Syria's President Speaks
A Conversation With Bashar al-Assad
By Jonathan Tepperman
war in Syria will soon enter its fifth
year, with no end in sight. On January
20, Foreign Affairs managing
editor Jonathan Tepperman met with
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in
Damascus to discuss the conflict in an
January 27, 2015 "ICH"
would like to start by asking you about the
war. It has now been going on for almost
four years, and you know the statistics:
more than 200,000 people have been killed, a
million wounded, and more than three million
Syrians have fled the country, according to
the UN. Your forces have also suffered heavy
casualties. The war cannot go on forever.
How do you see the war ending?
All wars anywhere in the world have ended
with a political solution, because war
itself is not the solution; war is one of
the instruments of politics. So you end with
a political solution. Thatís how we see it.
That is the headline.
You donít think
that this war will end militarily?
No. Any war ends with a political solution.
Your country is
increasingly divided into three ministates:
one controlled by the government, one
controlled by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and
one controlled by the more secular Sunni and
Kurdish opposition. How will
you ever put
Syria back together again?
First of all, this image is not accurate,
because you cannot talk about ministates
without talking about the people who live
within those states. The Syrian people are
still with the unity of Syria; they still
support the government. The factions you
refer to control some areas, but they move
from one place to anotheróthey are not
stable, and there are no clear lines of
separation between different forces.
Sometimes they mingle with each other and
they move. But the main issue is about the
population. The population still supports
the state regardless of whether they support
it politically or not; I mean they support
the state as the representative of the unity
of Syria. So as long as you have the Syrian
people believing in unity, any government
and any official can unify Syria. If the
people are divided into two, three, or four
groups, no one can unify this country.
Thatís how we see it.
You really think
that the Sunnis and the Kurds still believe
in a unified Syria?
If you go to Damascus now, you can see all
the different, letís say, colors of our
society living together. So the divisions in
Syria are not based on sectarian or ethnic
grounds. And even in the Kurdish area you
are talking about, we have two different
colors: we have Arabs more than Kurds. So
itís not about the ethnicity; itís about the
factions that control certain areas
A year ago, both
the opposition and foreign governments were
insisting that you step down as a
precondition to talks. They no longer are.
Diplomats are now looking for an interim
settlement that would allow you to keep a
role. Just today, The New York Times
had an article that talked about increased
U.S. support for the Russian and UN peace
initiatives. The article refers to ďthe
Westís quiet retreat from its demands that
Syriaís president step down immediately.Ē
Given this shift in the Western attitude,
are you now more open to a negotiated
solution to the conflict that leads to a
From the very beginning, we were open. We
engaged in dialogue with every party in
Syria. Party doesnít mean political party;
it could be a party, a current, or some
personality; it could be any political
entity. We changed the constitution, and we
are open to anything. But when you want to
do something, itís not about the opposition
or about the government; itís about the
Syrians. Sometimes you might have a majority
that doesnít belong to any side. So when you
want to make a change, as long as youíre
talking about a national problem, every
Syrian must have a say in it. When you have
a dialogue, itís not between the government
and the opposition; itís between the
different Syrian parties and entities.
Thatís how we look at dialogue. This is
first. Second, whatever solution you want to
make, at the end you should go back to the
people through a referendum, because youíre
talking about the constitution, changing the
political system, whatever. You have to go
back to the Syrian people. So engaging in a
dialogue is different from taking decisions,
which is not done by the government or the
So youíre saying
that you would not agree to any kind of
political transition unless there is a
referendum that supports it?
Exactly. The people should make the
decision, not anyone else.
Does that mean
thereís no room for negotiations?
No, we will go to Russia, we will go to
these negotiations, but there is another
question here: Who do you negotiate with? As
a government, we have institutions, we have
an army, and we have influence, positive or
negative, in any direction, at any time.
Whereas the people we are going to negotiate
with, who do they represent? Thatís the
question. When you talk about the
opposition, it has to have meaning. The
opposition in general has to have
representatives in the local administration,
in the parliament, in institutions; they
have to have grass roots to represent on
their behalf. In the current crisis, you
have to ask about the oppositionís influence
on the ground. You have to go back to what
the rebels announced publicly, when they
said many times that the opposition doesnít
represent usóthey have no influence. If you
want to talk about fruitful dialogue, itís
going to be between the government and those
rebels. There is another point. Opposition
means national; it means working for the
interests of the Syrian people. It cannot be
an opposition if itís a puppet of Qatar or
Saudi Arabia or any Western country,
including the United States, paid from the
outside. It should be Syrian. We have a
national opposition. Iím not excluding it;
Iím not saying every opposition is not
legitimate. But you have to separate the
national and the puppets. Not every dialogue
Does that mean you
would not want to meet with opposition
forces that are backed by outside countries?
