Just World Podcasts

Peter Ford, Britain's former ambassador to Syria, discussing Syria and Palestine

July 26, 2018
Just World Podcasts
Peter Ford, Britain's former ambassador to Syria, discussing Syria and Palestine
Chapters
Just World Podcasts
Peter Ford, Britain's former ambassador to Syria, discussing Syria and Palestine
Jul 26, 2018
Helena Cobban
Show Notes Transcript
We are pleased to present an interview that JWE President Helena Cobban conducted July 24th with Peter Ford, who was Britain’s ambassador to Syria, 2003 through 2006, and who has remained an informed and close observer of Syrian affairs ever since. He was also, for several years after he left the British diplomatic service, the representative of the UN agency UNRWA to the Arab world, based in Amman. In this half-hour interview Ambassador Ford discussed aspects of the situations of both Syrians and Palestinians. A digest of the conversation will be posted shortly on our blog at www.justworldeducational.org, where you can also find links to the interviews Ms. Cobban conducted with Professor Falk and a wealth of informational resources about Palestine, Syria, and other issues of war and peace in the Middle East.

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Speaker 1:
0:01
Hi, I'm Helena Carbon. I'm the CEO of the Book Publishing Company, just world books and President of the nonprofit organization, just world educational, which is proud to publish this present podcast series. Recently we published two episodes in which I discussed Turkey and it's domestic and regional policies with Professor Richard Falk. Now I am pleased to present an interview I conducted July 24th with Peter Ford who was Britain's ambassador to Syria 2003 through 2006 and who has remained and informed and close observer of Syriana fairs ever since. He was also for several years after he left the British diplomatic service, the representative of the UN agency Anwar to the Arab world based in mn and this half hour interview ambassador Ford discussed aspects of the situations of both Syrians and Palestinians. A digest of our conversation will be posted shortly on our blog@wwwdotjustworldeducational.org where you can also find links to the interviews I conducted with Professor Falk and a wealth of information and resources about Palestine, Syria, and other issues of war and peace in the Middle East.
Speaker 1:
1:27
So here's my conversation with Ambassador Peter Ford. I am sitting here in methyls field UK with Ambassador Peter Ford. And we're going to talk a little bit about, um, ongoing events in Syria where recently the white helmets have been evacuated from southern Syria through Israel to Jordan and possibly coming here to the UK, um, and going to France and Canada and elsewhere. Um, hmm. Peter, tell me what you think about the white helmets and what their role was in the Syrian conflict and what the relationship between them and your government here in, in the UK and other governments has been.
Speaker 2:
2:21
Uh, the white helmet, Sha Jihadi Auxiliary, um, they uh, not, uh, as claimed by themselves. Then the support is in the British government and elsewhere. They are not simple, uh, rescuers. They are not volunteers. They are paid professionals, uh, of this inflammation. Uh, they have an enormous, um, but to it for propaganda which comes from Western governments. Um, the press department do the hundred 50 strong, 150. That is more than the combined pref departments of the British fire brigade and the ambulance service. But this gives us an idea of what the priority is for this very dubious organization. And you have only to look at the photographs or within inaction, they, they have, uh, in English, uh, than the name White Helmets on that, uh, uniform. Um, in theory you don't, if you are a genuine rescuer, you don't go around with the words in English, white helmet for, on, on your jacket.
Speaker 2:
3:41
No. All their activity directed mobilizing with an opinion, uh, behind the jihad is with whom they associate. They co locate that, um, send clues with organizations like owl, the owl, ky. Dot. Organization known as [inaudible], Nostra and with the other, uh, groups, militant groups that should Jay Shah, I'll Islam they have in the past, the associated and being shown, waving the flags of Ifis. Uh, these are not good people. And uh, we in the west, they are being manipulated by them and by the handlers, the number one handler or the British British intelligence services who direct their operations and who funds them to the tune. Uh, or in the case of the British government who have 38 million pounds in the last five years, you can buy a lot of helmets with that.
