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

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

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive - £20,000 OTE - Uncapped

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company a...

Recruitment Genius: Solutions Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a Solutions Consultant for this Professiona...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small family run HR consultancy based ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in Shrops...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd make sure half of Parliament was female, and have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment

Gill Slocombe
The seven leaders of Britain's main political parties took part in the general election live debate (AFP)  

General Election 2015: The idea that one party can represent all that we believe in just doesn’t apply any more

Armando Iannucci
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders