Interview with His Excellency, Ambassador Dr. RiadKamel Abbas

02nd Sep 2015 Political-Affairs

A team of researchers from Oval Observer Foundation in New Delhi sat with the Ambassador of Syrian Arab Republic to India, His Excellency Dr. RiadKamel Abbas for an interview to discuss the Syrian conflict, the role of international players and terrorist groups and the possibility of India taking a more proactive role in resolving the conflict. Following are the excerpts of the interview with the Honorable Ambassador:

Question:How do you perceive the situation in Syria considering that the rebel groups have seized considerable amount of territory?

Answer:In response to the question of gradual expansion of Syrian rebels in the territory, there is no area that is not within the geographical reach of the Syrian National Army and the Syrian National Army has the capability to select a target and then neutralize the target as per as their strategy and independent target selection system. The Syrian National Army is well trained and motivated by patriotism to battle any form of challenge and capable of taking tactical decisions. So, there is no geographical area under that could be considered to be under complete territorial control of the Syrian rebel groups and it needs to be noted that the rebel groups were present in every city.Mercenaries from 83 nations, including USA, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are party to the conflict and they have participated as fighters in anti-government insurgent/terrorist groups in Syria and they have substantial funding from national governments in their respective nations. Most of these rebel groups are supported mainly by three nations: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has played an instrumental role in cross border terrorism by freely allowing transit of rebels from bordering cities in Turkey across the Syrian-Turkish border, thereby facilitating deep incursion of rebel groups into the territory of Syria. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also provide significant tactical support by supply of weaponry to the rebels. However, Syrian National Army is well equipped to tackle any such challenges and will not allow an infringement on its sovereignty.

Question:Do you see any peaceful solution to the conflict in the near future?

Answer:What is perceived, as a democratic process of popular uprising against Government of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad, by the international community and the ensuing conflict is actually an enforced war on Syria and its people. This has also resulted in adverse effects for certain regional powers, which once upon a time tried to destabilize the Syrian regime for their own regional interests. Now these governments have changed their policy and today they want to engage with the existing government of Syria after supporting anti-government terrorist groups against Government of Bashar al-Assad in the past.It is an act of war on Syria and the battle against the terrorist groups in Syria would continue till such time that such groups decide to give up their arms and join peaceful negotiations. Time has come to search again for an international political solution to the conflict and there has to be comprehensive international effort against terrorism that has manifested in the region. USA has recently recognized that the Syrian conflict can only be solved through negotiations and the Syrian Government is open to such negotiations.

Question: Do you think that India can play a significant role in ending the conflict?

Answer: Since the beginning of the crisis, India has been following an independent foreign policy in response to the crisis as a sovereign state with its own national interest. The Syrian Government duly appreciates India’s nuanced foreign policy stance and commitment towards not intervening in the internal affairs of Syria. Historically, Syria has enjoyed friendly relations with India and continues to do so. Moreover, India is also perceived as a friendly nation in the wider West Asia region. This definitely holds a potential for India to meet the aspirations of the people of Syria. India can definitely help by playing a proactive role in resolution of the conflict and Syria welcomes India to play a greater role in such pressing international affairs issues.

Question:With the recent Iran-US nuclear deal, do you foresee some stability in the region or has it compounded the concerns of certain actors who will attempt to destabilize the region further?

Answer: The Government of Syria has long maintained the position that the Iranian nuclear program was for peaceful purposes and was entirely civilian in nature.Syria is happy with the resolution of the issue by diplomatic means and it believes the deal would have an impact on the Syrian front by serving as a basket deal for the entire region. The recent call by Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of UK to engage with the Government of Bashar al Assad as a part of the political solution to the crisis in Syria in his statement to the House of Lords has definitely reemphasized the fact that the solution to the crisis in Syria would essentially be political. The US Secretary of State has also expressed a similar interest.Certain actors who perceive the Iran-US nuclear deal as one that would adversely affect their national interests are judging the deal based on pre-conceived notions. Syria is well aware of the interests of the regional actors and welcomes the resolve shown by the US government to reach an agreement on the issue through diplomatic means.The deal will play a very important role in nurturing peace and stability in the region. I also believe that since the US is a superpower; the concerns that were raised by Israel against the deal were merely for public consumption and would not have any significant effect on US Foreign Policy.

Question:How do you see the handling of foreign affairs under the leadership of Narendra Modi? Have you seen any notable shift of policy from the previous regime?do you see him playing the role of mediator to the conflicts in the future?

Answer: The Prime Minister reached the apex of leadership like a Tsunami wave after being elected by a majority verdict by the people of India. Prime Minister Modi, according to me, has only improved his credentials ever since assuming office by taking steps to strengthen relations with BRICS and USA and has successfully managed a good balancing act in terms of pursuing an independent foreign policy with nations.