Speaker 1:
4:48
Is that 38 million pounds a year for five years? Know?
Speaker 2:
4:52
No, that, that is a, a, the government tells us that it's that 38 million pounds could cumulatively,
Speaker 1:
5:00
and, and that is all a matter of public record. Is it okay.
Speaker 2:
5:03
Yes. This inflammation with priors data two of the Foreign Office by a freedom of inflammation, uh, inquiry, uh, but the British government have been giving every year, um, an average of $100 million, 60 million pounds, uh, to the, uh, opposition, including the white helmet, uh, every year for the last several years, $100 million a year. The white helmet are part of that regime change operation. Uh, they're more, most the inglorious that exploit have been to fake a alleged chemical incident, uh, to pretend to be rescuing children from rob. All these incidents are all staged, fabricated. Uh, they do the of the Oscar, uh, that they were granted by, uh, by Hollywood. They are fantastic actors. They put on very professional production pieces. And these are other people who are now, um, very significantly being extra cake Theod by Western governments and Israel across the Israeli territory. Although we don't know how many are going through remain behind in Israel of course, but we are told that they are making their way through Israel and Jordan to Britain and other western countries.
Speaker 2:
6:35
Uh, how we reconcile that with the safety of our country is not very clear. These are people who in the past they've been refused these's the head, right? Thought it was refused a visa to the United States in 2016. These are very suspicious characters with a known jihad. The associates, it would never, never in a million years normally been granted asylum and now they will have to be uh, uh, fed walkthrough, housed and tempered at the expense of the British tax payer and extra police thing will be required to ensure this, our safety from them and that safety from us.
Speaker 1:
7:26
So, um, you obviously have a point of view about the white helmets that is very different from that. Um, propagated by most of the left wings slash liberal slash progressive media here in, in the UK. What kind of treatment do you get from people in these media outlets or in these political currents? When you raise these questions about the white helmets,
Speaker 2:
7:54
it's extremely difficult to get a dissenting voice heard. Um, the prevailing narrative swamps all other narratives in the main stream media, uh, the most you get is nearing, uh, uh, mention that the white helmets are considered to be terrorists by the 30th. And the Russians. There is no mention of the fact that former ambassadors and many other three are experts consider them to be associate the terrorists. These voices are simply drowned out.
Speaker 1:
8:33
So your, your voice or the voice of others who raise questions about the white helmets. And what kind of names do you get called?
Speaker 2:
8:43
Uh, uh, uh, sympathize, uh, uh, somebody who is trying to, uh, defend the indefensible butcher of domestic of, uh, oh, the, the, the, the terms of the menology trotted out through associate people like myself, um, with, uh, with, with that and to call him all the names under the sun. And, uh, this is how they tried to smear you just for a voicing thumb on palatable truth about the opposition to f that leaving aside the generics or demerits and asset. The fact is that the so called rebels are no angels and we, the British and the Americans and other Western governments have been pumping money onto direct action, political support and encouragement to the armed opposition groups too. Militant jihad is Landis groups year after year with taxpayer money. The operation and thank goodness has failed, is failing, but there is still a lot of unfinished business in Syria.
Speaker 2:
10:05
What they greatly fear is that we are going to have soon another of these staged chemical warfare incidents. And where would that take place? It is already being prepared. There are reports that this is that the white helmets had been seen on the new versus uh, in it live providence, a preview in previous years, there have been staged incidents in places like crunchy Hoon in 2017 in which he was in it lip providence. Now, the beauty of it lived from the point of view of the people staging these incidents is that the chemical weapons inspectors cannot go there. Why? Because the air in the hands, the areas are in the hunt handled the jihadis. They are too dangerous for the international inspectors to go there. This hasn't prevented in the past, the international inspectors accepting fabricated evidence from the jihadis and the white helmets acolytes. And I'm presenting it as evidence supporting the thesis. That asset gassed his people. If nothing of the kind, uh, this, uh, fabricated evidence, uh, should never be, we'll never be acceptable in a court of law. Unfortunately, for the jihad is in Duma in April this year, uh, they lost control of the territory and the inspectors were able to visit. And very recently, they've come up with an interim report, which says that they found no evidence at all of youth of any chemical weapons specifically that was no Theron, which western governments were accusing asset of using in Duma, no evidence, whatever.
