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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

Former vice-president launches fierce attack on Syrian leadership, policies

Harold's List
BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring
Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1900 gmt 30 Dec 05

Former Syrian Vice-President Abd-al-Halim Khaddam has said that "many threats" were made against former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri both in Syria and Lebanon in the months before his death. He noted that, while the relations between Hafiz al-Asad and Al-Hariri were good, the attitude changed when President Bashar came to power as he began to see Al-Hariri as a threat to Syria. The circle around Lebanese President Lahhud, Lebanese security agencies and certain political circles were also involved in "serious instigation" against the former prime minister, Khaddam said. He noted that months before his death he suggested to Al-Hariri that he should leave Lebanon, adding: "It had never come to my mind that Syria would assassinate Al-Hariri at all." However, Khaddam insisted that the result of the international investigation into Al-Hariri's death, which he described as professional, must not be prejudiced. Commenting on the Syrian domestic and foreign policies, the former vice-president said that President Al-Asad's rule was based on "unilateralism and centralism" which undermined the role of institutions and parties and the implementation of political and economic reforms, and brought about wide-spread corruption. He said the president's reading of the regional and international developments was wrong, which brought the country "from the circle of danger to the very centre of danger" over its policy in Lebanon and Iraq. The following is text of "exclusive" interview with Abd-al-Halim Khaddam by Muhammad Fayyad Qunaybir, Al-Arabiya correspondent in Paris, date not given, broadcast by Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya TV on 30 December; subheadings inserted editorially

[Qunaybir] Our dear viewers: Our guest in this exclusive interview is Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, former Syrian vice-president. Khaddam was with former President Hafiz al-Asad in party work for 55 years and in the state for 35 years as foreign minister, starting in 1970, and as vice-president of the republic from 1984. When President Bashar al-Asad assumed power after the death of his father, Khaddam kept all his party and official positions, but his stardom did not continue and he had, at a later time, to resign all his party and political posts. What is the secret of the estrangement between the strong man in the regime of Hafiz al-Asad and Bashar Hafiz al-Asad? Abu-Jamal [Khaddam] will speak in this interview about Syria internally and externally and about Lebanon and the reasons for the deterioration in relations between Lebanon and Syria and the Syrian position on the Iraqi and Palestinian files. Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, welcome to Al-Arabiya.

[Khaddam] Thank you. You are welcome.

"I will return to Damascus"

[Qunaybir] First of all, you are here in Paris. Have you been exiled or have you chosen to stay away? Why and for how long?

[Khaddam] Actually, I am not exiled and I have not chosen to stay away. I came to Paris to have a chance to write an important stage in the history of Syria and the region. I was one of the key leaders in planning and executing our foreign policy. I saw that it is my national duty to write the history of this stage so that generations and people would see the correct facts and developments. We managed to achieve for Syria a prestigious standing in the Arab and international arenas. In Paris, I can write quietly, away from the political clamour that exists in Syria. So I chose to go away to write, and not to quit political work. I will return to Damascus. Syria is in my heart and mind. I came to Paris to write. I faced no insult or threat. I left while my relations with President Bashar al-Asad are good and friendly. Differences in views do not change anything. I have different views, but before my departure I bid him farewell and he knows that I will stay here for a long time to write. So what is said about threats or harassment is not true. So far, this is not true.

[Qunaybir] Why are you saying so far? Do you expect threats at a later stage?

[Khaddam] I expect some people who misled him [Bashar al-Asad] to incite him.

[Qunaybir] Do you fear that on your return, there will be a trial or opening of some files against you?

[Khaddam] First of all, all Syrians know who Abd-al-Halim Khaddam is. They also know the sacrifices I have made to boost the status of Syria. They know the efforts I have made to make Syria occupy a prestigious place and status. They know that I faced five assassination attempts, not because I had a disagreement with anyone, but because I was the strong defender of Syria's policy. They know all this. Therefore, if anyone dares to think of trying me, he should keep in mind that one day, he too will be in the dock.

[Qunaybir] Are there files that you can bring against others?

[Khaddam] I have a great deal to say, but I will not say it for the sake of Syria, for the sake of the country. Anyone who tries or thinks about this knows well what I have and knows that I have a great deal and serious stuff.

[Qunaybir] What is the nature of this serious stuff and who is involved in it specifically?

[Khaddam] Syria's interest requires that I do not speak.

[Qunaybir] Where is your family now? Are they staying in France or are some of them in Syria?

[Khaddam] They are in Damascus, but they have come to Paris now to spend the holiday.

[Qunaybir] So they will return and they are not here for security reasons?

[Khaddam] They will return.

[Qunaybir] At the last meeting you had with President Bashar al-Asad, what was the atmosphere like and was there an argument or a sharp discussion between you? What did he tell you and what did you tell him?

[Khaddam] In fact, all our meetings were friendly. This man is very polite when he talks to others. He treated me in a friendly way and with respect. I think that a large part of this is due to his knowledge of the nature of the relationship that existed between me and his father. I have not heard from him a single word that hurts my feelings or offends me. Two days before my departure, he received me and the conversation was friendly and wide-ranging. There are differences in views, but there is mutual respect.

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: It has been said that you left Syria during difficult times, that you left Syria when you no longer had the post from which you benefited in the past. How would you react to this?

