assad ahmadinejad 311.
(photo credit: AP)
In a February meeting with US Senators, Syrian President Bashar Assad maintained that IAEA monitoring of Iran's nuclear program would ensure that the Islamic Republic's pursuit of nuclear power was for civilian purposes only. The comments were revealed in a US State Department cable leaked on the Wikileaks website earlier this week.
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"We're not convinced Iran is developing nuclear weapons," the leaked cable quoted Assad as saying. He argued Iran could not use a nuclear weapon as a deterrent because nobody believed Iran would actually use it against Israel. Assad noted an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would result in massive Palestinian casualties, which Iran would never risk.
Second, he continued, the IAEA had reported no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran existed. Arguing Syria and the US were actually closer than they realized on these issues, Assad said Syria adamantly opposed any "weapons of mass destruction" in the Middle East. But as signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) both Iran and Syria had the right to pursue nuclear power for civilian purposes. Assad asserted demands for Iran to "stop" its nuclear program were unproductive and a violation of its rights under the NPT. Instead, he said, "the argument should be about how to monitor their program," as outlined in the NPT. "Without this monitoring," Assad warned, "there will be confrontation, and it will be difficult for the whole region." Assad leaned slightly forward and said: "Let's work together on this point."
On future Israel-Syria peace negotiations, Assad offered no specifics
on re-opening talks, but expressed Syria's desire for the process to
continue with US involvement.
In response to repeated concerns about Syrian support for Hamas and
Hizbullah, Assad remarked that these were democratically elected
organizations in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon; dealing with
them was simply part of the reality of politics in the Middle East.
"Hizbullah has no specific interest in Israel besides securing Lebanon's
borders and preventing threats to Lebanon's integrity, like Israel's
daily violations of Lebanese airspace," Assad told the senators.
Assad rejected the common belief that Syria was concerned about possible
repercussions with Iran if it were to take the initiative on stopping
arms to Hizbullah.
He said that Syria had been in negotiations with Israel with no concern
for Iran's opinion. He told the story of how Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmedinejad called him just before the Annapolis conference and implored
him not to send anyone, that it was a "bad meeting," but that they sent
a representative anyway. "I told him I know it (Annapolis) is just a
photo op. But I am sending someone anyway. We do what we think is good
for our interests; it's not dependent on Iran," Assad contended.
When questioned about human rights violations in Syria, Assad laughed,
stating that "You do not see this (freedom of expression) anywhere in
the region, let's talk about Saudi Arabia."
Assad stated he was a popular president and that if he were working against his people, he would not enjoy such popularity.
"Don't worry about human rights, we're moving forward," he said.