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BorderWatch:Syria
Archive: September 2007
Iran Factor
Investment Deal Includes Cement, Glass, Rubber, Auto, Food, and Other Sectors
09/15/2007 08:47 AM ET
From the official Iranian Fars news agency:
TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran will make $10 billion investments in Syria within the next five years, the acting industries and mines minister announced in here on Friday. In his return from Syria, Ali-Akbar Mehrabian expounded the results of his trip, saying Iran-Syria relations are strategic, Tehran Times reported.

He added that the sides are currently cooperating in 16 projects valued at some $1 billion, predicting that the figure will reach $10 billion by 2012.

The official said that six working groups were formed in cement, glass, rubber, auto, food, and other industries.

Referring to the financing of joint ventures, the caretaker added that a joint investment fund with a $200 million capital was established.

Pointing to two Iranian car-making projects in Syria, Mehrabian added that the first phase of Iran Khodro Company (IKCO) will be put into operation in the near future and SAIPA factory's Pride sedan production will go on stream after the holy month of Ramadan with a production capacity of 10,000 cars.

He predicted the figure will hit 40 thousand sedans, noting that an auto-making project in an Arab country like Syria will facilitate the sedan's export to other Arab states.

Alluding to the establishment of an Iranian auto parts manufacturer's industrial park in Syria, he declared that the glass manufacturing plant will become operational on Oct. 12.

Mehrabian said that the parties reached an agreement on construction of a bus and truck manufacturing plant in Syria, announcing three contracts were signed by parts producers.

During his visit to Syria, Mehrabian submitted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's written message to Bashar Assad, the Syrian president.

In the meeting, the sides appraised the industrial projects, he said.

Transcript
CBS Scoops: Syrian President Tells Couric "Nobody Can Seal This Border"
09/06/2007 8:09 PM ET
Katie Couric and Syrian President Bashar Assad today in Damascus.
From CBS News
Katie Couric and Syrian President Bashar Assad today in Damascus.
Syrian President Bashar Assad told CBS News's Katie Couric today that Syria cannot halt the flow of foreign terrorists through his country into Iraq because sealing the border would be as difficult as sealing the U.S.'s border with Mexico.

Assad cited the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. in trying to explain why it's so difficult for Syria to apprehend terrorists using his country as a transit point to commit attacks in Iraq:

"They have their ID, but we do not know they are terrorist. How do you know that somebody is terrorist? For example, the 11th of September terrorists, they live in the United States. Why didn't you catch them? Because you didn't know they were terrorists, the same."
U.S. officials believe 80% of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq transit through Syria.

Assad said, "Any country in the world can not seal its border and the example is your border with Mexico. Nobody can seal this border."

Here's a partial transcript of the interview (all of what was broadcast tonight on the CBS Evening News):

President Assad: What do they do, those terrorists in Iraq? They kill civilians, they create chaos. What interest have Syria in having chaos in Iraq? Chaos is contagious. If we help the chaos in Iraq, this means we work against our interest. So we do our best to control our borders, first of all for the Syrians; second, for the Iraqis; third, for the region.

Couric: You say that chaos does not work to Syria's advantage. Does that mean you support a stable, democratic Iraq?

President Assad: Definitely. For our interest, first of all, and for Iraqi interest, second. Otherwise the whole region, and maybe later, indirectly, the rest of the world will be suffering. But we will pay the price first, and we are paying the price for the chaos in Iraq today. So why not to work if it's in our interest? This is definitely and this is the announced position of the Syrian politics.

Couric: So you support the U.S. efforts to help establish a democracy in Iraq?

President Assad: If they do ... but they don't do. They don't do it. There's no effort. They only talk about military - numbers of soldiers, raising up the number or making it go down. There is no serious political process supported by the Americans so far.

Couric: But I was in Iraq and in Anbar province. President Bush and his other top officials were meeting with Prime Minister Maliki and his top leaders, trying to move democracy forward. Why do you say there is no political process going on?

President Assad: We¹re talking about the results. It's getting worse every day, nothing is better. Sometimes it gets better, but it's like a flash in the pan; it just disappears, it's transient. We're talking about the result; the chaos is worse, the killing is worse than before.

Couric: Let me ask you about the Damascus airport. It is considered a major point of entry for terrorists going into Iraq, and you have been highly criticized, Mr. President, for not taking greater action to stop that from happening. Why haven't you? Why haven't you got in control of your airport?

