Syrian official seeks dialogue, warns against U.S. action

DAMASCUS, Syria—One of the Syrian regime’s top diplomats called for dialogue with the U.S.—while threatening retaliation—as the U.S. Congress weighs military strikes against his government.

“We hope the American representatives will exercise wisdom, will listen to the voice of justice, not to provocative actions,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad told The Wall Street Journal in an interview at his office in Damascus on Tuesday.

“We love the American people, we have millions of Americans of Arab origin including Syrians and we do not want wars with the United States,” said the diplomat, who served as his country’s envoy to the United Nations in New York from 2003 to 2006.

While he repeatedly called for reconciliation, Mr. Mekdad warned of the repercussions of a U.S. attack on Syria. He said Damascus would strike back not only at Israel, but also at Syria’s neighbors Jordan and Turkey if they take part in any U.S.-led operation.

“Once the war starts nobody can control what will happen,” he said. “We believe that any attack against Syria will definitely result in chaos in the entire region if not beyond.”

He also said military action would strengthen extremist rebel factions affiliated with al Qaeda, not the moderate opposition fighters the U.S. has sought to bolster.

A green light from Congress to attack Syria would be “a tragedy against the Syrian people and the American people and all people in the region,” he said.

President Barack Obama said on Saturday that he had decided it was necessary to take military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and would seek authorization from Congress, after his administration reported it had overwhelming evidence that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.

Mr. Mekdad rejected the U.S. conclusions. “I assure them that the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons against Syrians and will not use them against Syrians and will always be ready for dialogue with the American people and its representatives,” the deputy foreign minister said.

“I know Secretary Kerry personally and I hope he does not go so far in plans that will kill more Syrians,” he added, referring to the U.S. secretary of state, who has been one of the Obama administration’s most prominent advocates of military action.

Like most Syrian officials, Mr. Mekdad said it was opposition rebels whounleashed chemical weapons on their own areas in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21, after the Syrian military launched a major operation on several fronts to prevent rebels from attacking the capital, which is under regime control.

Getting Away From Syria

More than two million people have fled the recent fighting in Syria, and the number of refugees is expected to reach 3.5 million by year-end, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

A total 70,095 people mostly from Sudan live in the Yida camp, in the newly independent South Sudan.

Asked about his feelings about what the U.S. said were the deaths of more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, in the attacks, Mr. Mekdad said: “Any wars of this type are horrible and are unacceptable; we are in a state of war in Syria. We cannot ignore the suffering of the entire Syrian people but those criminal gangs in Syria, the armed groups, have falsified events in Syria since the beginning.”

Mr. Mekdad argued that a U.S. attack would embolden those opposition fighters who are linked to al Qaeda to use chemical weapons.

“What is the United States going to benefit from fighting the only secular political system in the region?” he said.

The Syrian official said two of America’s top allies in the region, Jordan and Turkey, should think twice before participating.

Jordan has publicly affirmed its neutrality in the Syrian conflict, but the country is host to an effort sponsored by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia to train and arm rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.

“Once the attack against Syria starts from Jordan then Jordan will suffer,” said Mr. Mekdad.

The diplomat, who hails from the southern Syrian province of Deraa on the border with Jordan and has relatives on the other side, said senior Jordanian officials had promised him that Jordan wouldn’t be involved in any hostile act toward Damascus.

Mr. Mekdad said Syria’s two main allies, Iran and Russia, would stand by the regime in the face of any U.S. action, but didn’t offer specifics.

“We are being supplied until this minute with Russian arms to defend ourselves,” he said.

He said Tehran, which backs the Assad regime and the Hezbollah militia in neighboring Lebanon, would intervene to help Syria because Iran’s fundamental strategic interests would be at stake.

Mr. Mekdad challenged the explanation that the civil war resulted from the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on popular, peaceful protests starting in March 2011.

Everything was orchestrated from the start, he said, to bring down the regime by force.

By The Wall Street Journal


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