August 06, 2008

Behind the Scenes of Al-Assad's Visit to Iran

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By Ali Nourizadeh

London, Asharq Al-Awsat - An Iranian source, who followed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's talks with his Iranian counterpart, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, during his "very important" visit to Tehran, spoke to Asharq al-Awsat about the content of the talks that the Iranian and Syrian presidents held.

The source said, "Al-Assad did not come to mediate between us and the Europeans. We no longer need a Syrian or non-Syrian mediator because the communication channels between us are open and direct. In fact, Al-Assad visited us to convey his impressions of a private conversation that took place between him and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his recent visit to Paris."

The Iranian source, who earlier accompanied Foreign Minister Manuchehr Motaki on his visits to Ankara and Damascus, said the Syrian president came with some answers to questions that Motaki had raised in Damascus on what Tehran regards as a vague change in the Syrian stand toward regional issues that are of strategic importance to Tehran. The source explained that foremost among these issues is Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq, in addition to Israel. This comes at a time when most decision makers in Iran agree that Tel Aviv seeks to neutralize Damascus prior to carrying out its military strike against Iran, the source added.

Meanwhile, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that variance between the stands of the Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart surfaced during their joint press conference. President Ahmadinejad said at the press conference the two countries hold the same view on the need to confront Israel and the United States. He added that both Iran and Syria are preparing themselves for the collapse of the Zionist entity and that the Zionist entity and US Government's domination and authority are disappearing very fast. These statements embarrassed President Al-Assad who quickly changed the subject and began to explain the bases of his country's policies and his desire for calm and stability to prevail in the region, so that the life of the peoples of the region may revive and the region's states may achieve progress in various spheres.

The guide of the Iranian regime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, held a meeting with the Syrian president. In addition to the president of the republic and some ministers, the guide's senior adviser on political affairs, former Foreign Minister Dr Ali Akbar Velayati, attended the meeting. Khamenei praised the personality of the late Syrian president who established the foundations of the distinguished relations between Tehran and Damascus. Khamenei did not use the familiar words in addressing leaders and heads of nations. Rather, he showed his appreciation toward the Syrian president and addressed him, saying: "My dear, you pursued your late father's policy under which our relations continue to be good and distinguished."

The guide [Khamenei] spoke about the growing phenomenon of resistance in the region and the need to reinforce the role of Islamic revolutionary organizations in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine where Islamic strugglers form a huge force that is able to confront the enemies' conspiracies. Also, he praised Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad. In response to these remarks, the Syrian president pointed out that the valiant Islamic resistance's great successes in Lebanon and the strengthening and expanding standing and role of the Hamas Movement in Palestine, while the enemies weaken every day, are the object of pride and appreciation.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat's sources, President Al-Assad held two rounds of talks with his Iranian counterpart. In the first round, the two presidents met in private in the presence of their Iranian translator in whom President Ahmadinejad has full confidence. In the second round, the talks were attended by the delegation that accompanied the Syrian president, Ahmadinejad's assistant and advisers, and the ministers who are members of the Joint Cooperation Committee between the two countries. Meanwhile, members of the military and security delegation that accompanied the Syrian president held separate talks with the Iranian army chief of staff and commanders of the army, [Revolutionary] Guard, and military intelligence.

With regard to President Sarkozy's statements, which the Syrian president conveyed to Ahmadinejad, they included a warning that failure by Iran to comply with the international community's demand to suspend uranium enrichment -- albeit for a limited period not exceeding six months and not less than six weeks, which is the period set for holding detailed talks between Iran and representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, in addition to Germany-- will close all doors to a settlement. In this case, according to the statements, France and its European partners will not be able to prevent Israel from delivering a devastating strike against the Iranian nuclear and military installations.

Asharq Al-Awsat learned that the French president informed the Syrian president that, if Iran responds to the demand to suspend uranium enrichment, the privileges that Iran might be granted would not be limited to the European incentives. If this happens, France is confident that a new chapter will be opened in Iran's relations with the West in general and the United States in particular. The Americans too will be ready to accept Iran as a regional partner and a major regional power that may play an important role in the peace process in the region.

Going back to the Iranian source who directly followed the talks between Al-Assad and Ahmadinejad and who asked not to be named, he described the two presidents' talks as transparent and frank. The source said that the Syrian president plainly explained the reasons why his country entered indirect talks with Israel, in light of the recent developments in Lebanon. The Syrian president noted that when a half-friendly government and a president trusted by Syria take office in Lebanon, Syria's back will be safe while the situation in the Palestinian territories is not favorable for Israel to separately hold talks with the Palestinian National Authority. He added that, on the other hand, the current situation in Israel increases Syria's chances of restoring its occupied land without making the concessions that Tel Aviv asked for before taking any step toward giving back the occupied Golan to Syria. The Syrian president also asserted that direct talks between his country and Israel might take place soon or later, and that such talks must not be a source of concern to Tehran. Thus, Syria emerged from a difficult test with its head high to prove its sincerity and faithfulness toward its strategic ally, Tehran.

As for the future of Hezbollah, there was a near complete agreement between the two presidents in this respect. However, the Syrian president was less enthusiastic than his Iranian counterpart toward the Hamas Movement. Even though he expressed support for Hamas, he pointed out that Hamas cannot pursue its current policy and it will lose its standing if it continues the confrontations and silences the voices that call for unifying the Palestinian stand. With regard to Iraq, the Iranians expressed their appreciation of the new Syrian stand toward Iraq and of the move by the Syrian president to receive Ammar al-Hakim, son of Abdulaziz al-Hakim, head of the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council. Ammar al-Hakim is getting ready to succeed his father who suffers from ill health.

August 6, 2008 01:07 AM







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