Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem admitted to his country’s delay in implementing reforms, yet stressed that imposed reforms will never be acceptable and that the president will not give in to pressure about the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We also reject any kind of military intervention and if this happens, we will resist and defend our country,” Muallem was quoted as saying by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Tuesday. “They want to drain the Syrian government until it surrenders but this will not happen.”
Muallem, however, said he finds it unlikely that the NATO will attack Syria.
In response to a question by the Hurriyet journalist Emre Kizilkay about whether the change of Turkey’s stance towards Syria can be attributed to the latter’s inability to effect democratic changes, Muallem said his country did not make any promises to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan especially as far as the inclusion of Muslim Brotherhood members in the political process is concerned.
“President Bashar al-Assad said he would allow the Muslim Brothers to return to Syria as individuals and not as members of a party and they can be part of the national dialogue but also as individuals.”
Muallem explained that this statement by Assad was not satisfactory for Erdogan and that is why Turkey has been passive since the start of the crisis in Syria.
Muallem explained that before the crisis, Erdogan kept asking Assad and Syrian officials in every meeting they held to establish dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We kept telling him that the disagreement between the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1980s and cannot be resolved that easily.”
The issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muallem said, was the main point of contention between Erdogan and Assad and the problem got more serious after the protests.
“I wonder why Turkey is so obsessed with teaching us a lesson and so upset that we did not end up learning this lesson.”
Muallem admitted to being surprised at Turkey’s reaction to the crisis in Syrian especially in light of the close relations the two countries had maintained for the past 10 years.
“We have acted like Turkey’s ambassadors in the Arab world throughout this time.”
Muallem said he was also surprised when Syria was starting to introduce democratic reforms, Turkey made it clear that it has no trust in the Assad regime.
The rift between Syria and Turkey, Muallem pointed out, was a great loss to the two parties and other parties as it dashed hopes of establishing a regional cooperation council that includes Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.
Muallem said reports about the detention of Turkish intelligence officers in Syria are groundless and stressed that he will contact the relevant bodies to verify the sources of this information.
“As for dissident officer Hussein al-Hamroush, we arrested him in Idlib in Syria and did not violate Turkish sovereignty as reported.”
Muallem also denied rumors of Hamas leaving Syria in wake of the protests and said that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal is currently in the Syrian capital Damascus.
“I talked to him this month and he confirmed that he is staying in Damascus and that all what was said to the contrary is not true.”
Muallem stressed that Syria will never become a religious state even though the majority of its citizens are Muslims.
“We believe in coexistence and plurality and this is the main issue that distinguishes between the secular system we adopt and the religious one the Muslim Brotherhood advocate,” he concluded.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)