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Good evening and welcome to tonight's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I am Michael Nacht, Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley, and your moderator for today's program. You can find the Commonwealth Club on the Commonwealth-club-.org. And now I would like to introduce today's speaker Dr. Imad Moustapha and Ambassador of Syria to the United States. Dr. Moustapha is a very distinguished student of Computer Science, he holds a PhD in the Computer Science in the University of Surrey in England and he has risen through the academic ranks in Syria at the University of Damascus where he has been Dean of the faculty of Information Technology at the University. He is also been secretary general of the Arab School on Science and Technology. And is a co-founder of the network of Syrian Scientist Technologists Technologists and Innovators Abroad, NOSSTIA. He has been an active consultant to several International and Regional Organizations on Science and Technology Policies in the Middle East, including the UNESCO and several others. He is also been the member of the Syrian team responsible for the drafting reform strategies for the ministries of Culture Education and Higher education, he is a versatile writer with a long list of publications in English and Arabic he has published a wide variety of Arabic publications and also in the Los Angeles times in the Washington Post among others. He published more than 200 articles I think especially noteworthy is he the co author of the UN sponsored human development report in the Arab World recently published in 2003 which is been widely cited as a path breaking publication about an analytical and critical analysis of Arab progress and difficulties in achieving greater economic developments he has widely he has appeared widely on television in the US, Britain, Syria and elsewhere and he has also his own Blog, reflection of modern times where he comments on culture life and friends in Washington which is http://imad_moustapha.blogs.com. So he is very very special and this is actually his first diplomatic post ambassador to Washington from Syria a post he has held since March of 2004. So please welcome ambassador Imad Moustapha. Thank you Dean Nacht for your kind introduction and I am also very grateful for this this wonderful opportunity to talk to people here in San Francisco on the Bay area, so thank you to the Commonwealth Club of California. As Dean Nacht has noted I am not a career diplomat throughout my life, I was an academic so when my government decided to sent me here as the envoy of Syria to the United States in a way or another I was concerned a bit worried I went and consulted with a friend of mine who who has been a distinguished diplomat from Syria who has served served for a long time as an ambassador and prior to that as a junior diplomat. So I went and I asked him an apprehension of what will I be facing once I become the ambassador of Syria to the United States. He told me it is so easy we need to understand the difference between the ambassador and the camel, told him what do you mean he said to me you know a camel can work for days, days and days without having any food. An ambassador on the other hand can eat for days, days and days without doing any work. And I loved that and I came here and what a big, big disappointment believe me being the Ambassador of Syria to the United States is not an easy job its an uphill battle and the challenges are tremendous, the image of Syria here is very negative image and we do not have a friendly administration in the White House. So imagine how difficult it is for a small country like mine to to not to be on the on the best class of the government of the most powerful nation on earth, of course this did not happen by choice. This is not what we want. This is not we like. This is what we are trying to do whatever we can within our capacity to reverse. We are trying to tell the US Administration we have done this time and again the last five years that Syria is not an enemy to the United States and it is contrary to our own national interests to be regarded as a hostile nation here in this country. But sometimes sometimes we feel like this is fatalistic and we can't do anything, so in a way or another we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we just have to wait till the end of the second term of this administration, before we can start a serious engagement towards the United States of America. Let me be very clear about this. In the past Syria and the United states had many disagreements and differences on a political on a political level but there was not enmity no hostility actually we do admire the United States of America for the great achievements America has done throughout its history for the great things America has given to the humanity and science and technology and then to entertainment industry and too many things. Yet to be honest and candid where you we in the Middle-East at least this is our side of this story, we are so so bitterly disappointed with the US policies in the Middle-East, rightly or wrongly, this is our perception. We believe that the United States of America has given flagrant blind support to Israel, while Israel was actually occupying our territories, and then to add insult to injury the United States decided to invade and occupy Iraq. And suddenly a country like mine, Syria became caught between the hammer and hardest place. One major conflict to our East one major conflict to our south. The Arab Israeli conflict that is still the corner stone of all conflicts and troubles in the Middle-East as it still there brewing non-stop and another conflict has been introduced, thanks to this administration in Iraq. As I have said in the past despite the disagreements between the Syria and the United States we always had a good solid working relationship. The - this level of of deterioration and relations between the Syria and the United States is unprecedented in our modern history. Let me remind you of the fact that every American President starting with the Richard Nixon