[Khaddam] It is true that I left Syria during difficult times. I left it for the sake of Syria. I, as I have noted, want to chronicle the history of a stage in which I was a key player.

Relationship with President Al-Asad

[Qunaybir] You were the first high-level Syrian official to resign from your party and state posts. Was this caused by a personal dispute with President Bashar al-Asad, or by other things?

[Khaddam] I got to know President Bashar al-Asad in 1998 when his father was grooming him for the presidency. Several meetings were held between us. These meetings focused on the domestic situation, the Arab situation and the international situation. We held identical views regarding the need to carry out serious reforms in Syria, political reforms which address expanding the space for democracy, the freedom of party work, basic freedoms and individual freedoms. We also discussed the economic situation and the need for drastic economic reforms that would provide Syria with the ability to raise the people's standard of living, fight unemployment and provide the prerequisites for national defence. We also discussed the Arab and international situations. We were in agreement on how to work to serve the interests of Syria and the Arab nation. Therefore, when he assumed the presidency, I decided to cooperate with him, extend all possible cooperation and assistance, put the expertise in political work that I have accumulated over the many years at his disposal, and put my knowledge at his disposal to serve the country's interests. After he took the oath, I submitted a study to him on developing the party, which means developing the political system in Syria. In this study, I addressed several issues, including the issue of freedoms and democracy, the economic situation, how to remedy the economic crisis experienced by Syria, the issue of the relationship between Islam and Arabism, and the issue of modernism. I submitted a set of proposals in a way that rendered the memorandum a strategy for the Syrian foreign policy. I think that had President Bashar al-Asad adopted this strategy, Syria would not have fallen into these minefields and we would not have faced these external and internal difficulties. This is because the big problem is that when it has no policy to pursue, the state walks into a minefield of total darkness. Within the leadership, we focused on the economic issue.

In October 2000, we made decisions to launch a significant set of economic reforms. They were sent to the cabinet, where they remained unimplemented. During one of my visits to France, I met President Jacques Chirac and requested him to submit [changes thought] - send us a group of experts who would examine administrative issues in Syria and how they can be developed and upgraded. As a matter of fact, a group of experts came and conducted their studies. They submitted proposals which were left in the cabinet's drawers and none of them was implemented. Then I became convinced that the process of rehabilitation and reform, be it political, economic or administrative, will not kick off. So I decided to resign. I did some soul searching and faced two options: to side either with the homeland or with the regime. I chose to side with the homeland because it is the constant fact, whereas the regime is a transient state in the history of the country, just like other regimes elsewhere.

Domestic situation - "centralism", corruption

What did I get from this soul searching? I found the following: the unilateralism and centralism in the exercise of power was so great that the role of constitutional institutions, the role of the party leadership and the role of the popular organizations was entirely absent. Their role has become that of one to cover up for the decisions made by the president.

The second point is that the reform process had stopped, so dereliction of duty and corruption increased in the state. This has reached the point that a former employee at the Public Security Department before the year 1970 whose salary was no more than 200 Syrian pounds died and left behind an estate worth 4bn dollars. Another employee, who was an accountant at an airline company before 1970 owns, together with his sons, an estate worth no less than 2bn dollars at a time when poverty is on the rise and the need increases for the country's resources. The net annual income of the two companies [not further identified] is the equivalent of 700m dollars, which is about one-sixth of the state budget. This is a striking and unprecedented phenomenon in the political life of Syria since its independence.

[Qunaybir] What do you mean by the relative? Can we specify those relatives?

[Khaddam] By relatives I mean cousins, paternal and maternal cousins, and the inner circle of the relatives as well as the inner circle of friends. At a time when millions of Syrians cannot find anything to eat and when some of them search for food in the garbage the wealth accumulates in the hands of a few people illegally because of the absence of law. What is present is the interests of the inner circle that surrounds the ruling group. Half of the Syrian people live under the poverty line and the other half live parallel on the poverty line, and a small minority of people enjoy a good life. We cannot face the foreign pressures while the Syrian people's freedom is confiscated and they are banned from working in politics and controlled by security forces.

[Qunaybir] To be objective, regarding all that you speak about concerning the need for reforms, giving freedom to the people and stopping the control of the security services over them, why have you not presented them when you were a decision-maker over more than 30 years in Syria?

[Khaddam] If we return to the party's congresses since 1971 until 2005 and to the meetings of the regional commands during that period we find that the views I presented were based on developing the country and achieving the aims of the Tishrin movement of 1970 [the coup that brought former Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad to power]. The movement was based on openness and people's participation. The constitution was written on this basis. The freedom of the political parties had been approved at that time. Later on, negative accumulations took place. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the huge developments that took place in the world in the field of principles, values, ideology and the way of life [sentence incomplete as heard]. Concerning the internal situation, my role was as a member of the Regional Command. The Regional Command was kept absent and had no role at all. The executive power was in the hands of the head of state. However, during all command meetings, especially after the year 2000 when President Bashar al-Asad assumed power as president - and I challenge anyone, and the minutes of the command meetings are available - I used to present two issues, which are the foreign pressures and the need for internal reforms, conducting national dialogue and enhancing national unity, as well as peoples' participation. In all meetings that were held, even economic meetings, I talked about the internal situation and the need for reforms. This is documented in the minutes of the meetings of the command whether at the Republican Palace or the headquarters of the Regional Command.

[Qunaybir] Mr Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, you say that you have tried to come up with reformist ideas, and they, meaning President Bashar al-Asad and his team, did not respond to this. However, previous reports were to the contrary - that President Bashar al-Asad comes up with reformist ideas, but they are obstructed by the old guard, and you are one of them. This is what was said at the beginning?

[Khaddam] This was said by the security agencies. They wanted to cover up for negligence in the field of reform. Consequently, they wanted to blame this negligence on the old guard. What are the reasons that have led to this situation? The first reason is unilateralism in exercising power. The second reason is the wrong reading of the Arab and international developments -

"Wrong reading" of regional, international developments

[Qunaybir, interrupting] Excuse me. You mean that President Bashar al-Asad personally is exercising power unilaterally?

[Khaddam] Of course, personally. The second reason is the wrong reading of the regional and international developments, and the wrong conclusion of decisions to confront these developments. I'll give some examples: in early September 2004, [US Congressman] Darrell Issa visited Syria and met the president. Martin Indyk has also visited Syria and met the president. This is what I heard from the president. He said that Darrell Issa would make efforts to promote the Syrian-US relations, and Martin Indyk criticized the policy of [US President George] Bush's administration towards Iraq. He then told President Bashar al-Asad that [William] Burns will come with a large delegation, and at any rate, the United States is not interested in Lebanon but in Iraq. The same was said during the talks within the leadership on other occasions. It was instilled in the mind of President Bashar al-Asad that the United States would come to him crawling to negotiate with him on Iraq and to allow him to stay in Lebanon. This is a wrong reading. This wrong reading has led to conclusions later. So, the wrong reading and the wrong conclusion have also put the country into a host of problems from which it is now suffering.

The third reason is emotional reactions and attitudes, which are two bad qualities in any official, especially since emotional reactions make an emotional person lose the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong -

[Qunaybir, interrupting] Emotional reaction by whom?

[Khaddam] The president. For example, he receives some news, he becomes enthusiastic and he makes a decision. However, after a while, he discovers that what he was told was not true. So he begins to correct the mistake that was made. However, why should we be emotional? Hafiz al-Asad had a special ability of self-restraint. This is an important quality for anyone who assumes the responsibility of ruling a country. The other issue is what those around a decision-maker instil in his mind to the effect that he is a distinguished person, and if he makes a mistake they show that his mistake is right, and if he is unjust they depict his injustice as just. Facts will then be lost, justice will be lost, and then woe unto the people. The inner circle, with the illusions it instils in the [mind of the president] has played and is playing a big role.

Relations with military figures, foreign minister

[Qunaybir] I want to mention some names, such as [head of the Syrian military intelligence] Asif Shawkat and [commander of Syria's Republican Guard and President Bashar's brother] Mahir al-Asad. What is your relationship with these two in particular like?

[Khaddam] When I was in power, I had no contacts with the armed forces except through the defence minister and the chief of staff if need be. I knew them. But, there were no political or other relations with them.

[Qunaybir] A heated argument took place between you and [Foreign Minister] Faruq al-Shar'a during the 10th congress of the Ba'th Party. During the debate, you criticized Syria's foreign policy. Do you not feel that you were done an injustice as you see that Faruq al-Shar'a has become the second-in-command in Syria, while it was you who escorted President Hafiz al-Asad for more than 30 years?

[Khaddam] I do not feel that I was done an injustice because I do not seek to confront Faruq al-Shar'a. Second, no heated argument took place between us. He was mistaken in running the session. Third, the Political Committee [of the Ba'th Party] rejected the report he submitted. Fourth, he is not the second or tenth-in-command in Syria. I do not want to do injustice to myself and say that an argument took place between me and him. This is far from the truth.

Late interior minister

[Qunaybir] You knew [late Interior Minister] Ghazi Kan'an very well. The common thing between you was that you were responsible for the Lebanese file. The official Syrian account said that he committed suicide. Do you have any reason to question this account?

[Khaddam] I have no information. I did not contact and was not contacted by anyone from the closed circle about late Ghazi Kan'an. However, if we take into consideration the circumstances in which he was placed and the psychological pressure that was exerted on him, we can say that the suicide is probable. I cannot give a definite opinion. But he has probably committed suicide. I do not know if a serious investigation was launched into this issue and whether it reached any serious conclusions. I take this issue at face value.

[Qunaybir] What psychological pressure was placed on him that led him to commit suicide?

[Khaddam] One day before [his death], he was invited to iftar dinner [fast-breaking meal during the month of Ramadan] by one of his friends. He was joyous. It did not seem that he was planning to commit suicide. The next day, the picture changed. He seemed tense. He left his office. Where did he go? Who called him? What was said to him? Nobody knows the answers. At least, I do not know.

[Qunaybir] Had you had contacts with him recently?

[Khaddam] I had not met Ghazi for more than a year and a half. We used to talk on the phone sometimes. He was busy at the Ministry of the Interior and I was busy with my work. Our meetings were few. They stopped in the past year and a half. I think that these meetings were suspended against his will.

[Qunaybir] Was he asked to stop meeting with you?

[Khaddam] I think so.

