A NEW "CALL TO DRIVE THE ISRAELIS INTO THE SEA."
"THIS IS NOT OUR REASONING...WE ACCEPT THE REASONING OF THE
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND SAY, AS YOU DO IN GERMANY [AND]
IN THE U.S. THAT ISRAEL MUST HAND BACK THE TERRITORIES IT
OCCUPIED IN 1967. THE [HARSHER] TONE WE'RE ADOPTING IS IN
LINE WITH THE CHANGING CONDITIONS [I.E., CURRENT TENSION IN
THE REGION]. IN TERMS OF POLICY, WE STICK BY OUR
PRINCIPLES [I.E., NEGOTIATIONS BASED ON MADRID TERMS OF
REFERENCE].
-- ANTISEMITIC REMARKS: "WE SYRIANS OPPOSE THE TERM ANTI-
SEMITISM...SEMITES ARE A RACE...WE ARE AT ITS CORE...I
MERELY COMPARED CHRIST'S AGONIES WITH THE SUFFERINGS OF THE
PALESTINIANS." ASKED IF HE HAD MEANT THAT JEWS WERE
RESPONSIBLE FOR CHRIST'S AGONIES, ASAD REPLIED THAT "THESE
ARE HISTORICAL FACTS WHICH WE CANNOT DENY. BUT HOW CAN
ANYONE ATTRIBUTE AN ANTI-JEWISH ATTITUDE TO ME, WHEN WE
ALSO HAVE JEWISH CITIZENS HERE IN SYRIA, AND WE AS MUSLIMS
RECOGNIZE THE JEWISH RELIGION?"
-- THE ECONOMY: "SYRIA IS STILL A SOCIALIST COUNTRY, BUT
WE DO OF COURSE HAVE A VISION FOR THE FUTURE...WE ARE
BUILDING DEVELOPMENT POLICY ON TWO PILLARS: CREATING MORE
JOBS, AND RAISING STANDARDS OF LIVING. WE WILL CONSIDER
ANYTHING THAT HELPS TO ACHIEVE THIS. BUT WE WILL NOT SELL
THE STATE SECTOR."
3. (U) COMMENT: ASAD'S PERSONAL ATTACKS AGAINST SHARON AND
HIS THREATS TO RESPOND TO FURTHER ISRAELI STRIKES ARE
HARSHER AND MORE EXPLICIT THAN HIS RECENT PUBLIC REMARKS ON
THESE ISSUES. THIS PROBABLY REFLECTS THE INCREASING
PRESSURE HE FEELS, FROM BOTH DOMESTIC CONSTITUENCIES AND
OTHER ARAB LEADERS, TO RESPOND MORE DIRECTLY IF ATTACKED
AGAIN. HE IS LIKELY FRUSTRATED THAT THE ANTI-SEMITISM
ISSUE HASN'T GONE AWAY AND CONCERNED THAT PROTESTS COULD
MAR WHAT HE HOPES WILL BE A SUCCESSFUL TRIP TO BERLIN THIS
WEEK. END COMMENT.
PEARCE
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