ending with Bill Clinton actually paid Damascus our capital city and official head of a State to visit. In a way or another this reflects the fact that while we were disagreeing with United States, we kept on engaging with the United States for the benefit of Syria of the United States and for all other parties of the Middle-East. Please do remember that the past two administrations that preceded the current administration that of President Bush Senior and that of president Clinton worked so hard to broker peace between Syria and Israel. And twice we were on the verge - on the verge of signing a peace agreement with Israel. That would have had major, major impact on the whole situation in the Middle-East. While we were very critical of US policies towards the Middle East we always believed that the only country in the world that can broker peace in the region was the was the United States of America, because of the influence and leverage of the United States has on all parties, particularly on Israel and this is why we always thought that while we can disagree, we should work with the United States, and we should maintain the possible - the best possible working relationship with the United States. And we were successful in the past. I I can give you just two examples before I moved to the current current conflicts in our region. Years ago when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait the United States invited us to the join the alliance that drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and our troops were next to your troops fighting against Saddam Hussein and pushing the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. This is so important for a simple reason, I hope you will think of it when the United States asked us to join that alliance the United States really did not need the Syrian military prowess to defeat Saddam Hussein and kick him out of Kuwait. It did this for a simple different reason, out of wisdom, out of understanding that the United States did not want to present itself. At that time as a Western crusader imposing its values or what ever it wants to impose, whether benign or malign on the Middle-East. This is why it went and invited two major Arab Islamic Country Syria and Egypt to join the alliance in liberating Kuwait. This is one example of past co-operation between Syria and United States. Another important example that is rarely mentioned here in United states has to do was September 11, after the tragic events of September 11, when every country in the world send a condolence's letter to the United States of America, Syria did something else, of course we did send a condolence letter to the United States, but we initiated contacts with America and I underline the word initiated because we initiated this and we told them look, we in Syria a secular country in the Middle-East have been fighting against extremist fundamentalists for the past 20 years. They - we are their own sworn enemies and we have wealth of information about those guys, that they are more than willing to provide to the United States, not expecting anything in return, but because of our understanding of the the dangers these groups represent to our own societies, what they did to you was horrible was terrible, but it was - and forgive me for saying this an isolated incident, while there threats to our societies and to our present day existence is a fundamental threat. We provided the United States with information on Al-Qaeda that with intelligence that was described by a letter sent by the secretary Powell to United States Congress as actionable information that has helped saved American life. That was the sort of cooperation we used to have with the United States prior to the war on Iraq. However once we in Syria realize that the United States was adamant on invading and occupying Iraq, we became more alert and we tried to discuss this with the United States because we were still on talking terms of the with the United States at that time. I remember personally being a member of a Syrian delegation, that came to the United States and met with the high ranking number of US officials and I tried to argue with them, to convince them not to go and invade Iraq. We told them look this is our region, we belong to that region, we understand exactly the nature of that region, everything you are being told is absolute absolutely false and untrue. There are no WMD's in Iraq. There is no relation whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. Iraq is not any more eminent to danger on any of its neighbors. I don't want to elaborate until all the details we offered to US, but we were very clear in telling the US that we believe that for you to go and invade Iraq it would be equivalent to opening a Pandora's Box of woes and evils. We said to the Americans don't believe what the neocons are telling you you would be be met with rice, flowers and all ululations in the streets of Baghdad, and major Iraqi cities. Actually if you go there you would unleashing forces you really do not understand their true nature. We finally told them look our region is already troubled with too many wars and conflicts, we don't want yet another war, yet another major conflict in our region, please don't do this. Of course needless to say they ridiculed all our arguments, they told us to the face - I remember very well because this is a part of my personal history, I was at there when they told us you claim that you belong to that region and you understand very well your region will let us tell you what will happen within two month of our quote- unquote liberation of Iraq. Iraq will become a model of prosperity and democracy that will inspire the whole Arab world. And believe us, every Arab the nation in the Arab region will be dreaming of having the same fate as that of Iraq within two to three months of our liberation of Iraq. I don't want to go back to history you exactly know what has happened to Iraq what is happening in the Middle-East today. Our relations have deteriorated dramatically after that with United States. We become suddenly a rogue state and now probably we are most eligible