Speaker 1:
12:05
I thought that they said that there had been some Seren gas and Duma.
Speaker 2:
12:11
No, no. The, the, uh, OPCW Enthereum report, um, published about two weeks ago stated categorically that they found no evidence of siren. They found evidence of chlorine. Chlorine in itself is not a prohibited substance because many things, uh, but siren, but with the presence is Theron with categorically refuted,
Speaker 1:
12:44
um, PTU where the UK ambassador in Syria from 2002 until 2005. That must've been an interesting time to be there. Um, what, what were your main impressions of what you saw when you were there,
Speaker 2:
13:01
but reform with very much in the air initially? Um, the math guru, the Syria with, uh, had a new young, uh, president, uh, with the hope up connection and vibrancy. Uh, we began to feel a lot of the economic reform and there were whispers of democratic reform coming up, changes in the Ba'ath Party, uh, Bashar with being feted in a western capital. He went to Paris and London. He been just one month before I arrived in death, goofy pain, having tea in Buckingham Palace with the Queen. It all thought it to unravel, uh, because of events in neighboring countries, Lebanon and Iraq. The invasion of Iraq, uh, knock things very badly. Of course, uh, reform came to a halt because Syria was forced to look to its own security the Americans have with because of blow back from the full blown crisis in world war in Iraq next door. Um, many fights with went from three or two, uh, Iraq. The Therion governance at that time were extremely apprehensive that once the Americans have dealt with sat down, they will turn their attentions to asset next. And for this reason, they did not stand in the way of many fight Guth making their way across through.
Speaker 1:
14:46
So who was I was fighters by and large, where they Iraqi nationals, they, they were from all
Speaker 2:
14:52
over. [inaudible] not so much you Iraqis, Iraqis stayed and fought. They were more, um, Jordanians, Palestinians, Libyans and native Syrians going back into, across the Syria, Iraq border to fight against the Americans. And, uh, uh, good. There was blow back for theory in many ways. They add, it brought the teammate, um, stirrings of reform to halt while security with the main issue. Uh, they came on, the western fire came under a lot of western pressure, including from myself. I received regular instructions to remonstrate with the Syrians over allowing jihadis to cross the borders. Um, but personally I like could always understand why they were given really no choice if the Americans had hadn't easy passage through Iraq that the Americans made no secret of the fact that they were going to come knocking on assets door next.
Speaker 1:
16:03
And then you had the Rafiq Hariri assassination in Lebanon, um, in 2004, I want to say late 2004 and that caused a big rupture in serious tentative, um, attempt to, to make a rapprochement with definitely EU countries.
Speaker 2:
16:25
Uh, absolutely brought through a whole negotiation in which I've been very instrumental, um, in before any EU 30 a trade agreement, um, relations, uh, went into the deep freeze with all the European countries. Um, again, I refeed regular instructions to lobby. The theory is about getting out of Lebanon. I'm a fee. I carried this out with more enthusiasm and conviction that my instructions about Iraq. I believe that Lebanon had been a corrupting influence on theoria in every sense, and they'd be better off leaving and leave. He did. Then in the end, um, there were the youth members demonstrations in, in Beirut and um, following closely on a similar looking demonstration in Romania at the time, there was a lot of nervousness in a theory of the causes of what had been happening in Romania with a huge, uh, popular demonstrations, uh, resulting in the hounding out of a government.
Speaker 1:
17:47
So anyways, some pretty interesting. Did you have contacts with people in the Syrian opposition when you were there or was that beyond your remit as the UK ambassador?