We are going to meet with everyone. We donít
You would meet
Yes, weíre going to meet with everyone. But
you have to ask each one of them: Who do you
represent? Thatís what I mean.
If Iím correct,
the deputy of the UN representative Staffan
de Mistura is in Syria now. Theyíre
proposing as an interim measure a cease-fire
and a freeze in Aleppo. Would you agree to
Yes, of course. We implemented that before
de Mistura was assigned to his mission. We
implemented it in another city called Homs,
another big city. We implemented it on
smaller scales in different, letís say,
suburbs, villages, and so on, and it
succeeded. So the idea is very good, but it
depends on the details. De Mistura came to
Syria with headlines. We agreed upon certain
headlines, and now we are waiting for him to
bring a detailed plan or scheduleóA-to-Z
plan, letís say. We are discussing this with
In the past, you
insisted as a precondition for a cease-fire
that the rebels lay down their weapons
first, which obviously from their
perspective was a nonstarter. Is that still
We choose different scenarios or different
reconciliations. In some areas, we allowed
them to leave inhabited areas in order to
prevent casualties among civilians. They
left these areas with their armaments. In
other areas, they gave up their armaments
and they left. It depends on what they offer
and what you offer.
Iím not clear on
your answer. Would you insist that they lay
down their weapons?
No, no. Thatís not what I mean. In some
areas, they left the area with their
armamentsóthat is what I mean.
Are you optimistic
about the Moscow talks?
What is going on in Moscow is not
negotiations about the solution; itís only
preparations for the conference.
So talks about
Exactlyóhow to prepare for the talks. So
when you start talking about the conference,
what are the principles of the conference?
Iíll go back to the same point. Let me be
frank: some of the groups are puppets, as I
said, of other countries. They have to
implement that agenda, and I know that many
countries, like France, for example, do not
have any interest in making that conference
succeed. So they will give them orders to
make them fail. You have other personalities
who only represent themselves; they donít
represent anyone in Syria. Some of them
never lived in Syria, and they know nothing
about the country. Of course, you have some
other personalities who work for the
national interest. So when you talk about
the opposition as one entity, whoís going to
have influence on the other? That is the
question. Itís not clear yet. So optimism
would be an exaggeration. I wouldnít say Iím
pessimistic. I would say we have hope, in
It seems that in
recent days, the Americans have become more
supportive of the Moscow talks. Initially,
they were not. Yesterday, Secretary of State
Kerry said something to suggest that the
United States hopes that the talks go
forward and that they are successful.
They always say things, but itís about what
theyíre going to do. And you know thereís
mistrust between the Syrians and the U.S. So
just wait till we see what will happen at
So what do you see
as the best way to strike a deal between all
the different parties in Syria?
Itís to deal directly with the rebels, but
you have two different kinds of rebels. Now,
the majority are al Qaeda, which is ISIS and
al-Nusra, with other similar factions that
belong to al Qaeda but are smaller. Now,
whatís left, what Obama called the
ďfantasy,Ē what he called the ďmoderate
oppositionĒóitís not an opposition; they are
rebels. Most of them joined al Qaeda, and
some of them rejoined the army recently.
During the last week, a lot of them left
those groups and came to the army.
Are these former
defectors who came back?
Yes, they came back to the army. They said,
ďWe donít want to fight anymore.Ē So whatís
left of those is very little. At the end,
can you negotiate with al Qaeda, and others?
They are not ready to negotiate; they have
their own plan. The reconciliation that we
started and Mr. de Mistura is going to
continue is the practical solution on the
ground. This is the first point. Second, you
have to implement the Security Council
resolution, no. 2170, on al-Nusra and ISIS,
which was issued a few months ago, and this
resolution is very clear about preventing
anyone from supporting these factions
militarily, financially, or logistically.
