"Rogue" Syrian Ambassador Gets Serious
Just 24 hours after a troubled 3rd year law student at UC Hastings threatened a suicide leap off the school’s landmark tower, a high ranking diplomat from a “Rogue State”, made a brave appearance in the same potentially contentious academic environment. While not as visually dramatic as the hysterical student with her cellphone in hand being talked down by police negotiators from her 21st floor perch, the ground floor speech by the Syrian Ambassador (and fellow blogger) Imad Moustapha dealt with matters of a far more grave consequence than a student’s bizarrely botched love life.
Mustapha, made an eloquent spokesman for a nation that most Americans can’t fathom, find on a map, and perhaps hear only about when a Fox News correspondent mentions it’s candidacy for the Bush administration’s “Axis of Evil”. Just steps from the plaza named after the United Nations he spoke of some of the inner machinations of that body that left his countrymen a bit more than puzzled.
He spoke of a need for better relations between our two countries, and that the smaller Syria would prefer less bullying & bluster from the current administration. Unlike the reception that awaited Iran’s President Ahmadinejad at Columbia in New York, Imad Moustapaha found a far more colloquial reception at the state’s oldest law school.
He claimed he turned down speaking at the local Commonwealth Club in favor of appearing before law students, as a deference to his life before international diplomacy took him away from his job teaching computer science in Damascus.
Fluent in four languages, co-author of the UN-sponsored “Human Development Report in the Arab World”, Moustapha holds a Phd he earned in the UK, and was Dean of IT at the University of Damascus before accepting his Ambassadorship in 2004. Equally parts charming, witty and defensive of Syria’s political positions, the Ambassador relayed tales of his transistion from simple academic life driven by science to life on the diplomatic frontlines, and his small country’s larger perspective on world events and relationships. He brought to San Francisco his perspectives from 4000 year old Damascus, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and he referred to Cairo and Baghdad as baby cities , since they are only some 1000 years old.
Moustapha, standing under a rotating slide show of his country’s treasures and sites, gave brief introductory statements, but spent most of his hour with the students engaged in Q&A. Unfortunately, not that many questions came down the pipe because some of these were “big” questions, not easily answered in short soundbites when involving complex and sometimes confrontational geo-political issues.
More after the jump…
“We are obsessed in Syria by the coming Arab/Isreali conflict, and we believe that the only possibility that this conflict would be resolved is through the brokerage of the United States of America…. The U.S is the only country in the world that has any sort of leverage with Israel, and therefore can eventually broker a peace agreement…”
Moustapha explained that while US relations have never been easy, Syria fought alongside us in the first gulf war when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Syria, a secular nation fully aware of the dangers of Muslim extremists was also eager to offer “actionable intelligence” to the US following 9-11, and was thanked by Colin Powell for literally “saving American lives”.
Problems have since exasperated with the Bush administration’s insistence to invade Iraq, and Moustapha was amongst those dispatched to Washington D.C to advise the U.S against such a move, arguing with US diplomats who basically laughed at their contentions.
“We tried to convince them for a variety of reasons. We came and we argued
with the top U.S officials we have met, that contrary to what they believed, or they were told, for the United States to invade and occupy Iraq would open up a Pandora’s Box of woes & evils. We told them, “Look, we belong to the middle east, this is our region, for you to go there would be unleashing forces you truly do not understand… You will inflame anti Western sentiments, you will inflame muslim extremism across the middle east….You will create many more problems than you are thinking you are addressing or resolving.”
While the contentions were spelled out, and concluded that the situation
would become unstable & devolve into a futile bloody political quagmire,
Mustapha painfully recalled that the Syrian delegation were “Mocked to the face!”
” I remember them telling us, “You claim to represent the middle east, well let us tell you what will happen in the middle east after we liberate Iraq. Iraq will become a model of prosperity and democracy that will inspire the whole middle east. Believe us that within two to three months, every nation in the middle east will be dreaming of having the same fate as that of Iraq.”
Ironically, despite hoping for help from the U.S to resolve the Isreali / Arab land for peace issues, he drew a line in the sand at the region needing anymore U.S political pressure.
Moustapha finds the current contention that we must divide Iraq into three states a disastrous result that comes from misunderstanding the culture of the Middle East in the first place. He compared this idea with that of his own country that is built on a mosaic of ethnicities and factions, and despite 2000 years of historical precedence would imagine “some world power” coming through there and instantly declaring that some 40 nations must be established.
“Islam is 1,450 years old in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites have coexisted in Iraq for 1,450 years in Iraq, never once engaging in a civil war until the US invasion.”
He tried to argue recently with Sen. Biden that “you cannot sit comfortably in your armchair in Washington and decide on behalf of the Iraqi people what should happen in Iraq, and how many states their country should now be divided in… I pleaded with him that you cannot take a pen and drawing on a map 3 entities and voila!! everything is resolved,” It is inevitable there will still be bloodshed, further atrocities and resistance to whatever a foreign power inflicts or demands.
He surmised that enough is enough.
“Thank You very much, you have already introduced democracy and prosperity into Iraq, don’t offer us anymore of your bright ideas of what should happen in the middle east…”
Despite the chuckles from the audience, he said the people of Syria know it is no joke, as they have seen the devastation and destruction heaped upon their neighboring country, Iraq. A destruction that did not spare libraries, mosques or other civilian structures. “We have seen how the museums were ransacked, how the universities were destroyed and how the whole state’s structure was degraded.”
They are not eager to have their universities, libraries, museums and 4000 years of cultural history dismantled by a foreign power. Instead, they preemptively sought a UN resolution declaring the whole middle east “a region absolutely free of all weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical, biological or nuclear”. They wanted the UN security council to enforce this with all potential means & modalities to insure the region be secured. Yet as soon as it was brought forth as a suggestion, the US immediately vetoed it. This was in spite of the fact the official U.S policy says it is opposed to any & all WMD proliferations in the region.
“The true fact is though, the reason the US vetoed this resolution is that Israel already has compiled a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons.”
“In this unfair world we live in the United States is comfortable with the double standard it applies on the middle east. Israel is totally permitted to have the highest nuclear warhead count per capita in the world, yet all other countries in our part of the world who attempt to acquire nuclear technology will face consequences.”
Syrians, the Ambassador said, are aware that when no WMDs were found in Iraq, the Bush administration pointed the public finger of suspicion towards Syria, and have made numerous claims that Syria is attempting to acquire nuclear technology.
“We know that if we made any attempts to acquire nuclear technology the gates of hell would open up on us.”
Moustapha relayed that Syria “Is no dummy. We are not naive.”
“We know that the only resolution of the Arab & Israeli conflict is by reaching, a peaceful, fair, comprehensive agreement between the Arabs & Israelis.
Moustapha brought up a recent Israeli airstrike done by jets, “incidentally made in the United States” on a Syrian military target. While unconfirmed by the US or Israel, commercial satellite photos seem to confirm the claim that Israeli jets bombed a remote Syrian site believed by some “intelligence” to be a nuclear research center of some sort. Moustapha finds it “extraordinary”, “flabbergasting & mind boggling” that the NY Times and Washington Post repeatly verbatim “intelligence” claims that Syria is developing nuclear weapons in conjunction with the North Koreans.
Moustapha says these are tall tales that are “absolutely false”, and that they remind him “of the stories we used to hear during the run up for the war on Iraq”. He brought up the image of Colin Powell waving his stack of purported documented proof of WMDs at the U.N and said simply
His voice quavered and got squeaky as he said
“We don’t understand the machinations, or the way they think… the neo-conservatives in the administration…have been extremely upset about the agreements with North Korea which will have them dismantling their Nuclear capability and arsenal. John Bolton wrote editorials, went on the record, on Fox News and he said
“The United States should not negotiate with “rogue states”…. The implication being that The United States should only bomb them… never negotiate.”
Bolton’s current position as relayed by Moustapha :…
“He went on the record and said,
“the Fact that North Korea has smuggled it’s weapons into Syria, “…and this proves the viewpoint we should not have signed an agreement. This is why we should revoke the agreement.”
This is a purely American story that is very obviously damaging to my country.”
Moustapha insisted emphatically that these ” are absolute total lies about Syria having any nuclear installations, or any nuclear relations with North Korea”.
