The United States and its Middle East policies are to blame for a recent failed attack on the U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted on Sunday as saying in a German magazine.
Four Syrians tried to blow up the embassy on September 12 but the plot failed after Syrian guards killed three of the assailants in a shootout. The fourth man later died of his wounds.
"This seems to have been the background of the attack, a reaction to America’s policy in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan," Assad was quoted by Der Spiegel weekly as saying.
Relations between the United States and Syria have long been strained. The United States has designated Syria as a "state sponsor of terrorism" because of its support for Hizbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian militant groups.
Syria’s 40-year-old president was asked why the United States should be considered at fault for an attack that Assad said appeared to have been carried out by Syrians.
"Because they contribute to hopelessness here, to silencing dialogue between cultures," he said.
Assad said data recovered from the computers of the militants who carried out the attacks on the U.S. embassy and information gathered about them indicated they were isolated young men, al Qaeda sympathizers from the suburbs of Damascus who called Osama bin Laden "the lion of Islam".
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Syria and the United States intensified their cooperation on security issues and "together saved many American lives", Assad said.
"Then the Iraq war emerged and America began to make many mistakes," he said.
Assad said he had warned the United States that while it would win the war in Iraq, it would then sink into a quagmire.
"It’s turned out worse than I expected," he said.
IRAQ NEEDS STRONG HAND
U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. Along with a small group of allies, U.S. and British forces are still struggling to contain a fierce insurgency which some say is a civil war.
Assad said Iraq needed a "strong central authority" who can be secular but not someone who "rode in on American tanks".
Regarding Israel’s recent war with Hizbollah, Assad said it would be impossible to prevent arms from reaching the militant organization due to its strong public support.
Enforcing an arms embargo against Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon is one of the main tasks of a U.N. peacekeeping force which is assembling in Lebanon and along its coast.
"As long as public support for Hizbollah is as high as it today … then this is ‘mission impossible’. The majority sees resistance against Israel as legitimate. I advise the Europeans — don’t waste your time. Get to the root of the problem."
Israel’s month-long war with Hizbollah ended on August 14.
Asked what he thought of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to wiped off the map, Assad said Syria wanted peace with Israel, not to see it destroyed.
"But my personal opinion, my hopes for peace, could one day change. And if this hope disappears, then war may really be the only solution," Assad said.
© Reuters 2006