Yet this is what Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and
Qatar are still doing. If itís not
implemented, we cannot talk about a real
solution, because there will be obstacles as
long as they spend money. So this is how we
can start. Third, the Western countries
should remove the umbrella still referred to
by some as ďsupporting the moderate
opposition.Ē They know we have mainly al
Qaeda, ISIS, and al-Nusra.
Would you be
prepared to take any confidence-building
measures in advance of the talks? For
example, prisoner exchanges, or ending the
use of barrel bombs, or releasing political
prisoners, in order to build confidence on
the other side that youíre willing to
negotiate in good faith?
Itís not a personal relationship; itís about
mechanisms. In politics, you only talk about
mechanisms. You donít have to trust someone
to do something. If you have a clear
mechanism, you can reach a result. That is
what the people want. So the question is,
what is the mechanism that we can put in
place? This takes us back to the same
question: Who are they? What do they
represent? Whatís their influence? What is
the point of building trust with people with
When two parties
come together, itís often very useful for
one party to show the other that itís really
interested in making progress by taking
steps unilaterally to try and bring down the
temperature. The measures that I described
would have that effect.
You have something concrete, and that is
reconciliation. People gave up their
armaments; we gave them amnesty; they live
normal lives. It is a real example. So this
is a measure of confidence. On the other
hand, what is the relation between that
opposition and the prisoners? Thereís no
relation. They are not their prisoners
anyway. So it is completely a different
So have you
offered amnesty to fighters?
Yes, of course, and we did it many times.
How manyódo you
I donít have the precise numbers, but itís
thousands, not hundreds, thousands of
And are you
prepared to say to the entire opposition
that if you lay down your weapons, you will
Yes, I said it publicly in one of my
And how can you
guarantee their safety? Because they have
reasons to distrust your government.
You cannot. But at the end, letís say that
if more than 50 percent succeed, more than
50 percent in such circumstances would be a
success. So thatís how. Nothing is absolute.
You have to expect some negative aspects,
but they are not the major aspects.
Let me change the
subject slightly. Hezbollah, Iranís Quds
Force, and Iranian-trained Shiite militias
are all now playing significant roles in the
fight against rebels here in Syria. Given
this involvement, are you worried about
Iranís influence over the country? After
all, Iraq or even Lebanon shows that once a
foreign military power becomes established
in a country, it can be very difficult to
get them to leave again.
Iran is an important country in this region,
and it was influential before the crisis.
Its influence is not related to the crisis;
itís related to its role, its political
position in general. When you talk about
influence, various factors make a certain
country influential. In the Middle East, in
our region, you have the same society, the
same ideology, many similar things, the same
tribes, going across borders. So if you have
influence on one factor, your influence will
be crossing the border. This is part of our
nature. Itís not related to the conflict. Of
course, when there is conflict and anarchy,
another country will be more influential in
your country. When you donít have the will
to have a sovereign country, you will have
that influence. Now, the answer to your
question is, Iran doesnít have any ambitions
in Syria, and as a country, as Syria, we
would never allow any country to influence
our sovereignty. We wouldnít accept it, and
the Iranians donít want it either. We allow
cooperation. But if you allowed any country
to have influence, why not allow the
Americans to have influence in Syria? Thatís
the problem with the Americans and with the
West: they want to have influence without
Let me just push
you a little bit further. Last week, a
commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps, of their airspace command, Hajizadeh,
said in an interview in Der Spiegel
that Iranís supreme leader has ordered his
forces to build and operate missile plants
in Syria. That suggests that Iran is playing
a greater role and doing it on its own.
No, no. Playing a role through cooperation
is different from playing a role through
So everything that
Iran is doing ... ?
Of course, in full cooperation with the
Syrian government, and thatís always the
Now Iran is one
thing to deal with because itís a country.
But you also have militias, which are
substate actors and therefore more
complicated. One problem with working with
these groups is that, unlike a government,
they may not be willing to cooperate and
itís not always clear who to talk to. Are
you worried about your ability to control
these forces and to rein them in if you need
to? And, a related question, this week,
Israel attacked Hezbollah forces in the
Golan Heights, and the Israelis suggest that
they attacked them because Hezbollah was
planning an attack on Israel from Syrian
territory. Doesnít this also highlight the
danger of allowing militias with their own
agendas, not necessarily your agenda, to
come into the war?