When asked about the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he claimed that Syria had much more to lose with that occurrence and had nothing officially to do with that incident.
“Nothing has been more damaging to Syria and the Syrian national interest than this single ugly terrible crime.”
Hariri was Lebanese prime minister for some 10 years, much of that under Syrian occupation, and according to Moustapha he was considered their closest ally in that country. Mustapha suggest one “google” the last four reports on the Hariri assassination that were submitted to the UN security council and read about the praise for Syria’s cooperation in the investigation on the assassination.
He suggested that despite Syrian/Lebanese tensions over the years, historically Syria has never been as aggressively against the Lebanese people as a certain other neighbor in the region. Syria never permanently
occupied Lebanon’s land, has never taken control of it’s housing, or ever uprooted it’s olive trees for example.
Moustapha hinted that destabilizing outside forces attempting to manipulate the region’s tensions could have been involved in the Hariri assassination , and that Syria itself has a large reward to find any Syrians that could possibly be involved in that incident.
Moustapha explained that there was no advantage to the death of Hariri for Syria’s gov’t, and how the charismatic Hariri’s absence from the political stage really only boosts political positions of anti-Syrian political groups, as well as Israel. Moustapha pointed out some of these contradictory facts, and that Syria has been deeply harmed by the spreading of the contention that they are responsible for Hariri’s death.
The region is so embroiled in strife that it’s easy to exploit sectarian conflicts for political gains, and neither Israel’s Mossad or Al Qaeda for that matter have never been shy about crossing borders to kill before. A secular state with more to lose than gain like Syria is far less likely to make a move that would inflame sectarian & political turmoil.
Moustapha explained that unlike the US, Syria maintains good relations with Iran, because there is no reason not to. They do not share a common border, and last time they checked it was not Iran occupying or bombing anyone in the middle east. Iran is Syria’s number 3 trade partner after Turkey, and the EU and they have had no problem historically with Iran.
He reluctantly admitted that the Arab world has it’s problems and that he is attempting to work on many of Syria’s internal problems including educational reform & health care. Moustapha, tended to deflect criticism by pointing things out to critics that reinforced his position that the Arab world has a right to it’s autonomy and that he was resigned to the belief that true
“democracy is an unattainable ideal…but it is still a process.”
“Look at the United States… how you have had slavery, civil liberties, corruptions in the congress… then corrections. The history of democracy is a process, an evolution… but there are setbacks,. You have Patriot Act 1 and 2, wiretapping, Guantanamo Bay… it’s a process. Sometimes you move forward, sometimes you move a little bit backward. This process is inevitable and it will happen everywhere in the world. Regardless of any country in the world, it will happen, but you cannot impose this. Definitely it must develop within, taking into account the context of each country. “
“You are the only country that allows minors to serve a life sentence for crimes committed as a minor. You are the only country that would allow this. We consider this an infringement on human rights, you consider it an American way.”
“We are not as democratic as you. You are not as democratic as you were 100 years ago. I am not comparing.. .I am reminding… attempts to open up and become more politically open in the middle east have been thwarted by the US invasion and occupation in Iraq…”
“There should be a vision for the future…We have many problems in Syria, I am not hiding them, but we are caught between the hammer and the hard place. No many has asked me at all about the repercussions of the Iraq war on syria. Nobody asked me about the 1.6 million Iraqi war refugees in Syria. Nobody has asked me about how unstable the middle east has become because of these conflicts. they are affecting our lives. Deep in our psyche the hurt is so painful. This pain of living under occupation, this despair, it creates extremism. This type of pain, for example, of the Palestinian, affects the life of every Arab citizen. Regardless of what President Bush says, it affects us. This is why it is so vital, so important, for us, for the Israelis, and the United States of America to find and broker peace in the middle east.”
“What is extraordinary is that this administration has opposed Syrians and Israelis talking peace. In the past the US tried very hard to bring peace, to broker peace, to host peace talks. With this administration it was clearly & officially the policy to oppose any & all talks between Syria and Israel. If there is no participation of the US , no talks, there can be no peace.”
With that he left some room for disagreement, but there was no doubt he was a sincere spokesman for an oft misunderstood country.