The following interview with Syria’s foreign minister provides a Syrian perspective — which also means a Russian one — on the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
Many thanks to Hellequin GB for translating this article from the German-language service of RT:
Interview with Syria’s foreign minister: “Syrians can return from Germany”
In an interview with Middle East correspondent Katrin Leukefeld, the Syrian Foreign Minister reaffirmed his country’s commitment to peace and reconstruction. War refugees are also welcome “without any preconditions” to return to their country.
The Syrians who left their homes during the war are welcome in Syria.
That’s what Syrian Foreign Minister Feisal Mekdad said in a conversation with Middle East correspondent Karin Leukefeld in Damascus. Syria is working with international humanitarian organizations and countries where the Syrians have found refuge. According to Mekdad, more international support is desired for the return.
“What we really want to see is the United Nations encouraging people to return.”
In the detailed discussion, Mekdad went into Syria’s relations with Europe and explained what Syria expects in order for relations to improve again. He spoke about the possibility of the Syrians returning and the impact of the sanctions on the country.
Turkey is acting like a colonial power and is trying to take control of parts of northern Syria. The USA also tried to establish a new state on Syrian territory in the north-east of the country. The occupation of large parts of Syria by these two countries is unacceptable and contrary to international law and must be ended. However, Syria does not want to start a new, endless war and is relying on the power of dialogue, the United Nations Charter and international law.
Mekdad spoke about Syria’s pre-war plans for the “Five Seas Project,” which aimed to bring many countries in the region together economically, culturally and politically. All good approaches from that time were destroyed by the war. Other topics included Syria’s possible return to the Arab League and the importance of Syria’s bilateral relations with other Arab states.
When asked whether Syria would in future orientate itself away from the West towards the East towards Russia, China and Iran, Mekdad said:
“Where can our place be when all (Western) countries position themselves against Syria? Our politics must be based on the interests of the Syrian people, on international law and on the charter of the United Nations. If countries do not respect all this and want a regime change in Syria, then where should we go? Can we agree with the US administration or the French government that want to occupy Syria, send fighter jets to attack Syria? While the Russian Federation says, we understand Syria’s legitimate position and support the country? In such a situation, of course, we will stand by Russia, China, Iran and other countries.”
The world needs a multipolar system to change the existing balance in which Western countries try to dominate and rule countries around the world against their will, Mekdad said. If the West only pursues its own interests at the expense of other, developing countries, then more and more countries will turn away from them.
Respect for UN Security Council resolutions
The humanitarian aid, which is being sent across borders from Turkey to northern Syria and the Syrian province of Idlib, is controlled by organizations listed as terrorists by the UN, Mekdad said. The “Islamic State” and the Nusra Front sold the aid supplies or passed them on to their allied groups.
“Or they keep it for themselves. We don’t accept that. Western states have said they monitor it, but no monitoring mechanism has been activated.”
UN Security Council Resolution 2585 was passed in July 2021 and, in addition to humanitarian activities that cross borders and frontlines, also provides for “early recovery projects”. “The Europeans are refusing to implement this resolution,” criticized Mekdad. Turkey has not allowed any supplies “that are to be sent across the front lines from Syria to the other occupied part of Syria”. Any humanitarian aid Turkey allows ends up with “terrorist groups”. The Syrian foreign minister said that the “early recovery projects” would not be implemented either:
“The Europeans categorically reject that. That’s why I said they are not implementing the resolution. Neither the ‘early recovery projects’ nor the other principles.”
Syria demands a minimum of respect for UN resolutions.
The UN-led political process in Geneva, as envisaged by Security Council Resolution 2254 (December 2015), is supported by the Syrian government. The thing is just that “sometimes countries interfere in this process and that goes against the principle that Syrians meet with Syrians and find an agreement among Syrians without foreign interference.” One hears “declarations here and there against Syria, sometimes also against the United Nations,” says Mekdad.
Syria at the UN
Syria was one of 50 countries involved in the founding of the United Nations (June 1945). Today the country faces massive attacks from Western UN member states.
Both the UN Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have accused Syria of using chemical weapons against its own people.
Mekdad, as Chair of the National Committee for the Implementation of the Syria-OPCW Agreement on Chemical Weapons, addressed questions on the issue.
He gave assurances that Syria stands by its rejection of chemical weapons and the signing of the relevant OPCW protocol.
The arsenal came from a different time, “when there were completely different developments in this region. The international forces fought for influence, we were looking for weapons to be able to defend ourselves. Against the Americans, against the Israelis, against Turkey and others. We never intended to kill our people with it”. In September 2013, Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, and in June 2014 the OPCW confirmed that Syria had declared its chemical weapons arsenal and handed it over for destruction. Nevertheless, allegations persist that Syria has continued to use chemical weapons and that it has “secret” stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Mekdad explained that conditions in Syria were very difficult between 2013 and 2016.
“The inspectors and investigators of the OPCW came, […] and […] together we discussed, explained and concluded everything.”
The OPCW helped draft the statement. It was clear that the government had no access to some places and could not reach them “because they were occupied by the armed groups,” says Mekdad.
“We were unable to provide any conclusive information or any real evidence of what happened there. But it was very clear that the Syrian government was fully willing to cooperate.”