Do you mean Syrian, or any other militias in
I mean especially
Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias.
Itís natural to say that only the
institutions of the government, of the
state, letís say, are the guarantee for
stability and to put things in order. Any
other factor that would play a role in
parallel with the government could be
positive, could be good in certain
circumstances, but it will always have side
effects, negative side effects. That is a
natural thing. And having militias who
support the government is a side effect of
the war. You have it, but youíre going to
try to control this side effect. Nobody will
feel more comfortable than if they are
dealing with government institutions,
including the army and the police and so on.
But talking about what happened in Quneitra
is something completely different. Never has
an operation against Israel happened through
the Golan Heights since the cease-fire in
1974. It has never happened. So for Israel
to allege that there was a plan for an
operationóthatís a far cry from reality,
just an excuse, because they wanted to
assassinate somebody from Hezbollah.
But the Israelis
have been very careful since the war began
to not get involved except when they felt
their interests were directly threatened.
Thatís not true, because theyíve been
attacking Syria now for nearly two years,
without any reason.
But in each case,
they say itís because Hezbollah was being
given weapons from Iran through Syria.
They attacked army positions. What is the
relation between Hezbollah and the army?
Those were cases
where the army accidentally shelled ...
Those are false allegations.
So what do you
think Israelís agenda is?
They are supporting the rebels in Syria.
Itís very clear. Because whenever we make
advances in some place, they make an attack
in order to undermine the army. Itís very
clear. Thatís why some in Syria joke: ďHow
can you say that al Qaeda doesnít have an
air force? They have the Israeli air force.Ē
To return to my
question about militias, do you feel
confident that youíll be able to control
them when this war ends? Because after all,
to have effective sovereignty, any
government has to have whatís called a
monopoly of force, and thatís very hard when
you have these independent armed groups
Thatís self-evident: the state cannot
fulfill its commitment to society if itís
not the only master of order.
But you see in
Iraq how hard that is. It is now very
difficult for the government to control all
the Shiite militias that were empowered
during the war.
Thereís a very important reason in Iraq:
itís because Paul Bremer didnít create a
constitution for the state; he created one
for factions. Whereas in Syria, why did the
army stand fast for four years in spite of
this embargo, this war, tens of countries
around the world attacking Syria and
supporting the rebels? Because it has a real
constitution, a real, secular constitution.
That is the reason. In Iraq, it is
sectarian. When you talk about a sectarian
constitution, itís not a constitution.
But what will you
do about these militias when the war ends?
Things should go back to normal, like before
confident ... ?
Yes. We donít have any other option. That is
the role of the government. This is
What impact are
falling oil prices having on the war in
Syria? After all, your two closest allies
and supporters, Iran and Russia, are very
dependent on oil prices, and they have
suffered tremendous damage to their budgets
in recent months as the price of oil has
fallen. Do you worry about their ability to
continue helping you?
No, because they donít give us money, so it
has no effect on Syria. Even if they are
going to help us, it would be in the form of
loans. Weíre like any other country: we have
loans. Sometimes we pay; sometimes we take
But their military
support costs them money, and if they have
less money to pay for their own militaries,
wonít that become a problem?
No, because when you pay for armaments or
any other goods, you donít have a problem.
So youíre saying
everything youíre getting from the Russians
and the Iranians ... ?
So far, we havenít seen any changes, so what
the influence is on them, I cannot answer.
Youíve said in
past interviews that you and your government
have made mistakes in the course of the war.
What are those mistakes? Is there anything
that you regret?
Every government, every person, makes
mistakes, so thatís again self-evident; itís
a given. But if you want to talk about
political mistakes, you have to ask
yourself, what are the major decisions that
you took since the crisis started? We took
three main decisions: First of all, to be
open to all dialogue. Second, we changed the
constitution and the law according to what
many in the opposition were saying,
allegedly, that this is the reason of the
crisis. Third, we took the decision to
defend our country, to defend ourself, to
fight terrorists. So I donít think those
three decisions can be described as wrong or
mistakes. If you want to talk about
practice, any official in any place can make
mistakes, but thereís a difference between
practice mistakes and policy mistakes.
Can you describe
some of the practical mistakes?
I would have to go back to officials on the
ground; thereís nothing in my mind. I would
rather talk about policies.
Do you feel there
have been any policy mistakes that youíre
I mentioned the major decisions.
