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Meeting With President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria Remarks of the President and President Asad Prior to Their Meeting.

May 09, 1977

PRESIDENT CARTER. It's with a great deal of pleasure and hope that I come to Geneva to meet with the great President of Syria, President Asad. As a leader .of one of the great countries in the Middle East, I look to him for guidance and advice and for support as all of us search for progress in achieving peace in that important and troubled part of the world.

President Asad has a great role to play because of his experience, the greatness of his country, his interest in and sensitivity about world affairs outside his region, and because of his ability to bring together different peoples who in the past have been unfriendly toward one another and at odds.

This is a year when we are blessed with strong and moderate leaders in the Middle Eastern region. I believe that it is a year of hope for substantial progress, but it can only be achieved with close consultation, open minds, and a determination to succeed in spite of very difficult obstacles. I have already met with the leaders of Israel and Egypt and Jordan, and this meeting with President Asad will help me to understand the common agreements that exist and the potentials for the resolution of differences that still remain.

The good will of President Asad has already been demonstrated. For many years he has been a strong supporter in the search for peace, working closely with my predecessors in the White House and with Secretary Kissinger and others, as efforts have been made.

We have no regional role to play in this year's deliberations, but we hope to act as an intermediary who can have influence only to the extent that the other nations trust us to be fair, to be objective, to be truthful, to be determined.

Following my own meetings with these great leaders, we will ask our own Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, to visit the Middle Eastern region again to consult more closely with the nations involved in future deliberations. And I believe that if I can learn from President Asad today, that that will be another major step toward the progress that we all hope to see.

There must be fairness; there must be some flexibility; there must be a forgetting about past differences and misunderstandings; there must be determination; there must be a resolution of the Palestine problem and a homeland for the Palestinians; there must be some resolution of border disputes; and there also must 'be an assurance of permanent and real peace with guarantees for the future security of these countries, which all can trust. We will add our good .offices, as requested, but I am very much aware that the agreement can only be permanent and can only be initiated if the parties who live there reach an understanding with one another.

I want to express my deep thanks to President Asad for being willing to come to Geneva to meet with me, and I will try to capitalize on the close friendship which he and I have already established. And I believe that the discussions will be fruitful because of his good will, his experience, his knowledge, his sensitivity, and his graciousness in meeting me here.

So, thank you again, President Asad. I hope that this day's deliberations will be a contribution to peace in the Middle East which can help to guarantee peace and prosperity throughout the whole world.

Thank you, sir.

PRESIDENT ASAD. Before I read the prepared short statement, I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to President Carter for his warm expressions which he has kindly offered, and also to thank him for his untiring, persistent efforts which he manifested towards reaching, achieving peace in the area which he has manifested since he took office.

In spite of the difficulties which we have encountered in the past and which will obviously exist to some extent in our search for peace and for a solution of the problems in the Middle East, I must say, in spite of all this, that taken in their totality, the expressions of President Carter on the subject have created an atmosphere of faith and an encouraging atmosphere of optimism.

And as I said at the airport in Geneva yesterday on arrival, I believe that the target which President Carter has in mind, the target which we have in mind, namely, the resolution of the problem and the achievement of peace in the area, is a noble target, is of such a nobility as a target that it should be the goal of everybody in the world who loves peace. And as long as we hold tenaciously to some moral values, as long as we do that, we are bound to strive very hard for the achievement of justice and the solution of causes all around the world, causes that are worthy, and of course, we mentioned foremost among these the cause that we are engaged in, trying to seek a solution for in our area.

And as long as leaders of principle meet together to discuss these pernicious, difficult, complicated problems--foremost among which is that of the Middle East-as long as these leaders, with that moral courage, can meet together, so much more would we be armed with the possibilities of finding a just and lasting solution.

Although it is not always wise or useful to prejudge things and be ahead of events, I would like to express myself right now--although the meeting between President Carter and myself is still at its first flush, so to speak, the first few minutes--I would like to say, nevertheless, and take the risk in saying it, that we are greatly optimistic.

This does not mean the solution of the problem has become axiomatic, nor do we mean that there is, or there suddenly has appeared, a magic wand to solve the problem. But what it does prove is that obviously there is the will to look for a solution, a solution which is just and lasting.

The recent statement of the President-you know that as a result of contacts that have taken place between the Syrian Arab Republic and the United States of America, it has been agreed that President Carter and myself would meet today. This is the first time we meet. After a few minutes, we shall begin our talks at the hotel, and shortly we shall discuss the main subject, which is of interest to all, namely, how to move towards a just peace in the Middle East.

Again, I would thank President Carter for his coming to Geneva for this meeting.

Regarding the achievement of a just peace in the Middle East, our opinion, which we have always declared, is that a grave situation threatening international peace and security exists in our region.

This situation arises from the continued occupation of the Arab territories which Israel seized by force in 1967, as well as from Israel's denial of the legitimate recognition of various of the Arab people of Palestine. The fact that this occupation and the homelessness of an entire people continue inevitably means the prolongation of a grave situation that threatens to renew the wars and tragedies from which our region has suffered for 30 years.

We in Syria have repeatedly stressed our determination to continue to work with full facility in order to make our region enjoy the peace which it needs. This peace would serve not only the interests of our region but those of the world at large. We welcome any sincere effort that may help establish a just peace in our region and believe that the sincere efforts which the United States of America can exert in this field are basic and important.

As you know, President Carter has started a series of talks with a number of Arab leaders aimed to know at first hand the facts of the situation in order to promulgate an American stand and, as a number of American officials have declared, in order to use the great influence of the United States to help find a solution based on justice for the existing conflict in the Middle East.

My meeting with President Carter today is within this context. I sincerely hope that our talks will enhance opportunities of peace, will throw light on the justice of our cause, and will pave the way with clear ideas for the holding of the Geneva conference, which, as is generally agreed, provides a suitable framework for the implementation of the resolutions on the Middle East of the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly.

We shall spend 3 days in Switzerland, during which I shall visit Bern at the invitation of President Furgler, who has kindly come to Geneva and to whom I have paid a courtesy call this morning. We are happy to be in Switzerland.

Finally, I wish to thank again President Carter and hope that we will meet success in our effort.

PRESIDENT CARTER. Although President Asad and I have only been together for a few minutes, we've reached a very important agreement in this brief time.

We've noticed that at the end of each day's deliberations, that those who travel with us can visit the local night spots and have a great deal of pleasure. We've also noticed that when we get off the elevator, everyone else enters the room, we have to come in last.

We've noticed that when we are having a very congenial conversation that protocol officers order us as to what we should do next. And when we finish our major success or failure, we report to the ultimate masters--the press. We've also noticed that our Foreign Ministers travel frequently to delightful places in the world and enjoy the hospitality of friendly countries. So, President Asad and I have agreed to begin a movement to establish for the first time, human rights for Presidents. [Laughter]

Note: President Carter spoke at 3: 25 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. President Asad spoke in Arabic, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Jimmy Carter, Meeting With President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria Remarks of the President and President Asad Prior to Their Meeting. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244165

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