Syria: Assad cannot be trusted on any chemical weapons promises, says his former diplomat – By Tom Whitehead
Bashar al-Assad cannot be trusted on any promises over chemical weapons and it will be a decade before the world can be confident they are out of his reach, one of his former senior diplomats has warned.
Khaled al-Ayoubi said he had no faith in Russia leading the international efforts to make the Syrian dictator’s lethal stockpile safe.
Mr al-Ayoubi, who defected in the UK last year when he was the most senior Syrian diplomat in the London embassy, said his former masters in Damascus will appear to be agreeing to changes but will delay and stall.
He warned it could be ten years before there will be any confidence that the weapons are safe, allowing Assad crucial time to hide some.
Mr al-Ayoubi said: « Assad will say he is signing an agreement but how do we know he will comply?
« I know how the regime works and they will drown us in process and procedure. They will say they want to decide which observers are appointed and use other delaying tactics.
« It will be 10 years before they are dealt with. »
He said the Russians could not be trusted either and accused President Vladimir Putin of being willing himself of using chemical weapons in the past. « They are manipulating the political language to waste time, » he said.
Mr al-Ayoubi is an ethnic Kurd who joined the Syrian diplomatic service in 2001. He came to London as second secretary at the Syrian embassy in February 2011 but was made charge d’affaires in May last year after his predecessor was booted out of the country in response to the massacre committed by Syrian forces in Houla.
The Syrian ambassador, Sami al-Khiyami, had been withdrawn in the March that year. It left Mr al-Ayoubi as the most senior Syrian diplomat in the UK.
But he defected in July last year, saying he could no longer defend the regime, and went in to hiding.
He has only gone public now because of the horrors he witnessed in last month’s chemical attack on a suburb of Damascus which is believed to have killed more than 1,400 people, including 400 children.
He warned that power in the Middle East will fall in to the hands of Iran if action is not taken and said the West needed to send a message or watch the region crumble.
Inaction would further enhance Iran’s influence and encourage them to then seek to exert control in the oil rich states of the Gulf, he added.
Mr al-Ayoubi also warned Assad will use chemical weapons « again and again » if he is not stopped. « The Syrian government is fighting on behalf of Iran to control the Middle East, » he said. « What is the next target after Syria? I am asking the houses of Parliament.
The next target will be Saudi Arabia and the Arab gulf, which are very rich in oil.
« You can say all right we do not want to stop Iran now, in Syria, but in the future, it could be too late. »
But he warned that Assad will not hesitate to use weapons again now they have been fired. « He will do it again and again. For me I am not interested in an invasion. What I want is to remove the chemical weapons from Syria, » he told The Sunday Telegraph.
« I am not interested in anything else. I do not want to destroy the country, I do not want an invasion, I do not want to see any foreign soldier in my country. »
Mr al-Ayoubi stepped down because « it will be difficult for you to be part of a crime or defend a crime which will be committed by weapons of mass destruction ».
He previously told how he received death threats from the Syrian intelligence service who were « angry and shocked » by his defection.
It was a decision that was to dramatically change Mr al-Ayoubi’s life. He suddenly went from the upper echelons of the diplomatic circles to a safe house and the dole queue. He and his family were put under the protection of the Foreign Office and now live in a secret location outside London.
Meeting him in a hotel room, he said he now suffers from depression because no one is willing to employ him. « I have applied for many, many jobs but as soon as they see I was a Syrian diplomat they do not want to know, » he said.
But despite his change in lifestyle he is determined to speak up for the innocent Syrian citizens caught up in the bloody conflict. Recalling last month’s massacre, he said: « I saw horrible things. Children the age of my children.
« I was crying when I first saw them because I feel they are my children. I wanted to say loudly ‘stop it’.
« That is why I am here now talking. I do not want more bloodshed. »
As an ethnic Kurd the chemical attack also revived the horrors of the atrocity carried out by Saddam Hussein on the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 which left up to 5,000 dead.
He likened refusal by British MPs to join in any military strike on Syria to Neville Chamberlain’s « appeasement » of Adolf Hitler and warned Assad will attack again.
« I used Neville Chamberlain as an example. I just wanted to remind the people that because they were not straight enough with a dictator at that time, millions have lost their lives.
« A dictator is a dictator. You will never change his mind. He will keep going and keep killing. »
He once met Assad when he was a diplomat in Greece in 2003 and described him as a « Jekyll and Hyde » character. « He was nice and polite. Very humble but the world now knows what a horrible man he is. »