But you said those
are not mistakes.
To defend the country from terrorism? If I
wanted to say that itís a mistake, then to
be correct would be to support the
Iím just wondering
if thereís anything you did that you wish in
retrospect you had done differently.
Regarding these three main decisions, they
were correct, and I am confident about this.
In terms of
lower-level practical mistakes, are people
being held accountable, say, for human
rights abuses, for the excessive use of
force, or the indiscriminate targeting of
civilians, those kinds of things?
Yes. Some people were detained because they
breached the law in that regard, and that
happens of course in such circumstances.
In terms of their
treatment of civilians or protesters, is
that what youíre referring to?
Yes, during the protests at the very
Since the United
States began its air campaign against the
Islamic State, Syria and the United States
have become strange kinds of partners and
are effectively cooperating in that aspect
of the fight. Do you see the potential for
increased cooperation with the United
Yes, the potential is definitely always
there, because weíve been talking about or
asking for international cooperation against
terrorism for 30 years. But this potential
needs will. The question that we have is,
how much will does the United States have to
really fight terrorism on the ground? So
far, we havenít seen anything concrete in
spite of the attacks on ISIS in northern
Syria. Thereís nothing concrete. What weíve
seen so far is just, letís say,
window-dressing, nothing real. Since the
beginning of these attacks, ISIS has gained
more land in Syria and Iraq.
What about the air
strikes on Kobani? Those have been effective
in slowing down ISIS.
Kobani is a small city, with about 50,000
inhabitants. Itís been more than three
months since the beginning of the attacks,
and they havenít finished. Same areas, same
al Qaeda factions occupying themóthe Syrian
army liberated in less than three weeks. It
means theyíre not serious about fighting
So are you saying
you want greater U.S. involvement in the war
Itís not about greater involvement by the
military, because itís not only about the
military; itís about politics. Itís about
how much the United States wants to
influence the Turks. Because if the
terrorists can withstand the air strikes for
this period, it means that the Turks keep
sending them armaments and money. Did the
United States put any pressure on Turkey to
stop the support of al Qaeda? They didnít;
they havenít. So itís not only about
military involvement. This is first. Second,
if you want to talk about the military
involvement, American officials publicly
acknowledge that without troops on the
ground, they cannot achieve anything
concrete. Which troops on the grounds are
you depending on?
So are you
suggesting there should be U.S. troops on
Not U.S. troops. Iím talking about the
principle, the military principle. Iím not
saying American troops. If you want to say I
want to make war on terrorism, you have to
have troops on the ground. The question you
have to ask the Americans is, which troops
are you going to depend on? Definitely, it
has to be Syrian troops. This is our land;
this is our country. We are responsible. We
donít ask for American troops at all.
So what would you
like to see from the United States? You
mentioned more pressure on Turkey ...
Pressure on Turkey, pressure on Saudi
Arabia, pressure on Qatar to stop supporting
the rebels. Second, to make legal
cooperation with Syria and start by asking
permission from our government to make such
attacks. They didnít, so itís illegal.
Iím sorry, Iím not
clear on that point. You want them to make
legal ... ?
Of course, if you want to make any kind of
action in another country, you ask their
I see. So a formal
agreement between Washington and Damascus to
allow for air strikes?
The format we can discuss later, but you
start with permission. Is it an agreement?
Is it a treaty? Thatís another issue.
And would you be
willing to take steps to make cooperation
easier with Washington?
With any country that is serious about
fighting terrorism, we are ready to make
cooperation, if theyíre serious.
What steps would
you be prepared to make to show Washington
that youíre willing to cooperate?
I think they are the ones who have to show
the will. We are already fighting on the
ground; we donít have to show that.
The United States
is currently training 5,000 Syrian fighters
who are scheduled to enter Syria in May.
Now, U.S. General John Allen has been very
careful to say that these troops will not be
directed at the Syrian government, but will
be focused on ISIS alone. What will you do
when these troops enter the country? Will
you allow them to enter? Will you attack
Any troops that donít work in cooperation
with the Syrian army are illegal and should
be fought. Thatís very clear.
Even if this
brings you into conflict with the United
Without cooperation with Syrian troops, they
are illegal, and are puppets of another
country, so they are going to be fought like
any other illegal militia fighting against
the Syrian army. But that brings another
question, about those troops. Obama said
that they are a fantasy. How did fantasy
I think with this
kind of training program.
