Assad: Arab world must reform

Jan. 31, 2011 at 3:30 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Syria will make political changes because the Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni protests are ushering in a "new era," Syrian President Bashar Assad said.

"Is it going to be a new era toward more chaos or more institutionalization? That is the question," Assad told The Wall Street Journal in Damascus. "The end is not clear yet."

Nonetheless, Arab rulers will need to respond to the new era and do more to accommodate their people's rising political and economic aspirations, Assad said.

"If you didn't see the need of reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it's too late to do any reform," Assad said.

Assad told the Journal he was in a stronger position than Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose government has been shaken by days of large-scale protests seeking his ouster, and will therefore have more time to make changes, because his anti-U.S. positions and confrontation with Israel keep him strong with the grassroots in his nation.

"Syria is stable. Why?" Assad said. "Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence ... you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances."

Assad said that as much as he sought closer ties to Washington he doesn't see this coming at the expense of his alliance with Iran.

"Nobody can overlook Iran, whether you like it or not," Assad said.

The Syrian leader said he shared the U.S. goals to target al-Qaida and other extremist groups, but stressed Tehran remained a crucial Syrian ally.

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