- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Syria ‘not the enemy’

Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha insisted that his country is a friend of the United States and considers it the only nation that can broker a Middle East peace.

Even though the State Department lists Syria as a nation that sponsors terrorism, his government “amazingly enough” agrees with many of the Bush administration’s goals in the region, Mr. Moustapha said at a Washington forum this week.

Syria, however, criticizes U.S. support for Israel as a double standard. The Bush administration, meanwhile, is considering sanctions against Syria for its support of Hamas and Hezbollah, two terrorist groups that target Israeli soldiers and civilians.

“We are not the enemies of the United States. We have never, ever been the enemies of the United States,” he said. “Yes, we disagree with policies of the United States administration vis-a-vis the Middle East conflict. Amazingly enough, we do not disagree with the principles that the United States always repeats when they talk on principles.”

Mr. Moustapha added, “Everybody knows that the United States always advocates a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict. They advocate an independent Palestinian state. They talk about their vision for a Middle East absolutely free from all weapons of mass destruction.

“We do not disagree with their vision. Where we actually disagree with the United States is on how they apply their policies — what we call in our region the double-standards approach to the Middle East.”

Nevertheless, he said, his government recognizes the clout of the United States in the Middle East peace efforts.

“We still believe in Syria that the United States of America is the only feasible broker for a Middle East peace,” he said. “We know that it is, right now, not considered by the Arab people — nor by lots of Americans, themselves, nor even by lots of international leaders — as a fair and honest broker of peace in the Middle East.

“But it is the only broker with leverage. … The United States is the unique world superpower, and with this privilege, the United States has a responsibility.”

Mr. Moustapha blamed Israel for the “vicious cycle of violence” in the Middle East, although he did not mention the Jewish state by name.

“Syria is not responsible,” he said. “We do not occupy somebody else’s land. We do not uproot olive trees. We do not send our bulldozers to demolish houses. We do not send out Apache [helicopters] and our jets to destroy houses and kill people. …

“We do not do this. Somebody else is doing this.”

Mr. Moustapha, criticizing sanctions authorized by the U.S. Syria Accountability Act, said Washington should hold “the culprit” accountable for the “troubles of the Middle East.”

Grieving for Spain

A delegation of American Muslims yesterday denounced the bombings in Spain, as they met with Spanish Ambassador Javier Ruperez to express their condolences to the survivors and relatives of the 202 persons killed in the terrorist attacks.

Mr. Ruperez told his guests that his country is going through “a very difficult time.” Investigators suspect Islamist terrorists in the train bombings in Madrid last week.

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the terrorists’ goal is to divide “the world along religious and national lines.”

“The most appropriate response to these vicious attacks is to strengthen and expand relations between people of all faiths and cultural origins,” he said.

Muzammil Siddiqi, a member of the executive council of the Islamic Society of North America, added, “We join with all other American Muslims in both condemning the bombings and offering condolences to Ambassador Ruperez and the families of the victims.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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