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Article by Dmitry Medvedev in Syrian Newspaper Al-Watan

May 9, 2010

Dear Al-Watan readers,

It is a genuine pleasure to be the first Russian leader to make a full-fledged official visit to friendly Syria.

Our countries have longstanding traditions of mutual respect and close cooperation, and there is much attesting to this. Since Syria gained its independence dozens of big industrial and infrastructure facilities have been built in your country through our joint efforts. They include power stations on the Euphrates, thousands of kilometres of railways and high-voltage transmission lines, irrigation and water resource management facilities, oil fields, the Homs-Aleppo oil pipeline, a nitrogen fertiliser plant in Homs, and a number of training centres, just to name a few.

Aside from its purely practical benefits, this close cooperation has also had less visible but nonetheless important results. It has played a big part in the lives of thousands of people in both countries for whom this bilateral cooperation was their livelihood, and who now recall with great warmth their participation in these common projects. Our specialists worked shoulder to shoulder with their Syrian colleagues at various sites throughout Syria, and many Syrians studied in Soviet and Russian universities. Finally, these ties produced Russian-Syrian families, who hold both countries equally dear. I am sure that the Days of Russian Culture in Syria and Days of Syrian Culture in Russia events planned for 2011–2012 will hold particular value for them. 

I must mention that the close cooperation and active contacts between our countries first developed during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad, and people in Russia do not forget this.

In today’s new situation we need to not just continue building on past accomplishments but make steady progress towards the future based on the guidelines for our work together set by the Declaration on Developing and Deepening Friendly Relations signed during President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Moscow in December 2005.

Of course, taking Russian-Syrian relations to a genuinely new level will require hard work on our part. Above all, we will need to get our multifaceted political dialogue under way. We share the ideal of building a fair world order based on supremacy of international law, equality between all countries, big and small, and their cooperation in resolving global issues, including the new threats and challenges of the twenty-first century. In this respect, we place particular importance on regular Russian-Syrian meetings at all levels, effective use of existing cooperation mechanisms and establishment of new ones. 

We also need to step up efforts to broaden our bilateral cooperation in the trade and economic, investment, energy, science and technology, transport, culture and humanitarian and other areas.

The priority today is to restore and build on our bilateral trade, which peaked in 2008 at almost $2 billion, but then fell to $1.136 billion in 2009 as a result of the global financial and economic crisis.

We have every opportunity we need to do this. Over recent years we have made substantial progress in our work together in the oil and gas sectors, electricity, and water management, irrigation and land cultivation, for example.

In November 2009, the first section of the inter-Arab gas pipeline (running from Egypt through Jordan and Syria to Turkey) came on line. Construction of a gas treatment plant capable of processing 7.5 million cubic metres of natural gas a day has been completed. Oil production began at the South Kishma oilfield in April 2010. Russian companies are examining the opportunities for taking part in promising projects such as construction of oil refineries in the towns of Deir ez-Zor and Furklus, the Zenobia oil pipeline and central mainline gas pipeline, rebuilding the Kirkuk-Baniyas oil pipeline, and modernising the oil refinery at Baniyas.

We are fully aware that we need to move forward in all these areas, using what I would call innovative, ‘smart’ approaches. Aside from continuing our work in traditional cooperation sectors we also need to make a priority of developing the high-tech component of our trade and economic ties. By this I mean joint projects in the communications and information technology sectors, developing the use of navigation systems, and research and use of outer space. We are open for the broadest cooperation in all of these areas. 

I expect to discuss all of these different issues during my upcoming talks with President Bashar al-Assad.

It is only natural that in Damascus, one of the Middle East’s most important political centres, we will discuss international and regional issues.

On the international community’s agenda today is the task of building a new, fair and sustainable world order. The multipolar reality is becoming increasingly evident in every area – in politics, the economy, and finance. This makes it more important than ever to work together to find solutions to global threats and challenges.

Global development today is under threat not only from financial and economic upheavals but also from regional and local conflicts, terrorism, cross-border crime, food security issues, and climate-related problems. This sets an agenda that brings us together in the need to harmonise international relations on the basis of rapprochement and interpenetration of different economies and cultures. I am sure that our countries have much on which to cooperate in this area.

Our upcoming talks will focus particularly on current regional security issues. President Hafez al-Assad’s strategic choice of peaceful settlement in the Middle East was hailed in its time around the world as a farsighted decision. Today, the position taken by Bashar al-Assad, who continues his father’s legacy, plays a big part in bringing the goal of peace closer. 

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the Middle East quartet, Russia is consistent in its strenuous efforts to ‘re-launch’ the Arab-Israeli dialogue. I am sure that the parties will show historic responsibility for their peoples’ futures and take new steps towards each other. 

Our countries’ duty is to work together with other interested countries to create the best possible conditions for this dialogue to go ahead. In other words, we much keep up our efforts to encourage progress towards peace and stability in the Middle East.

I want to take this opportunity to wish Al-Watan’s readers and all of our Syrian friends success, wellbeing, and prosperity.

May 9, 2010