Syrian officials in Lebanon

[Qunaybir] Which side exerted pressure on him or moved him from the position that he had influence before that?

[Khaddam] Things are different. The situation in Lebanon reflected negatively on Ghazi but not on Rustum Ghazali [former head of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon who succeeded Kan'an in the post]. Some sought to blame [Kan'an] for the accumulations in the Lebanese file and forgot about Rustum Ghazali. There is no doubt that Ghazi made mistakes in Lebanon. But, he made mistakes in a polite manner and corrected the mistakes in a polite manner. Rustum Ghazali acted as if he was the absolute ruler of Lebanon. I once learned that he insulted Prime Minister Al-Hariri, Speaker Nabih Birri and Walid Junblatt. I said to President Bashar [al-Asad]: Why do you keep him [Ghazali] in Lebanon? He is harming you and the country. He is acting in an unreasonable manner with the Lebanese leaders and insulting the prime minister and others. He [Al-Asad] said to me that he also insulted Najib Miqati [pauses] Sulayman Firanjiyah. I said: He insulted your friends. Why do you accept that? Al-Asad said that Ghazi was to blame because he nominated him. I said: Ghazi made a mistake. You can replace him. He said that he would talk to him and warn him. He did speak to him and he [Ghazali] apologized. After some time, the bad deeds increased. I said to him: Rustum Ghazali has taken 35 million dollars from the [Lebanese] Al-Madinah Bank. You certainly have the file. He said: He [Ghazali] is a thief. Go and see what he did in his village. He built a palace and a market. I said: You are the commander of the army and president of the republic and you know that an officer has made these mistakes, so why do you keep him in his post? He once again said that Ghazi Kan'an was the one who nominated him.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Al-Hariri; specifically on 28 February 2005, I met [Al-Asad]. I said to him: Bring this criminal and cut his throat. He is the one who created this situation in Lebanon.

[Qunaybir] Did you say this about Rustum Ghazali to President Al-Asad?

[Khaddam] Of course, I said this about Rustum Ghazali. He [Al-Asad] said that Ghazali would be replaced soon, but he was not. The president made a speech at the People's Assembly in which he said that mistakes were made in Lebanon. I told him that I was seeking to protect him. I told him to form an investigation commission, to bring back the officers who made mistakes in Lebanon and to refer them to court martial. I asked him to try these people who should take responsibility for the mistakes that were made in Lebanon. I said: Why should the state take responsibility? Why should you take responsibility? He said that it was not possible to punish anyone before the [Ba'th Party] congress. I also told him: Bring the foreign minister [Faruq al-Shar'a], who got you involved in Resolution 1559 and put him in his house. He said: We cannot bring anyone to account before the congress. The congress was held. The surprise was that Rustum Ghazali was a member of the congress. He [Al-Asad] appointed him the head of the security branch in Damascus Rural Areas Governorate, which is close to Lebanon. One had to ask: Why is Rustum Ghazali being protected while everybody knows his sins. Why is he protected?

[Qunaybir] All this leads us to talk about Lebanon, with which you have a long story that began with the Syrian entry into this country in 1976 and ended with tears you shed in the house of Rafiq al-Hariri to which you went twice to offer your condolences. Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: who killed Rafiq al-Hariri?

[Khaddam] To answer this question, we must wait for the results of the investigation. An international investigation is under way and all parties back and subscribe to this investigation. It is too early to point accusing fingers to this or that party. Nonetheless, what I would like to note is that the Lebanese regarded the political campaign directed against the late [former] Prime Minister Al-Hariri as an offence directed against them. At any rate, we have to wait for the investigation [result]. The question is: Were ties between the Syrian leadership and [former] Prime Minister Al-Hariri good? An answer to this question could shed light on the problem between the man and the Syrian leadership.

"Many threats" to Al-Hariri

[Qunaybir] Mr Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, before addressing this issue with you, an insider who knows about the nitty-gritty of the Syrian affairs, I would like to know whether there are Syrian parties, either in Damascus or Beirut, who threatened the former Lebanese prime minister before the assassination.

[Khaddam] Yes. Many threats were made against the late Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

[Qunaybir] Death threats?

[Khaddam] When the chief of the security apparatus tells his visitors while fiddling with his pistol -

[Qunaybir, interrupting] You are talking about Rustum Ghazali?

[Khaddam] Yes. [continuing] - that he will do so and so. Many threats were made, either in Damascus or [sentence incomplete as heard]. There was serious talk about Prime Minister Al-Hariri. Once, he was summoned to Damascus. I heard this directly from three sources: from President Al-Asad, from Prime Minister Al-Hariri and also from Ghazi Kan'an. Prime Minister Al-Hariri was made to hear extremely harsh words.

[Qunaybir] You are talking about the brief encounter between him and President Bashar al-Asad?

[Khaddam] No, I am talking about an episode that took place months before that encounter, months before the extension [of Lebanese President Emile Lahhud's term in office]. He was made to hear extremely harsh words. I learned of this from the president.

[Qunaybir] From whom?

[Khaddam] From President Bashar al-Asad who told me about this during an encounter I had with him. I addressed him, saying: You were talking to the Lebanese prime minister.

[Qunaybir] These words were addressed to him when he was the prime minister, before he tendered his resignation?

