Exclusive Interview With President Bashar
Mr Assad denied that his forces had dropped
barrel bombs indiscriminately on rebel-held
areas, killing thousands of civilians, and
dismissed as propaganda a statement by the
UN that his government often blocks access
to besieged areas for relief organisations.
The Syrian leader also denied that there was
a direct dialogue with the US-led coalition
fighting Islamic State but confirmed that
"general messages" were sometimes passed via
February 10, 2015
In a wide-ranging interview
with the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy
Bowen, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
talks about the devastating civil war, the
use of barrel bombs, the battle against
Islamic State and al-Qaeda and relations
with the US.
are excerpts from the interview recorded in
the Syrian capital Damascus.
Q: Mr President,
you've lost control over large areas of
Syria, the Islamic State has emerged, there
are perhaps 200,000 Syrians dead, millions
have lost their homes. Has Syria become a
A: No, as long as the
government and the state institutions are
fulfilling their duty toward the Syrian
people, [we] cannot talk about failed
Talking about losing
control is something completely different.
It's like if you have [an] invasion of
terrorists coming from abroad and the
government is doing its job in fighting and
defending its country.
Q: Can we briefly
go back to when all this started in 2011 -
you've said that there were mistakes made in
the handling of those early demonstrations.
Did you make mistakes yourself?
A: No, I never said we
made mistakes in handling this. I always
said that "anyone could make mistakes", but
there is a difference between talking about,
or asking your question about policies and
If you want to go back to
policies, we took the decision to fight
terrorism from the very beginning. We took
the decision to make dialogue on [a]
national level, and I think both policies
are correct. While if you want to talk about
mistakes in practice, and that some mistakes
[have been] committed towards some civilian,
that happened from time to time, and some
people were punished for these mistakes.
Q: You've talked
about the influence of terrorism, as you
call it, from the very beginning. But I was
able as a reporter to go to some of those
early demonstrations inside Damascus, in
areas outside as well, and people there were
not saying they wanted an Islamic Caliphate
- they were saying they wanted freedom,
democracy - not some kind of vision that IS
have now for the country. Do you think you
got it wrong?
A: You in the West called
it that time, and some still talk about that
period as [a] peaceful demonstration period.
And I will tell you that
during the first few weeks many policemen
were killed. Shot dead. I don't think they
were shot dead and killed by the sound waves
of the demonstrators - so it was just a
fantasy to talk about this... we have to
talk about facts. From the very beginning
the demonstrations weren't peaceful.
Q: What about
barrel bombs, you don't deny that your
forces use them?
A: I know about the army,
they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I
haven't heard of the army using barrels, or
maybe, cooking pots.
Q: Large barrels
full of explosives and projectiles which are
dropped from helicopters and explode with
devastating effect. There's been a lot of
testimony about these things.
A: They're called bombs.
We have bombs, missiles and bullets... There
is [are] no barrel bombs, we don't have
Q: On the fight
against IS and al-Qaeda, the US and others
have said you cannot be a partner in that
fight. Would you like to be partner, would
you like to join the coalition?
A: No, definitely we
cannot and we don't have the will and we
don't want, for one simple reason: because
we cannot be [in] alliance with the country
who support the terrorism... because we are
fighting the terrorism.
Q: You've been
very harsh in your criticism of the Saudis.
Now the Saudis say they are against IS, they
are frightened because IS do not want a
royal family in Saudi Arabia. So isn't it
logical that they want them out? Why would
they support them?
A: First of all, the
source of this Islamic State ideology, and
other al-Qaeda affiliated groups are the
Wahhabi that have been supported by the
royal family in Saudi Arabia. So just to say
that "we do" and "we don't", it doesn't
matter. It's what you do - what the action
that you are taking in order to prove that
what you are saying is correct.
Q: Let's talk
about American attitudes. Your departure
from office is still the official American
policy, but there are signs that they are
softening... Do you believe that you are now
being seen as part of the solution?
A: First of all, we don't
breathe through the Americans, we only
breathe through our citizens. That's how we
breathe, this is first. So it's not a
lifeline for us.
Q: Syria has been
very isolated, you're under sanctions here,
people can't use credit cards, you've been
cut off from a lot of the commerce of the
world. You must surely welcome a situation
which might get you back into the family of
nations in a way that you haven't been since
A: We're not against
co-operation with any country, we will never
be. We didn't start this conflict with the
others. They started, they supported the
terrorists, they gave them the umbrella.
It's not about isolating
Syria now, it's about an embargo on the
Syrian population, on the Syrian citizens.
It's different from isolation, it's
Q: There's the
American military in the air above Syria and
the Syrian Air Force. But there haven't been
any incidents between the two, no shots seem
to have been traded, no planes have been
shot down. That suggests to me surely that
someone is talking to someone here?
A: That's correct, that's
correct. But again there's no direct
Through a third party -
more than one party - Iraq and other
countries. Sometimes they convey message,
general message, but there's nothing
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