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The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Syria’s envoy to US insists Lebanese ‘are being used by superpowers’

Posted by vmsalama on January 17, 2007

By Vivian Salama Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Interview

WASHINGTON: Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, believes the Lebanese “are being used by the superpowers to play a regional war that does not serve the national interests of Lebanon.”

In an interview with The Daily Star, the ambassador warned that some Lebanese leaders have been misled by the Bush administration into believing close relations with Syria were not in Lebanon’s interests.

“Certain leaders can’t understand that they are being used against us,” he said. “After [Syria] left, those people became our most outspoken critics. Lebanon is paying the price for [the decisions of these] people.”

Since Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 – a move Moustapha called “inevitable” – escalating statements have been made in both Beirut and Damascus concerning Syria’s role in Lebanon. Many suspect Syria of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an allegation Syria has repeatedly denied.

“Can they imagine Lebanon being totally hostile to Syria?” Moustapha asked.
“Forget politics. Geographically, historically, the two countries are almost intertwined. It is counterproductive,” he said.

“Some Lebanese have come here to Washington to instigate the administration against us. They have this illusion that the US administration is not taking a tough enough stance against [Syria],” he added.

Since US President George W. Bush announced his planphoto-imad-moustafa.jpg last week to boost America’s military presence in Iraq, US officials have ramped up their criticism of Iran and Syria. Bush said the additional troop presence was an attempt to “bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests.” Officials insist this plan does not include a future attack on Syria or Iran.
“The administration portrays Iran as a country that dictates to Syria,” Moustapha said. “This is bizarre and preposterous. US politicians are trying to create a rift between Syria and Iran.”

A statement released this week by the Syrian Embassy in Washington dismissed the most recent wave of American accusations as “baseless.”

“The Syrian and Iraqi governments have realized that forging positive and productive relations with each other is the inevitable and necessary way forward,” the statement said.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani kicked off a landmark visit to Damascus on Sunday – the first by an Iraqi head of state in some three decades. Syrian President Bashar Assad assured him that Syria would do all it could to ease escalating tensions in Iraq.

The Bush administration has repeatedly voiced concern that Iraq is the sole passageway between Syria and Iran. The two countries were also linked to Hizbullah during Israel’s 2006 summer war on Lebanon.

US officials accused Damascus and Tehran of supplying Hizbullah with rockets and other weaponry in the resistance group’s fight against Israel.

“Saying [the summer conflict] was a Syrian war by proxy is dismissive,” Moustapha insisted. “Lebanon was invaded by Israel four times in the past. Who would blow up his own home because someone in Syria or in Iran tells them to do so?”

The chief of staff of the Israeli Army, Dan Halutz, meanwhile, told Israel’s Army Radio on Monday that Damascus is “pulling the strings in Lebanon.” Rumors of a war between Israel and Syria were “premature and exaggerated,” he added.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said this week that peace anytime soon between Israel and Syria was unrealistic. In an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba, he said “the American government will not allow the [Israelis] to negotiate with Syria.”

However, Moustapha said Syria had repeatedly called for diplomatic talks with Israel.
“We want peaceful relations with Israel, but also not in a sell-out way,” he said. “We want dignified relations with the United States, but also not in a sell-out way.”

As for Lebanon, the ambassador said he was concerned by news of continued domestic turbulence in Beirut.  “The situation is very tense in Lebanon – they need a national coalition.”

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