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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower