Robert Fisk: 'Europe has a duty to educate the US about Middle East'

Share
Related Topics

Walid Moallem leans forward in the armchair of the Paris Intercontinental Opera. "It's all on the record," he snaps. It usually is. The Syrians can be up- front when you least expect it. Syria's Foreign Minister is one of their top negotiators, a man who knows Israel's diplomats almost as well as they know themselves, who understands all the traps of the Middle East.

Tell me who murdered Rafiq Hariri, I ask him. And Mr Moallem grins bleakly and reaches into his jacket pocket. His beefy hand emerges clutching a wad of pale green Syrian hundred-pound notes. "Tell me the answer and you can take all my money," he says.

He may see evil among Syria's enemies but he will speak no evil, certainly not of the French. "We are building trust with the French," he says. Syria is ready to co-operate on the prevention of illegal immigration, against "what you in the West call 'terrorism'" and opening a developed economic partnership. And Mr Moallem can be a bit preachy into the bargain.

"You in the West have a moral duty in Europe to educate the United States more about the Middle East. If they don't listen to you, they will not listen to us. They will continue with their mistakes." I don't think they're going to listen, I mutter. But Mr Moallem is in full flow.

"When we announced our position in the Security Council against the invasion of Iraq, the Americans adopted a policy of isolating Syria. We know that the United States is a superpower and many countries prefer to follow its policies without question. We say: 'We differ ... we belong to a region where we are in the middle of the eye of the storm. The United States is 10,000km far away from us. We are directly involved and influenced by regional issues. We consider dialogue, despite differences, is the most important in diplomacy. The message of President Assad to France is that the old policies are wrong, that only dialogue can solve difficult issues."

So, what about the opening of a Syrian embassy in Beirut and a Lebanese embassy in Damascus? "We reached agreement in principle to establish diplomatic relations. Unfortunately, after that, relations between the Syrian and Lebanese government were negative. A lot of Lebanese leaders tried publicly to accuse Syria of many issues [sic] of which Syria is innocent." Were these issues, I ask Mr Moallem, perhaps – well – were they assassinations? "Innocent!" he thunders. "At least, they provide no proof of their accusation. In a negative atmosphere, you cannot establish diplomatic relations. But after the Doha agreement [which called for a unity government in Lebanon and a veto over cabinet decisions by the pro-Syrian opposition] we hope that a positive atmosphere will be created. So now we are talking about two states, two independent sovereign states on an equal footing. The will of each side is to be respected."

And the Hariri tribunal to find his murderers? What did Assad and Sarkozy say about this? "Never mentioned – not once," Mr Moallem replies.

"The French President asked President Assad to help, through his relations with Iran, in inviting international public opinion to understand that the Iranian nuclear programme is a peaceful one ... We stand firmly against the race of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in our region."

So what was the mysterious target of Israel's bombing raid on Syria? "It was a military location," Mr Moallem said slowly. "I can assure you that if it was a nuclear site, it would – after bombing – leave radiation. Do you really think, if our intention was to do this [develop nuclear weapons], we would allow the IAEA inspector to come from Vienna to examine the site?"

Mr Moallem's pound notes remain on the table. But for how long?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
 

To hear the Yes campaigners, you’d think London was the most evil place on Earth

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam