Syria’s Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Aug. 21, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)
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In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor from his office in Damascus, Syria, Ali Haidar, Syria’s minister of national reconciliation and leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, said that President Bashar Assad’s recent speech consisted of “preliminary ideas” about a transitional phase in Syria and should not be discounted.
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In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor from his office in Damascus, Ali Haidar, Syria’s minister of national reconciliation, said that President Assad’s Jan. 6 speech constitutes “a step forward toward solving the crisis” and that Turkey’s “role is based upon a sectarian position, and they are supporting some of the Syrian people at the expense of others.”
Author: Antoun Issa
posted on : January 18 2013
Categories : Originals Syria
“We personally think that this is the first time that the president has put forward a set of ideas which constitute a step forward toward solving the crisis,” Haidar said, adding that “the relationship between Assad’s proposal, the Geneva Initiative and Lakhdar Brahimi’s statement was a set of principles to resolve the crisis.”
Haidar, who is an Ismaili originally from Hama, explained that Assad’s proposals lay out a process leading to a referendum on a new constitution.
“This is when the role of this current government will come to an end,” Haidar said, “paving the way for a new government that will be the product of subsequent elections and the national dialogue.”
Haidar described the Turkish role in Syria as “very bad,” adding that Ankara’s “role is based upon a sectarian position, and they are supporting some of the Syrian people at the expense of others.”
In contrast, Haidar praised the roles of Iran and Russia in Syria.
“There has been full agreement between Assad’s proposal and what Iran understands the transitional phase to mean,” said Haidar.
He added that “it is in Russia’s best interest to continue to protect the Syrian people against any decision by the Security Council, which could allow a military intervention in Syria. Russia continues to push all political forces towards the national dialogue.”
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, according to Haidar, is complicit in the continued violence in Syria by advocating only a military solution to the conflict.
“I will say that merely through resorting to violent means, through excluding a segment of Syrians from the future dialogue table, from refusing to participate in dialogue, this makes [the coalition] responsible for a large part of the violence that is happening in Syria,” he said.
Haidar, who is one of only two opposition parliamentarians with a ministerial post, has been working with opposition figures inside Syria to achieve a wide ranging dialogue in support of a political solution.
“This conference will be held under the banner of ‘Yes to Dialogue and No to Violence’ or ‘No to Violence and Yes to Democracy and Dialogue,’” he said.
The full text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: On Jan. 6, President Bashar al-Assad gave a speech that was termed as both defiant and disappointing by many Western officials. How do you evaluate the president’s three-stage proposal? What did he say that you found helpful? Is it a step forward? And how does it correspond, in your view, with Special Representative Brahimi’s initiative and what is known as the Geneva Plan?
Haidar: First of all, his speech was deemed as defiant and disappointing by just one party but not by all the international parties, as there were other parties who had a different opinion and who thought that the ideas proposed by President Assad were good and could be built upon. We personally think that this is the first time that the president has put forward a set of ideas which constitute a step forward toward solving the crisis, and of the government being in charge of establishing an integral initiative. As for the correspondence with Special Representative Brahimi’s initiative and what is known as the Geneva Plan, it should be noted that first, Lakhdar Brahimi has not yet come up with an integral plan. He is still at the stage of listening and talking about ideas. The Geneva Initiative is different from Lakhdar Brahimi’s suggestion. The Geneva Initiative is an integral project that is based on the idea of a transitional period but that lacks in-depth detail on the meaning of the transitional phase. Thus, the transitional phase was the basis of what politicians have widely called constructive ambiguity because the international political conditions are still not ripe for the achievement of a final political solution. Thus, Assad’s proposal consists of preliminary ideas about the Syrian meaning of such a transitional phase. Likewise, the relationship between Assad’s proposal, the Geneva Initiative and Lakhdar Brahimi’s statement was a set of principles to resolve the crisis. These converge at times but diverge at others depending on the major countries’ understanding of the meaning of the transitional phase. On the one hand, there has been full agreement between Assad’s proposal and what Iran understands the transitional phase to mean. On the other, there is a set of ideas that can be built upon according to Russia and China. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US and France believe that there is a huge difference between Assad’s proposal and their understanding of the meaning of transitional phase.
Al-Monitor: On Jan. 11, following his meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns and Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said that they “underlined the necessity to achieve a political solution based on the Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012. As you know, a key element of the communiqué is the governing body, which should exercise full executive powers during its existence. And we agreed that full executive powers mean all the powers of state.” What is your view of the transitional governing body and what do you understand by “full executive powers?” How do you envision the process for a “political solution?”
Haidar: The Burns-Bogdanov meeting did not bring anything new and what was announced by Lakhdar Brahimi was nothing new because everyone agrees on the need to reach a political solution, but each party has its own understanding of the meaning of what constitutes a political solution. However, it should be noted that the Geneva Initiative does not mention a governing body, but a transitional government with large or full executive powers. As opposed to what some understood, this does not mean that the full executive powers mean all of the powers of state, because the powers of state include legislation, implementation and the state’s higher policy. This policy is not part of the powers of the governing bodies or of the transitional government. This brings us back to the crux of the matter in understanding the meaning of the transitional period, which has been used as one of the main principles of the Geneva Communiqué. However, this does not mean that there is an international consensus on the meaning of the transitional phase. Therefore, the outcome of this meeting and Lakhdar Brahimi’s press release do not mean that there is a consensus, that there is an agreement, that there is a governing body or a transitional government tasked with all of the state powers, but executive powers only. In fact, the executive power, not only in Syria but across the world, excludes foreign policy and the military. And the military is different from security. Therefore, even on this point there is a different understanding between Russia and America. Moreover, Lakhdar Brahimi’s statement was a little ambiguous in this regard.
Al-Monitor: That same day Mr. Brahimi was asked about his comments to the BBC last week that implied there might be no role for President Assad in a transitional government. He clarified that he “said the Syrian people are saying that 40 years is enough. And I never said that there will be no place for members of the government, I never said that.” In your opinion, what would be the role of the present government be in the transition process? Do you believe Mr. Brahimi still has the trust and confidence of the Syrian government to perform his role as mediator?
Haidar: First of all, there is an issue that has not yet been addressed, neither at the Geneva Conference, nor in the Burns-Bogdanov meeting, nor in the recent meeting held between the two a few days ago: It is the role of President Assad in the transitional phase and the next presidential election. This is one of the unresolved dilemmas. Once again, there is a mysterious understanding and explanation based on this unfathomable understanding of the transitional phase. Lakhdar Brahimi’s statements to date make him embarrassed to stay an honest broker between all parties of the Syrian people. By the way, this does not mean that I support another explanation.
However, I believe that those who seek to play the role of mediator must stand the same distance from everyone. As a result, there has been disagreement among Syrians on this point. We wish to use constitutional and legal means to come up with a solution. We do not work on the whim of major countries. Who said that the Syrian people believe that 40 years are enough? Yes, there is a part of the Syrian people who believe that 40 years are enough. However, others say that this matter is not subject to the decision of others. They say that this issue will be decided through the ballot box in the coming days. Therefore, people are urged to cast their votes with full transparency and international support. This is how we find out whether people will vote for the regime or not. Yet, this issue has yet to be resolved and agreed upon among all forces.
Regarding the role of Lakhdar Brahimi, I believe that as a mediator, he is relying on two main points to make his mission a successful one. We talked about this issue when we last met with him. Again, we confirm that Brahimi must stand an equal distance from all parties. He ought not to rush in, making inflammatory statements that could provoke both sides. Brahimi ought to leave this matter to national dialogue and to the results of the ballot boxes, which will be our vote on the outcome of the national dialogue. Thus, his making of early judgments suggest that Mr. Brahimi is not an honest mediator. Should he continue with this approach, his mission will be disrupted inevitably.
As for the role of the current government, this matter depends entirely on the political process as a whole. If we accepted the proposals put forward by President Assad in his political project, then the current government ought to prepare for a national dialogue conference, and secure infrastructure logistics to launch the national project. Once a national charter is produced, we shall head to the polls. This is when the role of this current government will come to an end, paving the way for a new government that will be the product of subsequent elections and the national dialogue.
However, if we head to the political process from a different position, a government of national unity could be produced, but during the first stages of the political process. Therefore, the role of such a government would be subject to the political process that ought to be launched. Should we begin with the political initiative of President Assad, we believe that the product of this initiative would be a government that would have a major role in bringing the political forces together at the negotiating table. This could be done by defusing tension, or addressing pending issues that are likely to improve the people’s conditions and convince friendly nations of the feasibility of this project so it can be supported on an international level. The role of this government would end once the national dialogue had been implemented.
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