[Khaddam] He was the prime minister. The words were addressed to Al-Hariri in the presence of Rustum Ghazali, Muhammad Khalluf [a top aide to Rustum Ghazali] and Ghazi Kan'an. How could you use such words with the Lebanese prime minister? How could you use such words in the presence of junior officers? Then, he realized that a mistake was made. So he asked me to contact Prime Minister Al-Hariri, hold a meeting with him and remove the offence that Prime Minister Al-Hariri felt.

[Qunaybir] Pardon me. Can we get to know the gist of some of these words? Where does the harshness of these words lie?

[Khaddam] The harshness lies in the argument which ran as follows: You want to bring a [new] Lebanese president. You want something. I will not allow you to do so. I will crush whoever tries to act against our decision.

The president's words were that harsh. I do not recall the exact words. But they were extremely harsh. Prime Minister Al-Hariri went out of the meeting and he suffered both hypertension and a nosebleed. Ghazi Kan'an took him to his office and tried to calm him down. This fact is known. Within the leadership, the discussion once addressed Resolution 1559. Prime Minister Al-Hariri was strongly attacked and described as a man who was carrying out an unprecedented action in Lebanon - rallying his sect around him, which was viewed as an anti-Syrian move. Talk along these lines continued. As a matter of fact, I contacted the president afterwards, wondering why there was such talk at a leadership meeting. I said such talk would be leaked.

[Qunaybir] You contacted President Al-Asad?

[Khaddam] Yes, of course. I was in constant touch with him. Why this talk? The political situation in Lebanon is a sect-based situation.

Rafiq al-Hariri had rallied his sect behind him. What is [Lebanese Speaker] Nabih Birri? The Amal Movement is a Shi'i movement, Hezbollah is a Shi'i party, Al-Maradah is a Maronite movement, the Lebanese Forces is a Christian-Maronite movement. Why was Al-Hariri a threat to Syria if his sect rallied behind him, while [Hezbollah leader] Hasan Nasrallah and Nabih Birri do not constitute a threat if their sect rallied behind them? Days later, [former Lebanese Defence Minister] Muhsin Dallul came to me and I asked him to inform the late Abu-Baha [Al-Hariri] to leave Lebanon because his situation in Syria had become complicated.

[Qunaybir] How long was that before his assassination?

[Khaddam] Months before that. It had never come to my mind that Syria would assassinate Al-Hariri at all. Therefore, the atmosphere created certain impression among the people. The result of the investigation will confirm or deny this impression.

[Qunaybir] How true is the talk that a meeting was held for six ranking Syrian officials, and you were one of them, and the idea of liquidating Al-Hariri had been presented but you opposed it?

[Khaddam] This is not true. No such meeting had been held at all.

[Qunaybir] Can we believe the rumour that a Syrian security service may have assassinated Al-Hariri without necessarily the knowledge of President Bashar al-Asad?

[Khaddam] We should wait for the investigation. However, in principle, no security apparatus or any other apparatus in the Syrian state can make such a decision unilaterally. In his interview with Der Spiegel magazine, President Bashar al-Asad himself denied the charge levelled at Syria and said if Syrians were involved this meant that he was involved. For a security apparatus to be unilaterally involved is impossible. Whether a security apparatus is involved is something that will be decided by the investigation.

Two stages in relations with Al-Hariri

[Qunaybir] You were the only Syrian official who went [to Beirut] to extend condolences on the death of Al-Hariri. Before that, you were the only Syrian official who visited [Lebanese] Minister Marwan Hamadah after the attempt on his life. Were you sent by President Al-Asad?

[Khaddam] No, I went personally and not in any official capacity in the light of the friendly and fraternal relationship between me and Al-Hariri. I also visited Hamadah in the light of the friendship and fraternity between us. I went to offer condolences on Al-Hariri's death and to attend his funeral because he was a friend and I am well aware of what he had extended to Syria and how he served Syria in various stages. Hence, I want to point out the issue of relationship with him. There are two stages in the relations with Al-Hariri. During the period of President Hafiz al-Asad, relations were very good. I remember two incidents: the first when the Labour Union tried to launch strikes, President Hafiz al-Asad contacted the union head in Syria and asked him to invite the Lebanese Labour Union to meet me to convince them not to launch the strike. President Hafiz al-Asad then told Izz-al-Din Nasir [head of the Syrian Labour Union] that Al-Hariri is a Syrian asset that we should not weaken but strengthen. This is one incident. When Gen Lahhud was elected president, he visited Damascus. President Hafiz al-Asad asked him: Who is the next prime minister? President Lahhud replied it is Dr Salim al-Huss. President Hafiz al-Asad said: No, Rafiq al-Hariri should be the prime minister. Lebanon needs him and we need him.

[Qunaybir] Nevertheless, it was Al-Huss who became prime minister?

[Khaddam] Why did he become prime minister? Because President Lahhud put up obstacles, which made Al-Hariri apologize. Salim al-Huss was appointed as prime minister. In the second stage, that is during the rule of President Bashar, the approach changed. The campaigns launched by President Lahhud and the Lebanese intelligence agencies against Al-Hariri were fierce. President Bashar al-Asad was influenced by these campaigns. Thus, the tension caused by the Syrian leadership continued. Al-Hariri tried to deal positively with Syria and make some concessions in order not to anger the Syrian leadership.