Speaker 2:
17:59
It certainly wasn't the beyond my remit and the, he came regularly to my health. Um, I actively encourage them, including some people who are, no, no, quite prominent in the, uh, opposition. Um, at the time I thought they were brave, but Ratcliff. Um, nevertheless, I did what I could give them some diplomatic protection at the time and to encourage the government not to overreact against them, but of course the, these, this, the opposition at this time with secular opposition, these were genuine democrats. Um, there were no with Lamisse the militants among them, these were communists and a democratic, uh, uh, opponents.
Speaker 1:
18:55
So, um, you then left Syria and, and went to work for the United Nations for Anwar for many years. I'm based in Jordan and responsible for, um, outreach to Arab governments on behalf of Anwar. And in the course of that, presumably you saw quite a lot of what was happening to the Palestinians in Syria during the early years of the conflict in Syria.
Speaker 2:
19:26
Uh, absolutely. Uh, I went to the Palestinian camps in Syria, particularly a Yarmouk. Um, I saw the devastation in that camp, uh, which with, uh, taken over by on the groups, including Isis. It was a very chaotic situation, which changed from day to day. Um, miraculously, we as an agency, we're able, uh, one or two days a month to send food, uh, in, um, but we never knew quite how our delegations would be received or whether they'd get back alive. Um, it,
Speaker 1:
20:11
could I ask, how did you know that they were isis?
Speaker 2:
20:16
Uh, people in the camp told those and, and, and, and, uh, [inaudible] there's guys themselves, they'd go around waving their, they're black and white flags and wearing their bandanas. Um, it was always pretty clear who was, uh, isis?
Speaker 1:
20:36
Why is it as a group opposition groups? Yeah.
Speaker 2:
20:38
Yeah, there was, it was chaotic and there was a lot of infighting among the groups. Uh, but they, they were, several of them were the nostra were there and Jay shall Islam, Rodeph, Sholom, uh, all the main groups how to foot pole in Yarmouk, which was a very big area.
Speaker 1:
21:00
Um, how about the Palestinian groups that were in Yarmouk or in other rebel held Palestinian areas of Syria?
Speaker 2:
21:09
Uh, they were divided, uh, some worth fighting with the Islamist rebels, but dumber that Hannah's, uh, at the working level are not among them. The, some of the Hana, uh, flight crews were literally put to the thought by, uh, by Isis and they fought heroically. Um, but, uh, I'm sorry to faith islands, the other Palestinian militants they side with the jihadis. Okay.
Speaker 1:
21:44
And where the Palestinians who were, who were siding with with the government?
Speaker 2:
21:50
Oh yeah, very much so. Um, as, as you're aware, the Syrian government is always treated very well. Uh, the Palestinians in the annex, mids giving them virtually or, uh, rights enjoyed by a therian citizens except the right to vote. Um, and most of them were, were, uh, happy to be in theory a rather than in somewhere like Lebanon. They were generally treated with or indeed Iraq by event even with,
Speaker 1:
22:23
so, um, so going back to your experience with Anwar and your decades long evaluation of, of the Palestinian situation, um, from what you saw on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza in those years you were working for [inaudible], do you think that there is still a possibility of a two state solution?
Speaker 2:
22:51
Uh, not in my lifetime, I don't think. Um, I was never very optimistic that that could be two states with a very simple reason that I couldn't see by what mechanism is through, would be brought to accept the reality of withdrawal from the occupied territories. Uh, I, I don't believe in the one state, I think that would be simple surrender, call it what you like. Um, I do believe the Palestinians would hold out for a separate state, but I simply don't see, I didn't feed them and I don't fee theme left today. The mechanism which is going to deliver it, they're certainly not going to be through negotiation. I think almost everyone can now see as I was even back then, that the American, so cool. Mediators, we never to mediate truth, always, always. We're going to fight with the Israelis and would never in a million years put real pressure on Israel.
Speaker 2:
24:01
Uh, now that situation is absolutely blatant. The scales have fallen from the eyes of the Palestinian leadership. Uh, even they cannot pretend any longer that America is going to deliver a Palestinian state. Uh, but I don't see it happening on the military level. Uh, either I slightly pinned my hopes on technology with, with positively military technology, a miniaturized technology, um, who knows, um, 10 years before the Internet became public knowledge, no one could do themed of the change you if it was going to bring including to wolf there. Um, but um, to one state is uh, uh, Miraj and two states is impossible to see happening in the short or medium term.
Speaker 1:
25:04
So looking at, um, occupied territories. Of course there is the other territory that's been occupied since 1967, which is Golan, which has been as we know, you know, the, the location of the white helmet evacuation and various other things going on there with, I believe there has been a sort of uh, uh, she had the con you had he controlled buffer zone, um, between the IDF occupying force and the Syrian army is there, what do you see happening on Golan?
Speaker 2:
25:46
It's very interesting and it's very hard to predict. The Golan used to be entirely predictable. Yeah. After year after year, the Therion government used to acquiesce in the rolling over of the mandate for the UN separation. Fourth on the go, then under, on and off without questioning it and did not tolerate any, um, federally in, uh, or other military activity on, on the Golan. Effectively the Syrian government acted as a Israel death protector on the Golan. It was the comments, the goal Israeli borders. That's the tuition is now changed very radically. Um, the theory, certain government used to be afraid of Israel and fray to being bombed by Israel, but now after being bombed over a hundred times, I rather suspect that mine, the mindset in Damascus may have changed. With regard to the Golan,
Speaker 1:
26:55
you are saying that Syria has been bombed a hundred times by Israel, not, not the bombings by, by Israel. Okay. And over what, over what time period? Uh,
Speaker 2:
27:08
hey, over the last five years.
Speaker 1:
27:10
Okay, so that's all [inaudible] the in the UN TSOs records. Oh, absolutely. Yes.
Speaker 2:
27:18
Absolutely. These are [inaudible]. The Israelis don't always admit that it's them who have been doing the bombing, but it's, they don't deny it, uh, either. And there are, and they have recently been acknowledging a number of these bombings rate. Um, but the paradoxical result is that Syria is learning to live with Israeli bombing and thankful God Chiqui and militarily that is quite an important step with implications for the Golan. Israel can no longer intimidate a theory by the threat of bombing. Then you have a new situation, you have a country which is determined to leadership, which you did turn into recover every last inch of occupied and brown as well as rebel control terrorist tree on sure. That the agenda, that the Gulen is going to come back onto the international agenda in a big way in the coming month and years. And the more the Israelis jump up and down about it and about Iran being on their doorstep, the more they are digging their own grave. Uh, the president, Putin mentioned the go then in his recent Helsinki meeting with Trump and for the first time in possibly decades mentioned with need by put it in a resolution three, three, eight people,
Speaker 1:
29:00
which was the [inaudible] fish. But yeah,
Speaker 2:
29:03
the resolution basically, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from the [inaudible]. So the question's going to Israeli withdrawal from the Golan it back on the top international agenda again for the first time in decades. Interesting.
Speaker 1:
29:21
So, um, I'm afraid we're going to have to wrap this up, but just before we do that, um, you recently were associated with the launching of a new organization called the global network for Syria. Tell us about it.
Speaker 2:
29:37
This is a group of volunteers. Um, a dozen also several often are members of the House of Lords, peers and PRF is and bishops and one former archbishop Oh. With a keen interest in Syria and all with a keen interest in having some sanity on Syria, on being objective about theoria on not just swallowing the standard narrative, the standard demonization of the theory yet, uh, the first initiative of the group has been to send an Oakland letter to Trump may and Macron basically thing hands off Syria, don't try to impose the western solution on theoria stopped your attempt to regime change that there'd be elections or the free elections that the Syrian people choose for themselves. But stop your thanks. [inaudible] on Theoria, which are only harming the theory and people, not the government. Anyway. Uh, do help and stop blocking international reconstruction assistance and be theories about helping through yet don't try to make things with,
Speaker 1:
31:06
well, thank you very much. Um, I hope that you're able to make big waves with this new organization and thank you for talking to me this house.
Speaker 2:
31:15
We'll do our best. Thank you very much.
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