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After a 30-Year Reign, Syria's President Dead at 69Aired June 10, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: For those of you just joining us, we have been reporting all morning and into the afternoon of the passing of the man that was called the "Lion of Damascus," President Hafez Al- Assad of Syria. After a 30-year reign, at the age of 69, and after years of deteriorating health has passed away. The news was announced before the Syrian parliament in Damascus within the past few hours. The scene there a very dramatic and emotional one, as loyalists to the Bath Party, the party that was aligned with Hafez Al-Assad, heard the news officially as his death was announced.
Shortly after this scene, the parliament met in an emergency session, changing the Syrian constitution to make it possible, at least possible for Hafez Al-Assad's son, Dr. Bashar Assad, to become his heir apparent as president of Syria. Specifically, they changed the age requirement, which had been 40 years. Bashar is in his 30s and would have been unable to serve based on that. The Constitution was changed. Thus laying the groundwork for this man, Bashar Assad, a physician and a staff colonel, to rise to presidency of Syria. That will be determined, we are told, or it should be determined, on June 25, when the Syrian parliament meets again.
In the meantime, there will be of course a period of mourning in Syria, where generations literally, a few generations, know of no other leader besides Hafez Al-Assad, the controversial ruler who held on to power through tumultuous times in the Middle East, dead at the age of 69 -- Jim.
JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, well, joining us now for more of a perspective, what will this mean in the Arab world? How is it being received? Clovis Maksoud, the former Arab League ambassador to the United States and the United Nations joining us now.
Mr. Maksud, thank you so much for being with us.
CLOVIS MAKSOUD, FMR. ARAB LEAGUE AMBASSADOR: Your welcome.
CLANCY: What is the word that you have you today, if any, on the official cause of death? Certainly we know that he had health problems. The president of Syria underwent bypass surgery, and other -- suffered other heart ailments.
MAKSOUD: Well, what I've heard, they never totally confirmed, is that he had a heart stroke and died. And I think what is happening at this moment is that there is going to be, because I kept hearing about the peace process, I think there is going to be a moment of suspension rather than disruption over the peace process, because there is going to be a reassessment not only the part of Syria, but also on the part of the Mideast, the Syrians, the Palestinians. I think that there is a possibility now of disallowing the government of Israel to play one track against the other, and there would be a propensity toward more coordination between the three tracts at the moment, especially after the liberation of South Lebanon. That would involve a mutual reinforcing of each other's tracks, instead of the competition that characterized it through the American methodology of dealing with one track, instead of the dealing on a comprehensive level. I think this suspension would also provide a period of for the Syrians for this moment of transition, and until the 25th of June, and I think that the opportunity for the funeral would bring about a level of some sort of Arab solidarity, which has evaded and eluded the Arabs for a long time. And I think Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in particular, would try to energize the process, but more with coordination than was obtainable before.
O'BRIEN: One of the things that we been looking at has been peace. The other one we have been looking at is the stability. Is there a transition under way internally, inside Syria? At this time, how do you see that transition taking place? I noted that as the announcement was made, it was made from parliament, showing that there is a government, there is structure beyond the presidency that is in place to control the country. What is your view?
MAKSOUD: Well, I think that the institution of government has provided the structures for some levels of not having a void, not having, sort of, can you have a vacation -- vacancy in the presidency, but there is institution of continuity represented by the parliament and by a transition government, as well as by the conference of the Baath ruling party and its allies. I think there is sufficient institutions of continuity for the transition period until the presidency is anchored and until the regime is able to reassess its internal as well as its regional policies.
O'BRIEN: As someone who traveled first to Damascus in the very early 1980s, and then returned many times, but then seeing that by the end of 1990s, it was society that really had been transformed from a police station to much more of a free economy. The involvement with Lebanon certainly had a big effect there. But did you see a change shifting in the policies, economic and political, of Hafez Al-Assad over the decades of his rule?
MAKSOUD: I think there has been a shift, because there was a new kind of alliance that existed before, and when the fall of the Soviet Union as a provider of diplomatic as well as military assistance has been removed from the equation, and there has been an attempt at adjustment and accommodation of the changes, perhaps slowly, perhaps gradually, and I think that this would be opportunity also, that there would be further economic changes, and in the governing style, not a sort of a breakaway from the style that existed before, because, the legitimacy of the subsequent regime or the successor regime would depend to a very large extent on sustaining some of the broad guidelines and policies Hafez Al-Assad has put forward. I think that there are certain constants in Syria's policies which nobody can deviate from. These have been characteristic since the independence of Syria and as a upholder of Arab nationalist objectives. I think that will continue to be a characteristic of the successor regime when it evolves.
CLANCY: Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, our thanks to you for sharing your views on this important day, marking the passing of Hafez Al- Assad -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Our coverage pass of the passing of Hafez Al-Assad and its implication continues here on CNN. When we return, we'll hear, among others, from Ben Wedeman, our correspondent in Cairo, among many CNN correspondent stationed all throughout the Middle East getting sense of reaction in all quadrants to death and passing of a leader of now nearly 30 decades.
Stay with us.
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