[Qunaybir] In addition to Rustum Ghazali, who were the members of the circle that was instigating President Al-Asad against Rafiq Al-Hariri?

[Khaddam] In the first place, these campaigns were launched by the Lebanese circle, including President Lahhud, Jamil al-Sayyid, the security agencies and some Lebanese figures who were harmed by Al-Hariri. The serious instigation came from the Lebanese side. I want to quote a small example. Jean Ubayd is a well-known friend of Syria. He rejected the decision to extend [the term of President Lahhud]. He was a candidate for the post of president. The Lebanese intelligence presented a report to Anjar [the headquarters of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon] and then to Damascus, saying that Jean Ubayd, who was the foreign minister, met the US ambassador in his car at night to hatch a plot. We believed the report and boycotted Jean Ubayd. This is an example of what was happening. Jean Ubayd was the foreign minister. If he wanted to meet the US ambassador, he could have done so at the ministry or at his house. Why should he meet him in his car? Was Ubayd that stupid to hold such a meeting in his car? Some Lebanese sides were planning to drag Syria to what it has fallen into.

[Qunaybir] Which sides in Syria, other than the person you have mentioned, were instigating [against Al-Hariri]?

[Khaddam] A few individuals who have limited influence.

[Qunaybir] Were the instigators in Lebanon from the security agencies or did they include political leaders? Can you give us some details?

[Khaddam] Basically, it was the circle of the president of the republic. There were some individuals who had no influence on the decision-making in Syria or Lebanon. These individuals used to convey intelligence information to the security agencies.

Al-Hariri's assassination

[Qunaybir] Are you convinced of Ahmad Abu-Adas's [the alleged suicide bomber who appeared in a video tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera TV claiming the killing of Al-Hariri] story and that a suicide bomber belonging to extremist groups blew himself up?

[Khaddam] He who made up the story of Abu-Adas was extremely stupid. He who fabricated the story of the [Australian] pilgrims was also very stupid. The bombing needed 1,000 kilograms of explosives of a special type. It required highly-sophisticated technical equipment to disable the jamming equipment used in Al-Hariri's motorcade. Can Ahmad Abu-Adas bring such a quantity of explosives? If he was in a car, where is his body or remains? I do not think that any sane person can believe that Ahmad Abu-Adas was behind the crime.

[Qunaybir] You mean that from a security perspective, the matter required the intervention of the party which had control on the ground at the time to carry this out?

[Khaddam] I do not want to level accusations, but this matter requires high technical resources, a large amount of explosives and an active agency for control that consists of not less than 20 people, as well as management of this big operation. What organization and which person can bring 1,500 or 1,000 kg of explosives? Neither Ahmad Abu-Adas nor Ahmad Abu-Hummus [Khaddam is being sarcastic about the name; adas means lentils in Arabic and hummus means chickpeas]. This is a big operation and there is an agency behind it. Which agency is it? This is what the investigation should reveal.

[Qunaybir] Are you talking about a Syrian, Lebanese or Israeli agency? We want to know. Can you be more specific?

[Khaddam] I am talking about a security agency. I do not want to make accusations. There is an investigation commission. I personally have confidence in it and all the parties in Lebanon have confidence in the commission. Once this commission discovers the truth, we can say that it was this or that agency. But no-one can carry out such a big operation except a strong agency with huge resources.

Mehlis report "technical and professional"

[Qunaybir] What is your opinion of the content of the Detlev Mehlis report about the circumstances of the assassination?

[Khaddam] We all know the circumstances. The campaign against Prime Minister Al-Hariri was by some of our friends. Sulayman Franjiyah said that [the assassination of] Prime Minister Al-Hariri had been a foreign plan since 1996. This was said one week or 10 days before the assassination. Prime Minister Umar Karami said that Al-Hariri and Junblatt are implementing an American plan. Talal Arsalan, Asim Qansuh, Wi'am Wahhab - all members of this group had launched a poisonous campaign against Prime Minister Al-Hariri. Then there was the issue of oil.

[Qunaybir] When he was accused of distributing oil for electoral purposes?

[Khaddam] Yes, yes. [This was the substance] of all these campaigns.

[Qunaybir] Do you think that the Mehlis report did injustice to some Lebanese and Syrian parties and that it levelled accusations without offering material evidence, as the critics of the report say, or do you see in it an accurate description of what happened prior to the assassination?

[Khaddam] I am a lawyer. The report is technical and professional. He provided the gist of what he has. He cannot provide what he has because this will affect the integrity of the investigation. Mehlis is a professional man and he is a well-known judge. His report is a good, professional report. He avoided politicizing the investigation although it is a political crime. The suspects politicized the investigation. They politicized the investigation when he issued the report, yet they praise the investigation when the report is quiet [sentence as heard].

Syrian reaction to death of Al-Hariri

[Qunaybir] How did you in Syria receive the news of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri? What was the reaction of the Presidential Palace, President Al-Asad, the circle around him and the officials in general?