Question:Do you believe, in the context of rekindling of strategic relationship between USA and India, should be a matter for concern for Syria? Do you think India will be pressurized by the US to toe the official policy line of US towards Syria?

Answer:India has been continuing a nuanced approach to international affairs premised on an independent foreign policy and it must be noted that in the current scenario, US has itself expressed a willingness to re-engage with the Government of Syria. Moreover, during my meeting with Prime Minister Modi, he offered me an assurance for greater contribution in terms of aid to the Syrian humanitarian crisis.India has been a leading contributor to Syrian aid efforts under UN mandate and Government of Syria expects India to play a more active role in West Asia. Further, Syria welcomes India’s stand on global terror i.e. there is no good or bad terror. All countries should combat global terrorism through a joint collaborative effort.  I would like to express my gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for making a strong statement on terrorism at United Nations General Assembly by asserting that there could be no distinction on good and bad terrorism. I do not believe India is in a position where it can be pressurized by any nation and the larger international community would prefer a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Question:The Syrian crisis, ever since its inception, has caused widespread displacement of population. Do you think India has done enough to extend support to the Syrian refugees?

Answer:India has been a champion of humanitarian aid in situations of conflict, hence referring to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, the crisis gives India a major role to play in terms of an active role under the auspices of UN. The unique position of India is its strong cultural linkage with Syria, as Syria is a secular nation with a population of diverse ethnicities similar to India. While India has been proactive on the humanitarian front, we would welcome India to play the role of a moderator in the event of reinstatement of negotiations on the conflict, for the greater cause of global peace. Further, we would like to see greater and continued humanitarian aid from India as our nation and its people have had to bear huge costs because of this unnecessary conflict. I firmly believe that the patriotism of the Indian population is an asset for the nation. I salute the Indian people for their patriotism and deeply appreciate their approach towards expressing dissent through peaceful means rather than engaging in violence.


Question: How does the Government of Syria see the rise of ISIS?

Answer: Syria doesn’t refer to the terror group as Islamic State. It is called “Daesh” since calling the group, as ‘Islamic State’ would be giving a certain form of legitimacy to the group. Further it should never be associated with the religion of Islam as the group has continued to abuse the tenets of Islam to justify their actions. The countries who supported the group in Syria for their interests, are under extreme pressure to tackle the counter-productive measures resulting from supporting terror groups. As per as the government of Syria, the Government of Syria estimates the highest number of foreign fighters affiliated to terror groups belong to the region of North Africa, with a staggering number of 16000 fighters belonging to Tunisia. I also hold Turkey responsible for facilitating the emergence of ISIS in Syria as the group was run by the internal security apparatus of Government of Turkey during its initiation and enjoyed full operational support from the government of Turkey. The matter has come to the public fore in the recently after the Vice President of USA, Joe Biden, has acknowledged the role of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar in one of his recent speeches that drew public condemnation and controversy. Syria always warned these countries, which were fueling rebel groups and terrorist organizations, that it would come back to haunt them and create a security nightmare for them. The recent attacks in Saudi Arabia have vindicated our stance and these countries must contemplate hard before deciding to initiate proxy wars with the help of terrorists.

Question: Do you believe the US Foreign Policy is to be blamed for the turmoil and sectarian strife in the region?What is the Syrian Government’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict? Considering the US pivot to Asia-Pacific do you think that US will completely withdraw from the West Asian region?

Answer:The failures of an aggressive US Foreign policy in the region are the main cause behind the current political turmoil in the region. The US Military Occupation in Iraq has played a pivotal role in generating the growth of radicalism that has swept across the region. Moreover, the US-Israel relations and unconditional US Support to Israel has been the main reason behind many historical conflicts in the region. Syria will continue its pursuit of a steadfast foreign policy for the region and will continue to support the Palestinian cause and it expects that Israel is held responsible for violation of international law as per as the UN resolutions. Syria expects Israel to withdraw from Golan Region/Golan Heights and execute a peaceful resolution to the water dispute.I do not believe that US would withdraw completely from the region anytime in the coming future despite the current contours of their engagement with Asia-Pacific because the safety of Israel would be the first and foremost priority of US.

Question:How does the Syrian Government under President Assad perceive the de- recognition of the government by several countries and the consequent isolation in the international sphere?

Answer: The countries who acted against Syria to isolate it in the international sphere were those who wanted to destroy Syria on the basis of their political interests and the current atmosphere of peaceful engagement with President Assad will definitely result in change of their policies toward the Syria. The Government of Bashar Al-Assad would never give up the nation of the Syria and the interests of Syrian people.  President Bashar Al-Assad came to power by receiving the mandate of the people. The policy of regime change followed by US and its allies is a policy that no Syrian president will ever agree to and the country of Syria is built on the foundation of secretarian unity and multiculturalism. The cabinet of Syrian parliament has ministers from minority Sunni and Christian community. Syria will definitely be able to achieve the stability and peace once again and this phase of “international isolation” will come to an end.