Syrian president urges solid Turkey-Israel relations

Syrian president urges solid Turkey-Israel relations

Turkey cannot play a significant role in the Middle East peace process if the country does not maintain calm relations with Israel, says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an exclusive interview with daily Hürriyet. Meanwhile, Israel should understand that peace is the only security, he says

Turkey should have good relations with Israel if the former wants to facilitate Syrian-Israeli negotiations, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an exclusive interview with daily Hürriyet at the presidential palace in Damascus.

“Otherwise, how can [Turkey] have a significant role in peace process?” al-Assad said, when asked if an improvement in Turkey-Israel relations would benefit Syria. 

In response to a question about whether al-Assad could imagine the situation from Israel’s perspective – as a small country squeezed in between Arab states – and whether a just solution for Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis is possible, he said: “The source of the problem is the Israeli invasion of others’ land. If there is an invasion, people react. Therefore, the thing to do is to withdraw from the occupied land and sign a peace treaty.”

There is one clear message that Israel should understand, al-Assad said: “Only peace can protect the Israelis. If they believe they are defenseless, it is not war, but peace that can protect them. The experiences in Lebanon and Gaza showed them that they cannot reach a conclusion by military means and moreover, that these means will drag them to failure.”

‘No’ to nuclear weapons in the region

On the subject of Iran pursuing nuclear weapons, al-Assad said Syria’s position is clear: “We do not want to see nuclear weapons in the Middle East.” He said there is no need for nuclear weapons in the region and that, naturally, Israeli nuclear weapons are included in this statement. But al-Assad does not believe that Iran is producing nuclear weapons. “They do not need these weapons. They only want the technology, which is their right.”

About Turkey’s relations with the European Union, al-Assad said Syria has never thought that Turkey should be a part of the Muslim world alone, which would itself be harmful to Muslims. “The worst thing for a country is self-isolation. No one can isolate you, but you can isolate yourself. We will become stronger as we become more open. That is why I support relations between the EU and Turkey,” he said.

Al-Assad also said that he supports Turkey’s relations with the United States, even though his country does not enjoy strong relations with Washington, as Turkey can help bridge diplomatic gaps for Syria as a friendly neighbor.

When asked whether Turkey helps Syria concerning the United States, al-Assad said: “Turkey [was helping Syria] before Syria even asked because Turkey is a country that pays attention to the reality [in Syria]. This is to the benefit of Syria because it gives the impression that other countries should recognize Syria as well.”

What Turkey means for Syria

Moving beyond the fact that Turkey and Syria are neighbors, al-Assad said it was necessary to improve relations, as between two sisters, in response to a question about how the two countries were able to draw closer together. Al-Assad also addressed what Turkey means to Syria, both now and in the past.

“It take more than a couple of years to see relations improve. There is a solid base at the grassroots level in both countries. If you look at the reaction of the Turkish people against certain incidents, in particular what has happened in Gaza, you see that the feelings of both sides are the same. There is rage against what the Arab people experienced,” he said.

The president said that he, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, President Abdullah Gül and former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer have had an active role in improving relations. But grass-roots support played an important role, he said.

In addition, Sezer attended the funeral of President Hafez al-Assad in 2000, establishing contact that remained active. Also, while serving as prime minister, Gül visited Syria, inviting al-Assad for a return visit.

PKK members can return like ‘Muslim Brothers’

In response to a question about a previous statement by al-Assad, who stated that members of the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, who are of Syrian origin may return to Syria, al-Assad said they would be prevented from standing trial. “Rather than an amnesty, what is on the agenda here is a policy that will prevent these people from being recognized as individuals who should be tried in the courts,” he said.

Al-Assad said the process in Turkey is similar to that which Syria experienced regarding members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organization.

“They came to Syria without amnesty,” he said. “We allowed them to return. ‘This is an issue belonging to past. They do not need to go to court to be found guilty or not guilty,’ we said. You have two means at your disposal – one is legal, one is political. We did not send them to court because we did not identify that there is a crime. We know that these people left Syria to participate in different groups in other countries. And naturally, we are against this politically.”