[Khaddam] We had a meeting at the Regional Command. After the meeting, we were sitting in the room of one of the members of the command. The news came out. I personally was shocked. All those present said that this was a disaster for Lebanon and that it harms Syria. However, if we want to see what the reaction was, we will take it from a statement by Faruq al-Shar'a. Faruq al-Shar'a was meeting [Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel] Moratinos. Reporters asked Al-Shar'a this question: There was an explosion in Lebanon that claimed the life of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, what is your reaction? He said: There was a big explosion in Lebanon and it claimed the lives of a number of Lebanese brothers. He had never heard the name of Rafiq al-Hariri. Rafiq al-Hariri had become unknown and his name unfamiliar. On the other hand, Moratinos spoke for several minutes about Prime Minister Al-Hariri and about his traits. Of course, this statement or reaction reflects the inner feeling towards Prime Minister Al-Hariri.

Extension of President Lahhud's term

[Qunaybir]What was your personal view on extending the mandate of Emile Lahhud, knowing that you were one of those who supported extending the mandate of Elias al-Hirawi?

[Khaddam] When the name of Gen Emile Lahhud was first put forward for president of Lebanon I opposed the idea. When [late] President Hafiz al-Asad asked why I said: Lebanon cannot tolerate a military rule.

[Qunaybir] Did you expect a difference between Lahhud and Al-Hariri?

[Khaddam] Yes, yes, yes. So I opposed the idea twice: when his name was first presented to become the president and when it came to extending his mandate. With regards to extending Lahhud's term in office, I met President Bashar al-Asad on 18 August 2004 to bid him farewell before I went on leave abroad. I asked him: Will there be an extension for President Lahhud? He said: Absolutely not. I told him: Be careful. Let nobody drag you into extending his term. Neither you nor Syria or Lebanon can tolerate extending Lahhud's term. The extension will have dire consequences for both Syria and Lebanon. He said: This issue is out of the question.

A few days later, Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri phoned me. He said: Your people have changed their mind. I was summoned to Damascus for 15 minutes and President Bashar al-Asad wanted to extend.

The conversation was brief and we did not discuss the details. He asked me: What is your opinion? I told him: Extend and then resign. You cannot bear the consequences of your refusal to extend.

[Qunaybir] In what sense will he not have been able to tolerate the consequences? Do you mean political -

[Khaddam, interrupting] He will be exposed to great pressures.

[Qunaybir] Did you mean political or security pressures?

[Khaddam] From all aspects. I asked him about the stand of Walid Junblatt because he gave me the same advice during a visit with me.

After I returned to Syria from my leave, President Bashar al-Asad received me on 6 September. He began to speak about his talks with [US Congressman] Darrell Isa and Martin Indyk, as well as the forthcoming visit by a US delegation. He then said: The Americans are not interested in Lebanon, they are interested in Iraq. He asked me: Did you follow the news? I answered: Yes. He asked: What do you think? I told him: Syria is within the circle of danger and you placed it in the centre of danger.

[Qunaybir] This was three days after Resolution 1559 was issued?

[Khaddam] Yes. I told him: You have placed Syria in the centre of danger. What have you done? The Lebanese are against us, the Arabs are against us, and Europe and America are also against us. Now after 30 years in Lebanon, Syria has only two men - Emile Lahhud and Sulayman Franjiyah - to endorse as presidents of Lebanon. If Syria has only these two people, this will be evidence of the failure of Syria's policy in Lebanon.

[Qunaybir] He has always repeated that [Resolution] 1559 was prepared before the extension and it has noting to do - [question incomplete]

[Khaddam] I will touch on this later. He said: What shall we do? You can only confront Resolution 1559 through serious dialogue with the Christian party - with Patriarch [Sfayr], with Qurnit Shahwan - I also gave some names - and bringing Walid Junblatt back.

[Qunaybir] Why was there no dialogue with this Christian party when you were part of the decision-making? Samir Ja'ja was in prison, Michel Awn and Amin al-Jumayyil were in exile, Al-Jumayyil returned to Lebanon later, Patriarch Sfayr made several appeals to implement the Al-Ta'if agreement, but these appeals were not heard. Why were the objections of the Christian party not heard when you were among the decision-makers?

[Khaddam] First, this is untrue. Umar Karami formed the second cabinet when President Elias al-Hirawi was in office. Samir Franjiyah [as heard, he means Samir Ja'ja] is accused of killing the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami. Who convinced Umar Karami to accept Samir Ja'ja as a minister in his cabinet? Samir Ja'ja was a minister in the government of Umar Karami.

[Qunaybir] Before Al-Hariri became the prime minister?

[Khaddam] Yes, in 1991.

[Qunaybir] Samir Ja'ja apologized for not accepting the portfolio and designated Roger Dib.

[Khaddam] Yes, he designated Roger Dib. This did not come from a vacuum. It was the result of a dialogue with the Lebanese Forces, as well as with the other Christian parties. Even when Michel Awn was under the siege, we asked President Al-Hirawi to offer him the Ministry of Defence in the cabinet which he intended to form.

We contacted all parties. I recall I contacted Prime Minister Umar Karami who came to Damascus in the evening. I asked him: What do you think if we ask you to become the prime minister? The man's face became red; he was surprised. He said: Yes, I agree. I told him, however, the government should be a national coalition government in which there will be persons whom you hate. He said: Who are they? I told him: Samir Ja'ja. He frowned and said: What shall I say to Prime Minister Rashid Karami, who was killed by Samir Ja'ja, when I meet him in front of God and he asks me how I included Ja'ja in my government? I told him: You tell Rashid Karami that you accepted him in your government to stop the killing in Lebanon. He was hesitant and leaning towards rejection. So I told him: Do not give me your decision now. Go to Beirut and discuss the matter with your friends and allies before you inform me of your decision. After arriving in Beirut within two hours, he contacted me to say that he agrees to form the government. And the government was formed and Samir Ja'ja and Elie Hubayqah were included in it.

So Syria made great efforts. However, the dialogue and dealing cannot be unilateral. Samir named Roger Dib and differences erupted between Samir Ja'ja and other Lebanese parties. And when Roger Dib left the government Syria did not ask him to leave. We wanted all parties to be represented in the government. Some Lebanese politicians objected to the cabinet formation. We told them: Warlords should be there. How can you end the presence of militias and disarm them while the warlords are outside the government? Warlords should be there to disarm the militias. And this is what happened.

[Qunaybir] Wasn't Ja'ja sent to prison because he foiled the tripartite agreement, which was called the Khaddam agreement?

[Khaddam] The tripartite agreement is something else.

[Qunaybir] So you had nothing to do with sending Samir Ja'ja to prison and with overtaking Gen Awn's positions. Were these Lebanese decisions?

[Khaddam] The decision to take over Awn's positions was a 100 per cent Lebanese decision. President Elias al-Hirawi used to frequently send Khalil al-Hirawi and Antoine Jadid to ask Syria and to put pressure on Syria to send its troops to end the problem of Michel Awn. We told him: We need a cabinet decision to intervene. He summoned the cabinet and adopted a decision. In fact, we were hesitant. We were trying peaceful means. President al-Hirawi reached the stage of resigning. He said: You are in Lebanon to help the Lebanese government. So we intervened to end the problem. Even after the intervention, we proposed that Gen Awn become the minister of defence in the government. We did not overlook any opportunity. We maintained contacts with all parties.

As for the imprisonment of Samir Ja'ja, I have no idea about it. All I know is that he was accused of blowing up the church and then the case of late Prime Minister Rashid Karami was opened. This matter was not discussed on the political level in Syria.

Al-Ta'if Agreement

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: This is a new question which will not be flattering to you. You are accused of freezing the implementation of the Al-Ta'if accord; you say you are one of its co-authors. Why has this accord not been implemented over all these years when you were in charge of the Lebanese file? This is so that we do not blame the Bashar al-Asad regime for all mistakes. It has been said that you were to blame for freezing the implementation of the Al-Ta'if accord.

[Khaddam] First, the Al-Ta'if accord was not frozen. Nonetheless, it was not implemented as it should have been implemented. The Lebanese administration is primarily to blame for this. The Al-Ta'if accord devised a formula for managing the governance of Lebanon. This formula was partially implemented. The Al-Ta'if accord provided for organizing Syrian-Lebanese ties. The Syrian-Lebanese Brotherhood Treaty, which organized these ties, was signed. Was it implemented? The Syrian and Lebanese sides showed negligence in this regard. Were there violations? Yes, there were violations which we and the Lebanese side committed. That is, the Lebanese side of the Al-Ta'if accord was implemented, but partially. With regard to the talk on a national unity government, the Al-Ta'if accord spoke of a national unity government. Such a government, a national unity government, was formed under Prime Minister Umar Karami in 1991. All parties without exception were represented in that government. Afterward, elections were held. It is true that the Election Law was flawed. Nonetheless, elections were held, and these elections produced a Chamber of Deputies in which there was a minority and a majority. The make-up of the governments reflected the political approaches of the blocs represented in the Chamber of Deputies. It goes without saying that most blocs were friendly or close to Syria. Hence, there was the view that Syria tampered with the Al-Ta'if accord. As to whether there was intervention on our part in the formation of governments, yes, we intervened in this matter, but when? This happened when a prime minister was assigned the task of forming a government and the prime minister-designate differed with the president of the republic. Then, the two approached us to help them reach an agreement.

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, with regards to the Syrian side of the accord, why was there no partial Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon whatsoever before 1999, 10 years after the signing of the Al-Ta'if accord?

[Khaddam] No Syrian withdrawal was carried out at that stage for two reasons: as a matter of fact, there was a reason pertaining to Lebanon, and another reason pertaining to Syria. The Lebanon-related reason is that, given that the army was not fully reconstituted, the Lebanese government was afraid of the possibility of the emergence of a security flaw, particularly since we know that there were several issues which could have given rise to tension in Lebanon. The reason that pertains to Syria is that Israeli troops were in southern Lebanon. Nonetheless, I support you in that Syria should have implemented the Al-Ta'if accord and redeployed its troops to the area specified in this accord following the withdrawal of the Israeli troops. When this [the Israeli withdrawal] happened, I was not part of the political decision-making process, particularly with regards to Lebanon. That is because since 1998 I had not been in charge of the Lebanese file.

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: Thank you for this exclusive interview. Thank you for all your answers. Esteemed viewers: Thank you for following the interview.

[Khaddam] Thanks to the Al-Arabiya team for giving me this opportunity to talk on the issues that are of concern to Syrians and Arabs at this stage. I wish you success.

Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1900 gmt 30 Dec 05
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