But you canít make extremism moderate.
There are still
some moderate members of the opposition.
They are weaker and weaker all the time, but
I think the U.S. government is trying very
carefully to ensure that the fighters it
trains are not radicals.
But the question is, why is the moderate
oppositionóif you call them opposition; we
call them rebelsówhy are they weaker and
weaker? They are still weaker because of
developments in the Syrian crisis. Bringing
5,000 from the outside will make most of
them defect and join ISIS and other groups,
which is what happened during the last year.
So thatís why I said itís still illusory. It
is not the 5,000 that are illusory but the
idea itself that is illusory.
Part of what makes
Washington so reluctant to cooperate with
you more formally are the allegations of
serious human rights abuses by your
government. These allegations arenít just
from the U.S. government; they are also from
the UN Human Rights Commission, the
independent Special Investigative Commission
of the UN. You are familiar with these
allegations, Iím sure. They include denying
access for relief groups to refugee camps,
indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets,
photo evidence provided by the defector
code-named Caesar, who made a presentation
to the U.S. Congress showing terrible
torture and abuse in Syrian prisons. Are you
prepared to take action on these issues in
order to make cooperation with the United
The funny thing about this administration is
that itís the first one in history to build
its evaluation and later decisions on social
media. We call it a social media
administration, which is not politics. None
of these allegations you mentioned are
concrete; all of them are allegations. You
can bring photos from anyone and say this is
torture. Who took the pictures? Who is he?
Nobody knows. There is no verification of
any of this evidence, so itís all
allegations without evidence.
photos have been looked at by independent
No, no. Itís funded by Qatar, and they say
itís an anonymous source. So nothing is
clear or proven. The pictures are not clear
which person they show. Theyíre just
pictures of a head, for example, with some
skulls. Who said this is done by the
government, not by the rebels? Who said this
is a Syrian victim, not someone else? For
example, photos published at the beginning
of the crisis were from Iraq and Yemen.
Second, the United States in particular and
the West in general are in no position to
talk about human rights. They are
responsible for most of the killings in the
region, especially the United States after
getting into Iraq, and the United Kingdom
after invading Libya, and the situation in
Yemen, and what happened in Egypt in
supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and
terrorism in Tunisia. All these problems
happened because of the United States. They
were the first ones to trample international
law and Security Council resolutions, not
That may or may
not be true, but those are separate issues,
and that does not absolve your government of
No, no. The United States accused, so we
have to answer that part. Iím not saying if
thereís any human rights breach or
infringement, the government has no
responsibility. That is another issue. The
second part of your question is about the
allegations. Theyíre still allegations. If
you want me to answer, I have to answer
about something that is concrete, proved,
Are you prepared
to categorically deny that thereís torture
and abuse of prisoners in Syria?
If thereís any unbiased and fair way to
verify all those allegations, of course we
are ready. That would be in our interest.
What impact would
a U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal have on Syria?
Nothing, because the crisis here was never
part of the negotiations, and Iran refused
to make it such. And that is correct,
because there is no link between the two.
But many in the
United States anticipate that if Iran and
the United States strike a deal, it will
make cooperation between the two countries
much easier. People therefore wonder if Iran
might decide to reduce its support for Syria
as a favor to the U.S. government.
We have never had any positive information
about such a thing, never. I cannot discuss
something which I donít have any information
you think the war is going well from the
governmentís perspective. Independent
analysts have suggested that your government
currently controls 45 to 50 percent of the
territory of Syria.
First of all, if you want to describe the
arenaóitís not a war between two countries,
between two armies where you have an
incursion and you lost some territory that
you want to regain. Itís not like this.
Weíre talking about rebels that infiltrate
areas inhabited by civilians. You have
Syrian terrorists that support foreign
terrorists to come and hide among civilians.
They launch what you call guerrilla attacks.
That is the shape of this war, so you cannot
look at it as being about territory. Second,
wherever the Syrian army has wanted to go,
it has succeeded. But the Syrian army cannot
have a presence on every kilometer of Syrian
territory. Thatís impossible. We made some
advances in the past two years. But if you
want to ask me, ďIs it going well?Ē I say
that every war is bad, because you always
lose, you always have destruction in a war.
