Israelis have elected an extremist government that will not lead to peace, and it is not clear whether its society will change that reality. This, at least, is the view from Damascus articulated by Syrian President Bashar Assad in a recent interview with Kai Diekmann, editor-in-chief of the German daily Bild.

In the world according to Assad, the “social fabric” in the Arab world is “always peaceful,” and occupation – first the British and French, and now Israeli – is why there is no peace in the region; Iran is “not seeking any nuclear weapons”; and it is misplaced for the West to worry about one woman sentenced to death for adultery in Iran, while “you forget about half a million victims in Iraq.”

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Here are excerpts from Assad’s interview:

Mr. President, why is it so difficult for this region since hundreds and hundreds of years to find peace?

Very simply, in one word, because of the occupation. We have been living in very difficult circumstances during the centuries; but if you look at the social fabric, it is always peaceful; you do not have civil wars, except for Lebanon for the last three decades. Look at Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and this entire region where we did not have any internal conflict.

All the conflicts were because of the occupations: the British, the French and now the Israeli.

That is why we do not have peace. We see desperation that leads to extremism. That is why we do not have the peace.

What about Israel’s right to exist, do you accept that?

When you negotiate with the party, this means that you recognize his right to have a state, because when you talk about peace, this means that you are going to have peace with another state. But you do not recognize somebody before the peace; you do not recognize that right before having your right first, because they occupy your land.

We are ready and we have a clear vision about how to achieve peace. But we need a partner; we do not have this partner so far. The Israeli society has elected an extremist government that will not lead it to peace. So, will the society change this picture or reality or not? We do not know.

Everyone talks about the two-state-solution. What do you personally want for the Palestinians?

We want the Palestinians to have their state, to have their land and to have sovereignty over this land; not only a land without sovereignty. That is what they need.

Do you really believe that one day Israel will really share its capital Jerusalem with another state, a Palestinian state?

According to what we hear, no. They said publicly this is an eternal capital to Israel and they talked about all Jerusalem, while the Arabs are talking about Eastern Jerusalem which should be the Palestinian capital.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad wants to wipe Israel off the world’s map. What do you tell him?

Did he do anything in that regard? He did not. So, We deal with actions, not with words.

We are realistic.

Still, the world is quite concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. Even the Saudis expressed their concern, according to the WikiLeaks files. What do you make out of Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Iran is a very important country in the region whether we like it or not. We have to deal with it. Iran is not seeking any nuclear weapons according to our knowledge. So, dealing with Iran is about monitoring what they are doing and they accept that. That is how we have to look at the problem.

We are looking for policies, mechanisms.

Mr. President, you are the leader of your country since 10 years, how do you see Syria’s image in the world?

Is it the West or the world, because the problem is in the West, not in the world. The problem with the West is that they think they are the world, they forget about the rest of the world. The West cannot just keep following the ostrich policy where they put their head in the ground and they do not want to see what is happening in the world. In the world Syria’s image is very good; we have very good relations and we never had any problem with the rest of the world: Southern America, Eastern Asia, Africa and whatever. With the West, it was distorted. It is a little bit better but not that much better.

The whole world had high hopes in Barack Obama to bring East and West closer together, and actually Barack Obama did reach out to the Muslim world, for example in his Cairo address. How does the Arab world view Obama today?

He certainly wants to do something.

In his speech in Cairo he raised the hope for peace in this region, but when you raise the hope without results, you will have the opposite, you will have more desperation. So, as president, so far he seems to be genuine in his efforts, but at the same time we are looking at the results, and not only at the will and intentions.

From the European position, we got the impression that Turkey is moving away from the West, moving away from NATO and the US and moving toward the Muslim world. Do you think that this is right, or what is Turkey’s position today?

I think the West is moving away from Turkey. But I think it is important for Turkey to play this role it has been playing for the last three years in this region. That has created a lot of balance because you cannot imagine this turbulent region, especially after 11th of September, invading Afghanistan, invading Iraq and having bad relation between Syria and Turkey, Turkey and Iran and Turkey and other countries and so on for others, you cannot imagine the repercussions.

Many people in Germany now talk about the case of a woman in Iran that was sentenced to death through stoning for betraying her husband. This cannot be the picture of the Muslim world that you really want.

But we could also ask the question: Killing half a million people in Iraq – is this the picture the Western world wants for itself? The same in Afghanistan. This is the other way of looking at the situation.

So, having a matter which you do not agree with does not reflect the whole country, the whole culture. Even in Syria you may have something you may disagree with, but still it is not the full picture of my country.

You cannot say that we are worried about one woman while you forget about half a million victims in Iraq.



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