Saturday, October 18, 2008

Secretary Rice on Syria in interview with Al Arabiya

Interview With Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
October 16, 2008
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what is the state of play with the Syrians now? You met with your counterpart, Walid Muallem, for ten minutes, I guess.


QUESTION: And then Ambassador Welch met with him. This was after the Syrians massed troops on the Lebanese borders. And I heard that Secretary Welch, in no uncertain terms, told them that the United States would never accept anything – Syrians exploiting the security situation, whether in Syria or in Lebanon, to intervene militarily in Lebanon. Was this message sent clearly?

SECRETARY RICE: The message has been sent clearly to the Syrians. First of all, we don't believe Lebanese will tolerate such a thing. And Syria is sending signals that it wants a different kind of relationship with Lebanon. It needs now to carry through with that different diplomatic relationship with Lebanon.

We did talk also with the Syrians about the fact that there is an indirect channel with the Israelis through the Turks and what hopes there might be for that. We talked as well about border controls between Syria and Lebanon that would stop the flow of arms. We talked about border controls between Iraq and Syria that would stop the flow of foreign fighters. It was a wide-ranging discussion. There have been some developments that are worth following up on, and that's what David has done.

But the fact is that Syria still needs to make clearer choices about where it stands, about a Middle East in which there is overwhelming commitment to a two-state solution, a Middle East in which there is overwhelming commitment to Lebanon's sovereignty, independence, well-being, free of foreign independence -- interference; a commitment to an Iraq that is stable and democratic, without foreign interference, and fully anchored in the Arab world. These are the essential now agreements, understanding, commitments of most of the states in the Middle East, and Syria needs to be committed to the same thing.

QUESTION: So I have a question or two, if I may.


QUESTION: Speaking of the Turkish role and mediating between Israel and Syria, there's a view in Israel that one of the benefits of peace with Syria, not only ending the state of war, and peace, and all that – trade, but also peeling away Syria from Iran. Is this something that you share and is this something the United States should encourage, pursue, or maybe even reward?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I believe that the problem is that Iran's agenda is overwhelmingly negative for the Middle East. In Lebanon, it's negative. In Iraq, it's negative. In the Palestinian Territories, it's negative. Why? Because it stops the Palestinian people, the Lebanese people, the Iraqi people from pursuing their dreams and aspirations for democracy, prosperity, and safety, and security. And those peoples deserve to have exactly that.

Now, to the degree that Syria is somehow associated with that negative agenda of Iran, it is playing a negative role in the Middle East. I would hope that the fact that there is a channel with the Israelis for a Syrian-Israeli peace – after all, we said at Annapolis, eventually the peace in the Middle East has to be comprehensive.

To the degree that Syria is serious about a correct, proper relationship with Lebanon rather than one that treats Lebanon like a client, to the degree that Syria is indeed serious about following up on the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iraq and stopping these terrorists from coming in, to the degree that Syria is no longer – or does not want to be associated with terrorism – by
the way, with real implications for Syria – when you start seeing the bombings in Syria and extremism in Syria, maybe there's a self-interested reason that Syria ought to be on the side against extremism. So that would – we hope would be the policies that Syria would be prepared to follow.