At City Club 03.04.05 - Syrian Ambassador praises City Club - talks Middle East peace

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 03/06/2005 - 11:04.

At the 03.04.05 Cleveland City Club forum, Syrian Ambassador Dr. Imad Moustapha introduced his talk on conflict in the Middle East with the illuminating praise that he was very excited to speak here, as he had heard about the City Club long before he came to Cleveland, and that it is as famous world-wide as the Cleveland Clinic. That is the level of branding and marketing Cleveland needs - global praise and relevance for our brainpower and quality and connected places.

The City Club is an astounding regional intellectual resources, where world leaders come to Cleveland to share world-important insight with all citizens, face-to-face here. I'll also point out I was unable to attend this City Club forum, but caught it and am able to post these notes because they broadcast the programs on TV the following Sunday at 10 AM on public television - and they provide live coverage on VCLV radio during the events.

In this case, the Ambassador is here to engage with the American people and media discussing that his country wants to work well with the United States.

He starts by acknowledging that Syria opposed the US entering conflict with Iraq, but now they want to look long term toward peace in the region - they are going out of their way to drive dialogue on this.

He details the level of conflict surrounding Syria and their 15 year old "engagement for peace" involving pursuing a peace treaty with Israel (where Syria claims property rights) - he states Israel is unwilling to come to the table. He believes that Syria has caused there to be an internal debate on the peace process in Israel, and that there is a window of opportunity for peace in this region. Syria wants full withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 border of Israel and Syria, and Syria wants full normalization of relations.

Next issue he raises is Syria's presence in Lebanon - they entered country to end 15 year bloody civil war, and they have respected borders. They had 42,000 troops at height of engagement - as of two weeks ago had 13,000 troops, all outside major cities. Now say they will withdraw as soon as possible - if Lebanon has bad feelings about troops they will withdraw completely - they will do in phases to avoid destabilization.

People are pointing finger at Syria over assassination of Former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri - Syria went into Lebanon with best of intentions and for this assassination they have suffered - they want world-investigation to clear their name - people are misinformed - references first hand accounts of Asad reaction to assassination. The Ambassador says stop pointing fingers and inflaming the issue - Syria was not involved in assassination. They have troops in Lebanon to do good, and will withdraw them if that is the will of Lebanon.

Q. Does Syria support Hamas - disrupt peace in Israel. A. No - Syria does not support Hamas, and does not even communicate with leaders of Hamas - when Syria meets with US officials they say if you ever have any evidence we do this we will act on that - we do not allow it and do not want it - we know how damaging this would be.

Q. Relationship with Iran. A. Same as with any country in Middle East - Cypress, Greece, Jordan - regional cooperation - open, public agreements - no military agreements - Syria wants to have good relations with US - do not want to be known as bad global citizens.

Q. Kurd's want recognition as nation in Syria. A. Kurd issue is complex, impacting many countries in Middle East - Kurds have always lived in many major cities of Syria - in past 50 years, there have been Kurdish leaders in Syrian government - they do not discriminate - Syria has diverse cultural roots - have problem with group of Kurds in border area of Syria, Iraq and Turkey - the Kurds move between the three countries and there are problems with Kurds who are not recognized as Syrian who claim they are - this is causing the first ethnic conflict ever in the country - Syria offers them official citizenship to end the problem.

Q. Representative of local Middle Eastern newspaper - did you know there is a peaceful demonstration of Lebanese outside the City Club - what do you think. A. Two nice Lebanese ladies gave Ambassador letter - and he points out he read in the PD that some Middle Eastern leaders here objected to the Ambassador coming to Cleveland - the Ambassador is saddened by this - he is a human being working to talk about peace with everyone and he sees people spreading conflict - he has asked his community not to get pulled into conflict with Lebanese - they have always been friends - in DC the Lebanese community invited the Ambassador to speak to the Lebanese community there and he accepted (whereas here the Lebanese community rejects dialogue) - in DC he pointed out we are all one people and enough is enough

Q. Woman speaks of the first 13 years of her life in Damascus where she dodged bullets under Syrian conflict in Lebanon - she is clearly angry - wants to challenge Ambassador in his message of peace. A. Ambassador says he empathizes and feels her anger but he does not want to go into finger pointing about civil war - he has great love and respect for Lebanon - he feels she has unfairly condemned him - it is time for dialogue on peace - Lebanon has had free elections for years - is diversified country - has conflicts - Syria is getting out of Lebanon but not in ways leading to more conflict.

Q. Understand there is a large Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon - how do you address this? A. There has been call to make them Lebanese and Syrian citizens - but there is no way to resolve conflict in Middle East without a more informed approach to dealing with Palestinian refugees.

Q. Why does US media paint Syria as problem. A. It seems the Ambassador has had better experience working with past US presidents - he wants better relations with US now. Remember, when US acted in Kuwait Syria was side-by-side in support

Q. What is Syrian impression of America and Americans - would we be safe traveling there? A. Yes - check on the Internet for blogs of people traveling in Syria and you will see they have great experiences. Syrians are very friendly - but everyone will want to talk with you about the Middle East peace process.