The main question is, what have we won in
this war? What we won in this war is that
the Syrian people have rejected the
terrorists; the Syrian people support their
government more; the Syrian people support
their army more. Before talking about
winning territory, talk about winning the
hearts and minds and the support of the
Syrian people. Thatís what we have won.
Whatís left is logistical; itís technical.
That is a matter of time. The war is moving
in a positive way. But that doesnít mean
youíre not losing on the national level.
Because you lose lives, you lose
infrastructure; the war itself has very bad
Do you think you
will eventually defeat the rebels
If they donít have external support, and no,
letís say, supply and recruitment of new
terrorists within Syria, there will be no
problem defeating them. Even today we donít
have a problem militarily. The problem is
that they still have this continuous supply,
mainly from Turkey.
So Turkey seems to
be the neighbor that youíre most concerned
Exactly. Logistically, and about terrorist
financing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but
Do you blame
Erdogan personally? This is a man you once
had a fairly good relationship with.
Yes. Because he belongs to the Muslim
Brotherhood ideology, which is the base of
al Qaeda; it was the first political Islamic
organization that promoted violent political
Islam in the early twentieth century. He
belongs strongly and is a staunch believer
in these values. Heís very fanatical, and
thatís why he still supports ISIS. He is
personally responsible for what happened.
Do you see any
other potential partners in the region? For
example, General el-Sisi in Egypt?
I wouldnít talk about him personally, but as
long as Egypt and the Egyptian army and the
government are fighting the same kind of
terrorists as in Iraq, of course, we can
consider these countries eligible to
cooperate with in fighting the same enemy.
questions, if I may. Can you imagine a
scenario in which Syria returns to the
status quo as it was before the fighting
started almost four years ago?
In what sense?
In the sense that
Syria is whole again, it is not divided, it
controls its borders, it starts to rebuild,
and it is at peace and a predominantly
If you look at a military map now, the
Syrian army exists in every corner. Not
every place; by every corner, I mean north,
south, east, west, and between. If you
didnít believe in a unified Syria, that
Syria can go back to its previous position,
you wouldnít send the army there, as a
government. If you donít believe in this as
a people, you would have seen people in
Syria isolated into different ghettos based
on ethnic and sectarian or religious
identity. As long as this is not the
situation, the people live with each other;
the army is everywhere; the army is made up
of every color of Syrian society, or the
Syrian fabric. This means that we all
believe Syria should go back to the way it
was. We donít have any other option, because
if it doesnít go back to its previous
position, that will affect every surrounding
country. Itís one fabricóitís a domino
effect that will have influence from the
Atlantic to the Pacific.
If you were able
to deliver a message to President Obama
today, what would it be?
I think the normal thing that you ask any
official in the world is to work for the
interests of his people. And the question I
would ask any American is, what do you get
from supporting terrorists in our country,
in our region? What did you get from
supporting the Muslim Brotherhood a few
years ago in Egypt and other countries? What
did you get from supporting someone like
Erdogan? One of the officials from your
country asked me seven years ago in Syria at
the end of a meeting, ďHow do you think we
can solve the problem in Afghanistan?Ē I
told him, ďYou have to be able to deal with
officials who are not puppets, who can tell
you no.Ē So for the United States, only
looking for puppet officials and client
states is not how you can serve the
interests of your country. You are the
greatest power in the world now; you have
too many things to disseminate around the
world: knowledge, innovation, IT, with its
positive repercussions. How can you be the
best in these fields yet the worst in the
political field? This is a contradiction.
That is what I think the American people
should analyze and question. Why do you fail
in every war? You can create war, you can
create problems, but you cannot solve any
problem. Twenty years of the peace process
in Palestine and Israel, and you cannot do
anything with this, in spite of the fact
that you are a great country.
But in the context
of Syria, what would a better policy look
One that preserves stability in the Middle
East. Syria is the heart of the Middle East.
Everybody knows that. If the Middle East is
sick, the whole world will be unstable. In
1991, when we started the peace process, we
had a lot of hope. Now, after more than 20
years, things are not at square one; theyíre
much below that square. So the policy should
be to help peace in the region, to fight
terrorism, to promote secularism, to support
this area economically, to help upgrade the
mind and society, like you did in your
country. That is the supposed mission of the
United States, not to launch wars. Launching
war doesnít make you a great power.