President Assad: It's not an airport problem. It's not related to the airport. This is again another false allegation. They've been harping on this bogus claim for four years. But actually the terrorists, if they want to come, they don't have to come to the airport. They can cross any border, anyhow, by any means, to go to Iraq.

Couric: You're telling me you have no evidence and no knowledge that terrorists are using Damascus International Airport as an entry point and then going to Iraq?

President Assad: No, I didn't say that. I said, if I want to continue or elaborate, we caught many coming from the airport, but mainly most of them they don't come through the airport. They came through the illegal borders and we caught them.

Couric Let's look forward. Do you believe that U.S. troops should withdraw from Iraq?

President Assad: Definitely, yes. As a principle. How and when, this is an Iraqi issue. We cannot decide it as Syria.

Couric: Are you concerned though, Mr. President, that if U.S. troops do withdraw, and do it too precipitously, the country will break out in an all-out civil war?

President Assad: Yes. We have to take the context of the events since the war, after four years ... every day is getting worse than before. So I cannot say that American forces will bring stability to Iraq. This is for sure. Some say if they leave, it will get worse, maybe. So this is not a debate. As principle they have to leave.

Couric: Do you want to see America succeed in Iraq?

President Assad: My priority now is the stability in Iraq. It doesn't matter if the United States leaves today or tomorrow. My priority is the Iraqi people and my country. And of course, if the success means political stability, we don't have any problem because we support any country in the world, including the United States, in succeeding in Iraq in that regard.

Couric: Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.

President Assad: Thank you for coming.

Couric on her broadcast tonight that a second segment of the Assad interview would be broadcast on the CBS Evening News tomorrow.
Fleeing Iraq
UN Urges Damascus Have "Humantiarian Component" in Assessing Iraqi Entry
09/04/2007 11:20 AM ET
Duma, SYRIA: An Iraqi refugee shows his passport and other papers as he waits his turn at UNHCR office in Duma, north of the Syrian capital Damascus, 19 July 2007.
Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty
Duma, SYRIA: An Iraqi refugee shows his passport and other papers as he waits his turn at UNHCR office in Duma, north of the Syrian capital Damascus, 19 July 2007.

DAMASCUS, 4 September 2007 (IRIN) - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed hope that the Syrian government's decision to implement a visa regime to limit the number of Iraqi refugees pouring into the country at up to 2,000 per day, will not harm the plight of Iraqis fleeing danger.

Speaking on a trip to Syria on 3 September, the UNHCR’s Erika Feller, assistant high commissioner for protection, said she had urged the Syrian government in a series of ministerial meetings not to close the door to Iraqis feeling life-threatening situations.

"I expressed the strong hope with the authorities that any new visa regime will not lead to people who have very serious protection needs - who are fleeing circumstances that are a threat to their lives - being turned back at the border," said Feller.

Syria is home to an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees and the Syrian government says that with anything from 30,000-60,000 continuing to enter the country each month the numbers have imposed a huge burden upon the country's economic and social structure. The government recently estimated the associated cost at US$1 billion per year, and the new visa regime is seen as a means to limit the influx and control the burden.

Syrian government sources have said the country cannot cope with more refugees, particularly while the international community fails to provide financial assistance.

Details of the new system remain vague, however: Reports suggest that from 10 September Syrian visas will only be granted to Iraqis with an educational, business or scientific purpose of travel. Additionally visas will only be granted from the Syrian embassy in Baghdad, an added barrier in a country where violence prevents easy movement.

According to Feller, "the details are still in the process of fine tuning" and the UNHCR will continue to push for "a humanitarian component" to be built into the system.

No forced returns

As well as potentially closing the door to fleeing Iraqi refugees, the new regulations have struck fear into many Iraqis living in Syria who worry they will be forced to return to Iraq once their current visas expire.

At present Iraqis are granted three-month, easily renewable visas. Many fear the new system will force them to return to Baghdad to attempt to renew their residency.

"They are trying to kick us out," said one Iraqi refugee. "But I can't, I won't go back - it's too dangerous."

The UNHCR has, however, been assured by the Syrian government that no forcible returns will take place.

"We have been assured by the authorities that as they move to develop the details of this further it will not lead to forcible return of people who don't want to go back," said Feller.

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