If US President Donald Trump can meet and negotiate with North Korean President Kim Jong Un, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iran’s leaders should also be able to meet and talk, China’s special envoy on the Syrian issue told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Xie Xiaoyan, who arrived in Israel over the weekend after visiting Saudi Arabia and Syria, told the Post during an interview at the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv that it is incumbent upon the international community to ensure that Israel and Iran do not get into a “head-on collision” in Syria.
“If the United States can talk directly with North Korea, if the two presidents could meet, then why could a similar thing not happen inside Syria... between the different parties?” said Xie, a career diplomat who – among his many diplomatic postings – served for three years as China’s ambassador to Iran from 2007 to 2010. “Nobody knows whether at some stage Israel and Iran could engage in dialogue, because after all, 40-some years ago you had very good relations with Iran.”
Trump, Kim kick off U.S.-North Korea summit with a handshake, June 12, 2018 (Reuters)
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Asked if he could really imagine a situation where Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or its President Hassan Rouhani
would ever sit down with Netanyahu – especially considering the fact that Iranian wrestlers refuse to even compete against Israeli grapplers in international competitions – Xie replied, “In the world, nothing is impossible. With efforts, with determination, with continued political belief that we can, maybe at some stage. Who knows?”
As to whether this was something that China was trying to facilitate, Xie continued: “I think this is a way out, to cut down the tension inside Syria between different parties – that is why we try to promote political dialogue, negotiations, political settlement, not a military solution. When I say military solution, [I mean] not just between the parties in conflict, but also other parties, other players involved in the Syrian affair.”
Xie said the question of possible dialogue between Iran and Israel was not raised in his talks either in Syria or Saudi Arabia, but that “I hope that at some stage Israel and Iran can talk.” Though he acknowledged that “at this stage it looks difficult,” he added, “We can overcome the difficulties and reach our objective.”
Xie said he very much believes people “need to have contact, that people have to talk face to face, even in this age of telecommunications. Without face-to-face communication and dialogue, sometimes it is difficult to reach a real understanding among peoples and countries. So let’s have dialogue, lets have discussions.”
Xie said he did not know of any back channel of communications between Israel and Iran,
Xie was appointed in March 2016 as part of an attempt by Beijing to take a more active, higher-profile role in the Middle East. He has been to Israel three times during this period. The purpose of his current visit – during which he met senior Foreign Ministry officials – is to have “as wide contact with the different parties as possible,” and to explain China’s position on the issue.
In Syria he met with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haider. Xie said he was not asked to relay a message to Israel, but that he left Damascus with the impression that the Syrians “do not want a new breakout of military confrontation between Israel and Iran” in their country.
Asked for his view of Israel’s demand that the Iranians exit Syria, Xie said that he would not “make any judgments about the legitimacy of the Iranian presence” inside the county, but that it is important for the international community, including the United States and Russia, not to “allow the situation to get out of hand – to manage the situation, try to reduce the tension, not escalate things.”
As to whether he believes that Russia has the capacity to force the Iranians out of Syria
, Xie responded that both the US and Russia can contribute to ensuring there will not be a direct Iranian-Israeli confrontation inside the country.
China, Xie stressed, wants to see a political, not military solution, to the Syrian crisis. He added that while China was in favor of pushing forward a political settlement, “we shouldn’t forget that the fight to wipe out the terrorist organizations should continue.” He said that the Islamic State attack in Sweida in southwest Syria last week that killed more than 200 people “is a sober reminder of the kind of threats that terrorist organizations can impose. So we need to continue our fight against the terror organizations.”
Asked, however, if Assad – who has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons on his own people during the seven year civil war – is not as bad or worse than the terrorists, Xie said it is up to the UN and other international organizations to investigate alleged war crimes.
“They can investigate and reach a conclusion,” he said. “First, whether chemical weapons were used, and second by whom.” Then, “if the culprits are found,” he said, there can “be a discussion about how to deal with them, how to punish them and prevent future instances from happening. But before these findings are there, before any conclusions are reached, we should not jump into pre-judgments.”
Regarding whether China’s position is that Syria should return to what it was before the civil war – one country under Assad’s rule, Xie said that China’s position is well-known: Assad’s future should be decided by the Syrian people themselves.
“It is up to the Syrian people to decide what future awaits President Assad,” he said. “What government they want, what kind of election and when, and under what circumstance. These things are internal Syrian affairs and the Syrian people – and only the Syrian people – can decide. History has taught us that the imposition of a solution by outside forces will not work.”
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