Lally Weymouth's interview with Syrion President Hafez Assad in Outlook Aug. 14 should have been credited to The Los Angeles Times.
Q: What are Syria's intentions and what are your requirements in Lebanon?
A: Our intentions and our requirements in Lebanon are that Lebanon should be a free country and active member within the Arab framework, free of Israeli invasion and hegemony, doing its duties and exercising its rights within the framework of its Arab identity and its Arab obligations, the same as Syria and the rest of the Arab countries. These are our intentions and requirements.
Q: The American aim as I understand it is to make an arrangement whereby the Syrians and the Israelis would withdraw from Lebanon. But if America refuses to abrogate the Israeli-Lebanese accord, are there any conditions under which you would consider a withdrawal of Syrian troops and what are they?
A: It is a mistake for anyone to believe or to think that we will ever leave Lebanon as a morsel which it is easy for the Israelis to swallow. Lebanon is an Arab country with whom we are bound by a common history and a common destiny. Therefore, the problem is not the problem of the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon. There is no need for anybody to persuade us to withdraw our troops from Lebanon. If really the intention of the United States is this, then it has only to make Israel implement the U.N. Security Council Resolutions 508 and 509 concerning the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
These two resolutions stipulate that Israel should withdraw completely from Lebanese territory without imposing any conditions on Lebanon. Here we should observe that the U.S. voted in favor of these two resolutions.
Q: What is wrong with the Israeli-Lebanese accord from your point of view?
A: The Israeli-Lebanese accord has restricted the sovereignty of Lebanon and deprived it of the freedom of decision -- such freedom as is enjoyed by any independent country. The Lebanese-Israeli agreement also constitutes a threat to Syria and to the other Arab countries. I'll give a few examples: Under the agreement, Lebanon has no right to have in any part of its territory, any antiaircraft weapons whose range exceeds 15,000 feet. It is not air-to-surface, but surface-to-air. Which means Israel will rule the skies of Lebanon. Because such antiaircraft weapons will not strike against surface targets but against aircraft which come to attack Lebanon. For example, if we take Tripoli, they would strike only against an airplane that would attack Tripoli.
Another example is that Lebanese aircraft cannot fly over the south of Lebanon, which is, of course, Lebanese territory, unless the Israeli authorities are notified. A third example is that if any country -- Arab or non-Arab -- wants to pass in transit through Lebanon weapons purchased somewhere else, the Lebanese governement has no right under the agreement to allow passage of these weapons through its national territory, waters, or skies, unless the importing country establishes diplomatic relations with Israel. A fourth example is that decisions in the south of Lebanon will, under the agreement, be taken jointly by the Israeli and the Lebanese elements.
A fifth example is that the Israeli military elements will remain in the south of Lebanon for an unlimited period of time. With regard to Syria, I will give you only one example. The capital of Israel, Tel Aviv, is approximately 200 killometers away from the Lebanese-Israeli borders, yet Israel has added another 50 kilometers as a security zone inside the territory of Lebanon in which there will be Israeli military elements.
On the other hand, the border of the security zone in which Israeli military elements will stay is only 20-24 kilometers from Damascus, the capital of Syria. The Israeli soldier will be at a distance of 24 kilometers from Damascus while the Syrian soldier will be 250 kilometers away from Tel Aviv. That's why we say the U.S should be unbiased. There is no similar agreement between any two countries in the world. Therefore, I do not think that anyone who studies this agreement objectively expects Syria to accept it. Because anyone who reads this agreement carefully will understand why we have called it an agreement of submission or an agreement under duress.
Q: Will you seek out a way out of this impasse?
A: America masterminded this agreement. America has to abrogate it. Because this agreement is against any logic. Such an agreement occurs only in one condition -- namely, when there is a large and widespread war such as a world war, when one side crushes the other side and imposes surrender upon it. What happened in Lebanon was quite different. There was no war fought between Lebanon and Israel, so how could Israel end the war by crushing Lebanon? Secondly, even if there had been a war between the two countries, it would not have led to the results of a world war.
Q: Will Lebanon be partitioned between Israel and Syria?
A: The word "partition" is not the correct word in this context because, as you know, Syria has been in Lebanon for eight years. The correct expression is that Israel has occupied and annexed to it the south of Lebanon. Israel is the foreign element which entered into Lebanon.
Q: Do you believe the Israelis will withdraw or that they will remain in the south of Lebanon and perform a de facto annexation? I read that McFarlane talked of a timetable for withdrawal -- is there anything to that?
A: Taking into consideration that Israel has designs and is working for achieving wide expansionist moves from time to time within the framework of accomplishing greater Israel which extends from the Euphrates to the Nile, and remembering the memorandum which was presented by the representatives of the Zionist movement after World War I to the peace conference in Paris (which suggested that the headwaters of the Litani River in what is now far southern Lebanon be part of what is now Israel), then we will come to the conclusion that Israel really wants to annex the south of Lebanon. And we will realize that it is not in vain nor is it a coincidence that the line to which Israel plans to withdraw under the so-called redeployment of forces is proposed in that memorandum presented by the Zionist movement to the peace conference in 1919 . .. the Awwali River
Q: Why was (American Middle East negotiator Philip) Habib no longer welcome in Damascus?
A: Mr. Habib did not honor the commitments which he undertook on behalf of the American administration in accordance with the cease-fire agreement reached on June 11, 1982. These undertakings required a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanese territory and required that the Israeli withdrawal should begin immediately upon the start of the cease-fire agreement. There was nothing required from the Palestinians or the Syrian forces in Lebanon. The only thing which it was said was required to be accomplished was certain security arrangements in the south of Lebanon, similar to those which were made in 1978.
Philip Habib was to accomplish these arrangements and to discuss them with the Lebanese government. This we were told but it was not part of the cease-fire agreement. When we asked Mr. Habib why he had not honored his undertaking on behalf of the American administration, his answer was that he could not. Then we said, "What, then, is the meaning of any international agreement, or in this context, what, then, was the meaning of undertakings made on behalf of the American administration?"
Instead of observing the cease-fire and carrying out the undertakings which I have just mentioned, we found the Israelis advancing toward Beirut, destroying and bombing the city and, as it is well known, they demanded the pullout of the Palestinians from Beirut, and later they demanded and are still demanding the pullout of the remaining Palestinians in other parts of Lebanon and they demanded the pullout of the Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Q: How do you see the danger of war between Israel and Syria?
A: We do not deny this danger, nor do we confirm it. But it remains an existing possibility in the light of the permanent Israeli desire of expansion and agression.
Q: (Egyptian) President Mubarak said to me that if the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon, that he believed the Syrians would withdraw from Lebanon. Is he correct?
A: Yes, he is correct provided Israel withdraws without imposing any conditions on Lebanon.
Q: Would the president like to see improved U.S.-Syrian relations? What do you consider necessary for these relations to improve? What do you stand to gain from improved relations?
A: It is our desire to see good relations -- between America and Syria and between America and the Arab world. This requires a fair and unbiased stand on the part of the American administration. If this happens, we will regard it as a gain for us as well as for the United States itself. Because it will be in harmony with its international responsiblity as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. For us, if the United States does not stand against us, and is not biased against us, then this is a gain for us. I have considered it also a gain for the United States, because it is in harmony with its international responsibilities.
Q: What can you tell us about the divisions within Fatah and their implications for the Palestinian people?
A: Such problems which are taking place within the Palestinian sphere are not strange to other revolutions in the world. In any case, we consider these problems an internal matter which concern the Palestinian organizations and specifically the organization which is directly concerned with these problems -- I mean Fatah. We wish to see them find suitable solutions to their differences in such a way as to serve the cause of the Palestinians.
Q: We read that there is Syrian support for the anti-Arafat elements -- Abu Saleh and the rebels. Is this so, why? It seems that by asking Arafat to leave Syria, you made him more popular than he ever made himself. Was this a mistake?
A: Perhaps we did what we did in order to give him the popularity you mentioned. (He laughs.) In Syria we have a constant Palestinian policy regardless of what happens within the organizations that constitute the PLO. We always give them advice. We do what we can to make them safeguard their national unity on a basis which may reinforce their struggle for their cause. As to the problems of Mr. Arafat, it is with his brethren in the organization and not with Syria.
Q: Do you have a vision that one day, under a different government in Israel, that it might be possible for all the peoples of the Middle East -- the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Palestinians and the Israelis -- to live together in peace, and if so, what is your vision?
A: I do not see this as impossible provided that everybody is convinced that the Zionist dreams of expansion and domination cannot be realized.
Q: If you said that an Israeli government would take office which would understand that Zionist expansionist dreams would have to be abandoned, do you think it would be possible for the rest of the peoples of the region to accept the existence of the state of Israel -- say within certain specified borders?
A: Peace in the region can be based on United Nations resolutions which are recognized by the international society. We announced in the past that we abide by these resolutions. Peace may be debated at an international peace conference supervised by the U.N.