Tons of the dangerous material were transported from the Syrian desert to the Mediterranean “to load onto ships from the USA, Norway, Finland and France,” explained Mekdad.
“No one asked if we were trying to hide anything, and one has to ask, why would we want to hide anything when we’re also turning over tons of these weapons to the OPCW for destruction?”
Ready to work with the OPCW
However, the topic is being used by some states to “continue to attack the Syrian government and cast doubt on its credibility.”
Specifically, Mekdad named the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, which brought the issue to the UN Security Council. “We don’t think the Security Council is the right place to discuss this issue because it’s a technical issue,” Mekdad said.
“But the international campaigns continue.”
Syria has offered the OPCW Technical Secretariat the opportunity to bring together OPCW and Syrian scientists to jointly study the actual situation. “They refused and are continuing to put pressure on Syria for political reasons.” Syria is ready to cooperate with the OPCW, stressed Mekdad. We want to prove that Syria is sticking to its commitments.
“We no longer want such weapons, even if Israel has all of these weapons — nuclear, chemical and biological. It is clear to us that they are inhumane and immoral and must not be used under any pretext.”
If you close your eyes to reality, you see nothing
Mekdad spoke in detail about the difficult relationship between Syria and the nations of Europe. It is time for the EU to change its policy towards Syria. Some European countries have reopened their embassies in Damascus, and Syria welcomes that.
“We hope that our European counterparts will understand that Syria is a sovereign state, with its own legal system, its own political system, and that Syria will prevent anything that could endanger the lives of innocent people with terrorist attacks. That is the right of every state.”
Mekdad called on the EU and all nations in Europe to find a new way of dealing with international problems. “They shouldn’t insist on their mistakes. The Syrian government is ready for talks,” he stressed.
“Talks on the basis of the UN Charter, the Human Rights Charter and international law. We must agree on how we can react together in the fight against terrorist attacks.”
The foreign minister said there were other plans behind the war against Syria. “Concepts such as ‘regime change’, the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and some parts of Lebanon — all of this was part of the real background of this conflict in Syria, which was supported and financed by Western states. By the US, Britain, by France as a former colonial power, and by others.”
To overcome the past, European countries should reopen their embassies in Damascus, Mekdad said:
“If Europeans continue to close their eyes, they see nothing. Their embassies are their eyes in Syria. We want to open all Syrian embassies in Europe and we want all European embassies in Damascus to be reopened. Only through this kind of communication can we understand each other better, and Europeans can better understand the reality of Syria. Now they are pursuing illusions and reports that do not stand up to reality.”
Some of European countries are afraid of other influential states such as the USA, France and others, and are reluctant to announce their presence in Damascus. Two or three countries followed a “hard course”. When asked whether Germany was also a hardliner, Mekdad replied that he “didn’t want to describe Germany like that”. The Syrian embassy in Berlin is open, and because “there are a lot of Syrians in Germany, we hope that our two governments will soon be able to talk.”
Return expressly desired
All Syrians who had to leave the country during the war may return “without any preconditions,” Mekdad stressed. 1.2 million people have already returned from different countries. However, the numbers have stagnated in the last two years because the COVID-19 measures have affected travel and return. “What we really want to see is the United Nations encouraging people to return.” This also includes granting people financial support in their home country, but this is rejected by Western donor countries. Many of the Syrian refugees staying in Lebanon would return to Syria if they received the same help there as they did in Lebanon.
Responding to reports that it was not safe to return to Syria, Mekdad assured that there were no measures against returnees. Anyone with solvable problems should return. President Bashar al-Assad issued a series of decrees so that those who left the country for political reasons may return without problems. However, anyone who is the subject of criminal proceedings in Syria will be informed and will have to face it if they return. According to Mekdad, the assertion that conditions in Syria do not allow a return is absurd.
“We have proposed that the United Nations High Commissioner help the returnees and give them a one-time amount of money so that they can return. It’s common practice when returning to any country in the world, just not in the case of Syria. You give the returnees nothing, because the Western countries, the donor countries, don’t want it.”
He attributes the fact that Germany, for example, does not support the return of Syrians, to a “brain drain” policy: “Many of those who left Syria and now live in Germany are our best doctors, architects, designers, engineers, cooks and others,” said Mekdad.
Germany is an aging society and needs intellectuals and well-educated people from other countries to compensate for its own loss. Syria relies on the new government.
“We hope for a new beginning in Germany, to bring peoples and countries together instead of deepening the differences between civilizations and cultures.”
Devastating, inhuman, immoral
The Syrian foreign minister described the EU and US sanctions as “devastating, inhumane, immoral and unacceptable because they hit ordinary people.” According to Mekdad, the sanctions are impoverishing the Syrian people, and this is also deterring refugees “who would otherwise want to return to Syria.” Contrary to what the EU claims, Syria cannot conduct direct financial transactions with other banks. “We can’t buy medicine, spare parts; we can’t even buy fertilizer.” The sanctions primarily affect humanitarian goods “and prevent even companies from the EU and their partners from reaching Syria and the Syrians,” said Mekdad. Syria does not believe that “the peoples of Europe want to allow such an aggressive policy to continue, killing innocent Syrians, children, women, vulnerable people. The sanctions only harm the weak, not the Syrian state.”