December 10, 2003
By Nir Boms and Erick Stakelbeck
In his three and a half years as Syrian President, 38-year-old Bashar Al-Assad has been called many things by U.S. officials. Misunderstood is not one of them.
Yet, if Assad’s recent comments to the New York Times are any indication, the U.S. has it all wrong when it comes to the Syrian dictator. In a wide-ranging interview published in the November 30th edition of the Times, Assad-in what undoubtedly came as a great surprise to the hundreds of political dissidents languishing in Syrian prisons-spoke of taking “better steps towards democracy.” Citing his commitment to progress, he declared, “We [Syria] have to change…I don’t agree to stand still…We are moving forward slowly but steadily.” Assad’s paean to democracy followed similar remarks by Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam at the Ba’ath Party conference in November. Acknowledging that “regional and international developments require the (Syrian) government to adapt,” Khaddam promised that “the (Baa’th) party is studying the issue of developing its political thinking.”