Syria’s Prime Minister Expects Elections in 2014

An exclusive interview with Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki.

al-monitor Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki talks to media in Damascus, April 29, 2013, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA.  Photo by REUTERS/SANA.
Ali Hashem

Ali Hashem

@alihashem_tv

Topics covered

syrian, jihadists, geneva, elections

Aug 6, 2013

TEHRAN, Iran — I met Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki in one of Tehran’s posh hotels while he was in the Iranian capital to take part in the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani. A few months ago, on April 29, Halki survived an assassination attempt in Damascus, so I began by asking him about his thoughts at that moment and whether he had considered ridding himself of such a burden.

Halki replied, “The assassination attempt made me more confident of what I’m doing for my country. I’m not better than the martyrs who were killed on several occasions by those criminals.” He added, “The good news is that those who made the attempt on me and other innocent Syrians are now in custody. This same group killed Sheikh Ramadan al-Bouti, and soon you’ll see [their confessions] on Syrian television.”

Conducting the interview in Iran meant we, of course, had to discuss Syrian-Iranian relations. Halki explained that this was his fifth visit to Iran and that he feels as if he is among friends and family here.

“Our relations with Iran didn’t start today. The basis of this alliance was laid by the late Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini and the late [Syrian President] Hafez al-Assad, and now it has reached its peak with President Bashar [al-Assad] and Imam [Ali] Khamenei,” Halki offered. He elaborated, explaining that today the two countries have several bilateral economic agreements. “The last agreement was to open a $3.6 billion credit facility between Damascus and Tehran, and this will help Syria import petroleum products that we need, in addition to Iranian power-generating products and other goods.”

On the Syrian economy, Halki said that the government is doing its best amid the crisis to serve all Syrians despite their political affiliations. “We are still providing services, even in cities and areas that aren’t fully under our control.The only people we don’t serve are the terrorists.” He continued, “There is a war on the Syrian currency, a war launched by countries and large firms. The Syrian lira stood still for the first six months [of the civil war], but later we had to decide what to do. We raised salaries 28%, and we are still paying 2.5 million civil servants at the beginning of each month. We raised the number of subsidized goods from four to six.”

In regard to the conflict in Syria, Halki said that his government is ready for a dialogue at any time. “We accepted all the initiatives, but it’s the opposition that doesn’t want to talk. At the same time, the military campaign will continue against the terrorist groups,” he explained. “Our army is doing good in several areas. Right now 90% of the war we are fighting is with the al-Nusra front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

Halki criticized the Arab states, including Qatar, for their backing of the armed opposition, alleging, “Whenever there is a glimmer of hope, those supporting the terrorists boost their support to kill more Syrians and destroy the country.” Speaking on the Geneva II process, Halki said that his government is certain that the Russians have a sincere stance on ending the crisis. On the other hand, however, he asserted, “It’s the Americans, the Europeans, and the Arabs whom we don’t really feel are honest about solving the problem.”

Halki claimed that the Syrian authorities have in custody “hundreds of foreign fighters” and that some of them are from France, Belgium, Poland, and the United Kingdom. “An EU [European Union] parliamentary delegation visited Damascus, and when we told them about EU nationals taking part in the fight, they asked for proof. We allowed them to meet them, so they promised they’ll bring up the case when they are back home.”

When asked about the political opposition and how Damascus will deal with the internal and external opposition, Halki's answers were as to be expected: “The external opposition, and here I mean the Syrian National Coalition, represents only 5% of Syrians. This is not my government’s point of view. It’s Mr. Lakhdar Ibrahimi’s adviser's figure.” Of the internal opposition, he noted, “Part of it decided to join the government, such as the Popular Will Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, while the National Coordination Committee is still not clear.”

Since he was taking part in the inauguration of the Iranian president, it seemed natural to ask whether a similar election will be taking place in Syria next year. Halki responded, “We hope next year we’ll have a democratic presidential election, and the people will choose who they think will fulfill their hopes.”

Ali Hashem is an Arab journalist serving as Al Mayadeen news network's chief correspondent. Until March 2012, he was Al Jazeera's war correspondent, and prior to that he was a senior journalist at the BBC. He has written for several Arab newspapers, including the Lebanese daily As Safir, the Egyptian dailies Al-Masry al-Youm and Aldostor, and the Jordanian daily Alghad. He has also contributed to The Guardian. On Twitter: @alihashem_tv

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