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Al-Jazeera TV alleges US, Israeli

BBC Monitoring

["Behind the News" talk show, presented by Ali al-Zufayri, discusses US-Israeli media campaign accusing Syria of receiving nuclear assistance from North Korea.]

Doha Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television in Arabic at 1832 gmt on 15 September carries a new, live 25-minute episode of its "Behind the News" political talk show, presented by Ali al-Zufayri in the Doha studio.

This episode deals with the "campaign" by some US and Israeli newspapers against Syria, accusing it of receiving nuclear assistance from North Korea. Al-Zufayri raises the following questions: "How true are the allegations made by these newspapers, and what is their objective? How will the world community deal with this US-Israeli "campaign"?

Al-Zufayri begins by saying that US and Israeli newspapers recently began to publish reports on nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea, claiming that the recent Israeli violation of Syrian airspace targeted nuclear equipme! nt received from North Korea.

The programme runs a 2-minute video report by Al-Jazeera correspondent Nabil al-Rihani showing clips of newspaper articles posted on the Internet related to the issue. The correspondent says: "Opponents of US policy are referring to an organized US-Israeli campaign against Damascus. Sometimes, the reports focus on a sophisticated arms deal with Syria, and other times they focus on enhanced Syrian rocket capabilities to amplify the Syrian threat. This is the language that the White House leaders normally use prior to waging war on their enemies. Are the war drums beating anew?"

Guests on the programme are: Dr Ibrahim al-Darraji, professor of international law at the University of Damascus, via satellite from Damascus; and Dr Amr Hamzawi, researcher with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, via satellite from Washington.

Al-Zufayri asks Hamzawi whether it is reasonable to talk about Syria's nuclear ambitions. Hamzawi ! explains that the only two states that possess nuclear weapons in the Middle East are probably Iran and definitely Israel, emphasizing that Syria, over past years, has not shown any concern about or activity related to nuclear armament. He says: "What draws attention are the recent attempts by the US and Israeli press to relate what happened to three scenarios. The first scenario deals with North Korean nuclear capabilities being transferred to Syria; the second deals with targeting a shipment of weapons dispatched to Hezbollah through Syria, although the location of the target which is close to the Turkish border, makes this story weak because Hezbollah is far away from this location; and the third scenario is related to testing the Syrian air defence system, which Syria recently obtained from Russia, in an attempt to threaten or send a political message to the Syrians, or to test the system, because Iran obtained a similar one."

Asked to explain why the talk about Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation has begun after the settlement o! f the North Korean file, which could mean that North Korea has leaked some reports on Syrian nuclear ambitions, Al-Darraji denies any such cooperation between Syria and North Korea in this field, and wonders "whether such cooperation has existed from the beginning, and why these accusations are levelled against Syria now." He says that the statements made at the Rome conference recently by Andrew Semmel, deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation, were only assumptions, not based on facts.

Hamzawi comments on the above by noting that the media campaign against Syria has been staged by US rightists or the neo-conservatives, and says: "What is a fact is that the political or geo-strategic picture indicates that the United States and, definitely, Israel are deeply involved in a struggle to contain the capabilities of Iran and its allies; that is Syria. Additionally, the escalated moves against Syria are inseparable from what is taking place in the L! ebanese arena." Asked whether the timing of these accusations is signi ficant, Hamzawi says: "The United States and Israel have a common interest in containing the Syrian regime by increasing the siege on it on the international and regional levels," through these allegations.

Al-Zufayri asks Al-Darraji his opinion on the timing of the accusations levelled against Syria. Al-Darraji says: "The timing is important and part of it is connected with the Israeli air strike. The tactic used in the past was finding a justification before carrying out an aggression, but now it works vice-versa; the violation or aggression takes place first and then finding justifications for it." Asked whether the timing is related to either justifying the air strike or laying the ground for something that is going to happen, Al-Darraji says: "The timing aims to find additional means to pressure the Syrian leadership in order to offer more concessions, especially that the date for electing a new Lebanese president is quickly approaching, and the pressures on the U! S Administration by the US political system are increasing."

Al-Darraji adds that the timing is also connected with what will take place later, taking into consideration that the entire world is against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This means that under such circumstances, the accusations will add more pressures on Syria. He says: "In the long run, I am afraid that two scenarios might be used to exert more pressure on Syria: First, applying the Iraqi scenario to Syria through levelling uncertain accusations, fabricating alleged evidence, involving the IAEA, and disarming the country. This scenario could be repeated in Syria or might be used to pave the way for an aggression later." Al-Zufayri interrupts to announce a break.

Asked to comment on Syria's reactions to the air strike and the accusations, Hamzawi says that the official Syrian behaviour has been characterized by composure and civility, and was limited to filing a complaint with the UNSC withou! t resorting to threats, reiterating that "what draws one's attention i s the media blackout exercised by all concerned parties. Syria has not talked much about this action; Israel imposed a media ban on any report connected to its action in Syrian territories; and the United States resorted to ambiguity." He adds that Syria should have behaved more openly to show proof of Israel's aggressive policy and attempts to provoke the Syrian regime. He says that what is currently taking place in Syria is linked more to the situation in Iran rather than Lebanon, explaining that the Petraeus-Crocker testimony contained several indications of Iran fighting the United States by proxy, and that since Syria is an Iranian ally, it should be included in the US plans to contain Iran.

Asked to comment on Syria's reaction to the air strike and on reserving its right to retaliate, Al-Darraji explains that Syria already retaliated militarily by opening fire on the Israeli planes and politically by filing a complaint with the UNSC. Asked whether the world commu! nity will accept the US and Israeli accusations against Syria, Al-Darraji says: "If we are talking about a reasonable world community, I say that such a community would not believe these accusations for many reasons. Among them is that Syria is party to world treaties that ban the proliferation of nuclear weapons and it opens its doors wide to the IAEA inspectors, who always submit positive reports on Syria. This means that Syria has nothing to hide or feel worried about." He adds that the world community, unfortunately, lacks rationalism and falls under US hegemony.

Asked to confirm whether these accusations provide some relief to Syria because there is nothing to prove them in the wake of the accusations levelled against it of involvement in Iraq and Lebanon, Hamzawi explains that cases can be fabricated for the sake of waging war on a country, giving the example of Iraq. Asked whether the same scenario could be repeated in Syria, Hamzawi says that it is possible, provided that the same circumstances prevail. He says: "The only thing that hinders the repetition of this scenario is that the United States is currently deeply involved in Iraq," noting that Russia and China are looking suspiciously at what is being circulated inside the United States.

Asked to explain how Syria should manage the current issue, Al-Darraji says that Syria's political action should be handled with extreme caution, reiterating that "Syria is not adopting a provocative policy and is not giving excuses for others to level accusations against it. What is required by the Syrian policy is to continue holding fast to its established constants and refrain from being dragged into any type of battle, whether regional, international political, or media battle, and not to give others the excuse to preoccupy it with such battles or to justify aggression against it at a later stage." He adds: "The Syrian policy now has few options because the Arab regional situation is depressing and the regional-international situation falls totally u! nder the hegemony of US policy. Therefore, Syria should be very cautious with its options in a manner that keeps it far away from any involvement in battles or getting dragged into any front that does not fulfil its interests at the present time."

Asked whether Syria should reconsider its strategic options or whether it has reached the point of no return; just waiting to see the outcome of the prevailing tension, Hamzawi says that Syria has lost many options because of its alliance with Iran, and diminished options are not in Syria's interests.

Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 1830 gmt 15 Sep 07



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