nation to join officially the axis of evil list that has been compiled by this administration. I know this seem a little bit funny or sarcastic, but believe me the United States is imposing sanction on embargos on Syria, and this is making our life very, very difficult. The whole life of the whole Syrian population regardless of whether they sympathies with the government or they don't sympathies with whether they are responsible for serious opposition to the war on Iraq or they supported the US Grandiose Project on nation reengineering, regardless today Syria is paying a heavy price. And this is one aspect, but there are other aspects. today in Syria we have 1.6 million Iraqi refugees. This is an incredible burden on our infrastructure our social services, our medical services, our schooling services and for you to understand what does this mean 1.6 million Iraqi refugees you have to imagine 30 million refugees suddnely influxing into the United States, and you are a rich nation, we are not as bestowed by riches and fortunes as you are and I am sure that if this happens here in the united states and suddenly suddenly within a very short period of time, you will end up with 30 million refugees. I think I think you can imagine what will happen in the United States, this is happening to Syria. Take our population and proportion and to account, you will understand the meaning of having 1.6 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. This is a burden that Syria has has troubled by, but it is just at one one aspect of the ongoing conflict in in Iraq. There are other other issues, all of them are very troubling and concern us a lot, and are causing lots of troubles for everyone in the Middle-East. It's also also the fear that Iraq might disintegrate and the repurcussions this this integration will have under whole region. It might have a domino effect, Syria that Syria has a cultural, religious, ethnic sectarian, linguistic mosaic that is far richer than the one in Iraq. Luckily for the last 2000 years we lived harmoniously with each other. We never had any domain in civil conflict or internal conflict in Syria, but we fear of what is happening in Iraq might have a a spillover effect on the whole region. I don't want to tell you about the other things because really our problems are nothing compared to the tragedies and the the agonies of the Iraqi's themselves. I am trying to become cynical, I am trying to tell you look how much we are suffering in Syria while our suffering is nothing compared to those of the Iraqi's. Now having said this about the problem of Iraqi refugees in Syria, please do remember that also we have half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria. Also please do remember the last summer when Israel was bombarding Lebanon, we ended up with 625 thousand Lebanese refugees into Syria. And also at to this the fact that today in Syria there are 125000 Syrian refugees in Syria dreaming of the day they can go back to their towns, villages and houses in the occupied Syrian Golan, because they were forcibly expelled from the Golan when Israel occupied the Golan. This only would this would only give a glimpse about this sort of problems - problems that's a country like mine is facing in the Middle-East, but it will also show you this short of responsibility the United States has got towards Middle-East. For a very simple reason you decided to come uninvited to our region and to become our neighbor. You decided to provide Israel with full absolute support for whatever Israel does rightly or wrongly, I am not criticizing Israel right now. I am just telling you that by giving Israel this astronomical military and financial support while Israel continues to occupy our territories, while the Palestinian has gone through incredible, incredible suffering and humiliation for the last decades, in a way or another it is a it a decision taken by the United States to become implicated in the issues of the Middle-East. In the last five minutes before I stop I wanted to go from the negative to the positive. I want to tell you that today there is hope in the Middle-East, despite the bleak vision picture that I have just painted for you. At least I can tell you that all Arab countries without a single exception including my own country Syria have embraced the so called prince Abdullah initiative that has become after the Pan Arab Summit Meeting, the Pan Arab Peace initiative towards Israel. All Arab countries without a single exception are offering Israel they have done this publicly on the record and repeatedly. Full peace, comprehensive peace, absolute normalization of relations if they are willing to accept the fair principle of land for peace, if Israel is willing to give us back our occupied territories, the Syrian Golan, the Lebanese Shaba Farms, and Ghajar Village and allow the Palestinians and the West Bank in Gaza to have their own independent sovereign viable state just like every other nation in the world. The Israelis will get comprehensive peace and total security in return. And we think this is a fair and and venerable history compromise between the Arabs and the Israelis, and in a way or another even in Israel itself there is a large constituency for peace that is supporting the Pan Arab initiative. Sadly the Israeli Government has not yet excepted this Pan Arab Initiative having said this we believe we believe that peace between the Arabs and the Israelis has inevitable. There is no third option wars not cannot continue for ever between the Arabs and the Israelis and they will lead to nowhere the last war on Lebanon is is a solid proof of what I am saying, and more and more Israelis today are realizing that they cannot continue for ever to depend on their sheer military superiority and the absolute American support for their policies to impose on us the acceptance to their occupation their policies of occupation and they have seen last summer in Lebanon how that despite their sheer military superiority they were incapable securing their towns and villages and then in a way or another, more and more Israelis realize that the only way in which their grand