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Imad Moustapha (WEI YAO)
Violence and conflict in Syria have been ongoing for 18 months, and the security situation there continues to deteriorate. Beijing Review reporter Ding Ying recently interviewed Imad Moustapha, Syrian Ambassador to China, who shared his opinion on Syria's situation. The ambassador stressed that only Syrian people have the right to decide the country's future. Excerpts of the interview follow:
Beijing Review: Why do you think violence has persisted in Syria? Is there a civil war in Syria?
Imad Moustapha: I absolutely reject the term "civil war." A civil war indicates that two factions of the people are fighting against each other. It is not our Syrian people who are fighting against other Syrians. The current situation is the national army and security forces in Syria are fighting against armed terrorist groups that are armed and financed by foreign powers.
If the foreign powers had stopped supporting the terrorist groups with arms and money, and most importantly providing safe havens where they can hide, the violence would have stopped many months ago.
What does the opposition want? Is there a possibility that the Syrian Government can carry out some reforms to satisfy the opposition?
This is a very interesting question. First, nobody knows what the opposition wants, because we have 300 groups of opposition. The majority of them don't know each other, and they don't talk to each other. The only thing we know is their source of financing is from some regional countries. The question is whether they have interest in reforms or not.
Syria has a very advanced political system. We have a multiparty system, and we have a multiparty election. These groups usually adhere to extreme Islamic radical fundamentalist viewpoints similar to those espoused by Al Qaeda, which means those guys are not interested in the democratic process, not in political reforms, not even in a normal ordinary life for Syrian people. They want to direct Syria back into the situation similar to that in Afghanistan. These are violent groups, bloody groups. And they are extremists. They disregard political rights, even civil rights for women or for minorities, or for anyone who does not follow their extremely fanatic interpretation of Islam.
Is it possible for all parties to sit together? If not, what is the obstacle?
We need to make a distinction between what we would call patriotic Syrian opposition and Syrian opposition groups that are really mercenaries who take their money from Western powers and who have no independence whatsoever to make decisions. We believe there is a great opportunity to sit with the patriotic opposition who believe in Syrian values. We are willing to find compromise with them, and we are willing to find solutions with them.
Only through dialogue with the patriotic opposition, we can find solutions. But there is also the opposition based in London, Paris and Washington. They spend their time traveling from one five-star hotel to another five-star hotel, in one capital to another. They travel business class using foreign money and they meet Western leaders. Leaders of friendly countries like those of Russia and China met with them and asked them to engage, but they refused. They don't refuse because they think it's good or bad, they refuse because these are the orders they received from Washington. They don't have the freedom to say yes or no. Only if Washington would tell them to sit down and engage in a dialogue, they will. They are irrelevant, because they do not represent Syrian people, not even the Syrian opposition.
The Syrian opposition is mainly patriotic opposition. They do not support armed violent groups, they do not support terrorism. However, they disagree with the government on policies. This is their right and we are willing to sit with them and engage them in a serious constructive political dialogue. Whatever is decided upon by Syrian people, we will freely and democratically approve. The choice should be given to Syrian people.
How do you see Syria's future? And how can there be a resolution?
We are moving on three parallel courses simultaneously. Each course is independent from the others:
On the first road we are obliterating the armed terrorist groups, and we will destroy them. We are fighting against the terrorists, instead of tolerating them. It's a war between us and them. We can never allow them to prevail.
The second path is political reforms and social reforms in Syria. Syria has engaged in very profound, serious political reform. We have drafted a new constitution. It is the most liberal and democratic constitution across the whole Arab world. We have held general elections, and we have allowed passage of new laws and the formation of political parties in Syria. We have passed a large number of very democratic and liberal laws. These laws combined have dramatically changed the political scene in Syria. And we will continue to do this. We believe it's the best road forward for Syria.
The third road is that of being ready and willing for a political engagement with the opposition, even the armed opposition, if they are willing to put down their arms and engage in a political dialogue instead of a violent confrontation. But this does not depend solely on us. We need other parties to agree. The moment they are willing to drop their arms, we are willing to engage them in the political process.
How would you evaluate the role of the United States in the current crisis?
The United States does anything possible to introduce death and destruction to Syria, hoping it can lead Syria into a civil war, or hoping there is a way to find permission from the UN Security Council to launch a war of aggression against Syrian people to destroy Syrian cities and to dismantle the Syrian social fabric. This is exactly what has been done in Iraq and Libya.
Fortunately, I think this time they will not meet success, because first, Syria is a very strong country and Syrian people are very patriotic, and they are not falling prey to propaganda from the West, and second, the very strong position taken by China and Russia at the UN Security Council to support the free will of Syrian people has prevented the United States from having its design to go through the council. This is why Syrian people feel great gratitude for both China and Russia, and also for India, Brazil and South Africa. We believe that they have done a great favor not only for Syria, but the whole international community.
How will Syria react to the Arab world's opinions on the current situation?
The Arab world today is suffering from a great disunity. Many other Arab countries would just follow U.S. policies and directives. This is very sad and unfortunate, but I believe the overwhelming majority of Arab people across the Arab world, understand this is a Western-led campaign against Syria that only serves the interests of the West, not the people of our region.
Syria's economy has been hurt in the turbulence. What's your opinion on the current economic situation in Syria?
The Syrian economy has been badly hurt by the terrorist acts across Syria. These terrorist groups not only attack policemen and army units, they also attack infrastructure like electricity plants, water supply units, dams, bridges, hospitals and schools. They set ablaze factories that are owned by businessmen who refuse to join the armed opposition. This has caused considerable damage to the Syrian economy.
Also, the Western powers led by the United States have imposed severe sanctions on Syria. Now the Syrian economy will face difficulties from which it will not crumble or fall for a simple reason: For decades, we have centered on self-sufficiency. Not only do we produce most of our food, but also for the past 30 years we have been exporting food to neighboring countries. We produce 70 percent of the pharmaceutical drugs we need, and the other 30 percent we will import from countries like India and Cuba. We produce the clothes we wear. We have an economy that is very flexible, and can be readjusted and readapted.
The economic sanctions are making our life difficult, but it's an opportunity to learn how to overcome these sanctions, and help strengthen our economy. The sanctions are bad for us, but in a way they are good because they have highlighted the weaknesses in our economy. This is our opportunity to address those weaknesses. One good thing is that until the crisis, Syria is one of few countries that had no international debts, almost zero. For the past 30 years, we have depended mostly on ourselves. We were not in the business of borrowing money from other countries, so our self-sufficiency has helped us a lot to withstand the economic pressure of this crisis. This is driving the United States crazy, because they really hoped that by August last year the Syrian economy would collapse and the Syrian state would collapse.
We are already making new trade with new partners and strengthening our already existing deals with partners like Venezuela, Russia, Iran, India and China. We believe we still have ample opportunities to develop despite all the hardships.
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