children can live in peace with other grand children in which they can be accepted by us as much we might be accepted by them is for them to relinquish their grand vision of expanding on our account taking and grabbing more and more of our territories, driving more and more of our peoples outside their countries, their towns, their villages, their farms, and bringing more and more immigrants from else where on the world and to what they regard as the Jewish historic republican from east land. This is this is why I am hopeful. The constituency for peace in Israel is today a minority but it is a large minority, not a fringe minority, and it is growing steadily slowly but steadily. And at one point there will be a pivotal point after which the Israelis will realize exactly as we have realized years ago but the only path forward for us and for them is to reach a comprehensive fair a venerable peace agreement based on the principle of land for peaces I have said. The United States bear a responsibility there and it has full filled partially this responsibility in the past, the United States helped Egypt and Israel reach peace. It has helped Jordan and Israel reach peace. In the past also at broker, peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the Syrians on the Israelis. Today unfortunately is the other way around, the Israelis have time and again send us messages indirectly through indirect mediator telling us that they have no problem resuming peace talks with Syria had that not being for the fierce opposition of the White House. So look at this how how the US policies have shifted from a time in which the US was actually, actively involved in trying to broker peace talks between the Syrians and the Israelis to a position in which they tell that Israeli friends and allies literally don't talk to the Syrians. I will stop by this small end story. I meet one of the prominent American Jewish leaders here in the United States, a Jewish community leader who really truly believes in peace between Syria and Israel. And he was discussing with me the possibilities to revive the peace talks between Syria and Israel. Then I arranged for him to go and visit Damascus and meet with the Syrian President here from him personally if Syria was committed and sincerely desiring to make peace with Israel. Then he went and he met with the Prime-minister of Israel. The prime minister of Israel said to this leader of the American Jewish community we have don't to mind resuming peace talks with Syria we have done this twice in the past the problem is not with us. The problem is with your friends in Washington D C, they opposed doing this. In brief this gentleman came back to Washington D C and he met with a very senior official in the state in in the White House who is in charge of the Arab Israeli files and portfolio, I think you can know him without me mentioning his name. He told him how come that you are opposing peace talks between Syria and Israel. The gentleman said to him because we don't want to reward Syria for its bad behavior and the Jewish community leader was outraged and said to him can't you understand that peace between Syria and Israel is not a reward to Syria it is a reward to Syria its also a reward to Israel and most importantly is a reward to the united states. This is the mentality today in the white house this is why there is a lot of talk but that is much ado about nothing a lots of talk about that peace conference that would take place in Annapolis, late November most probably this peace conference will lead to no where, because as far as we are concerned nobody is discussing anything with us there are concept papers, no white papers, no memorandums of understanding, no intensive discussions prior to that meeting, nothing, nothing which is so different in contrast to the Madrid Peace Conference that was convened by President Bush senior and Secretary Baker when they were in the White House. We remember very well in Syria the amount of intensive diplomatic negotiations that immediately preceded the Madrid Peace conferences. We compared to what's happening today absolute nothing and in a way or another forgive us if we deduce that this is only about a photo opportunity and about people in Washington D C telling there electorate look don't accuse that first only only of of a starting wars, look, we are working for peace in the Middle-East. But to be honest whether you we don't seriously belief we don't seriously believe that this is a peace conference that will lead to anywhere. I don't want to end my speech on on negative terms I asked one funny story to tell you before I stop and start taking your questions it has to do with President Bush himself and myself. When I presented my credentials to President Bush as the ambassador of Syria to the united states I have to admit that he was a genuinely pleasant person and he do not try to make my meeting with him difficult. According to protocol I asked my wife to accompany me - during this meeting followed by a protocol celebration a very small one really. So President Bush met my wife and he said to her are you enjoying your life in Washington D C. she said no Mr. President right now I do not live in Washington D C I am pursuing my doctoral studies in England and he was impressed he said to her wow an Arab woman doing a PhD in England in which he said. She said to him in computer science and he was genuinely flabbergasted and then he looked at her and he said isn't that something he looked at me and he said to me Mr. Ambassador your wife is both beautiful and intelligent and then he said to me ambassador we both married up. I thought that was a nice compliment but this is not the story the story happened in the evening in the evening I was supposed to have dinner with my friends and they knew that I was to meet with the president earlier in the day so I went to the restaurant my friends were waiting for me and they asked me how was your how did your meeting with president Bush go. I told them it would sound very well really he actually flirted with my wife and they said to me well thank god it was not president Clinton. Thank you very much.