President al-Assadís [Full]
interview with Charlie Rose of American CBS News
Video and Transcript.
Posted April 01, 2015
Damascus, SANA Ė President Bashar
al-Assad made an interview with the U.S. CBS News. Following is the full text:
Question 1: Mr. President, thank
you for allowing us to come here. We asked for this interview because your
countryís been at war for four years. It is a humanitarian crisis, perhaps the
worst on the planet right now. 200,000 Syrians have died, four million refugees,
ten million have left their homes, life expectancy is down, 50% of your country
is occupied by hostile forces. Itís become a battleground for outside forces.
Whatís next? Because we have seen since I last visited you the rise of ISIS, we
have seen Hezbollah in here, we have seen the United States becoming
increasingly concerned about ISIS, so much so that the President, and especially
the Secretary of State, have said that thereís a need for a negotiated
President Assad: Actually, the
beginning of your question is exaggerating the number a little bit, but thatís
not the issue. I always invite the media and the West and the officials to deal
with those numbers not as spreadsheets and numbers and counter; actually itís
bereaved families who lost their dear ones. Itís a tragedy thatís been going
through, every Syrian family lost someone, lost their livelihood, and so on.
Whether itís a few thousands or hundreds of thousands, itís a tragedy. Whatís
next? Actually, every conflict should end up with dialogue, with a political
solution between the different parties, and thatís what we have been doing in
Syria for the last two years; dealing directly with the militants, and we
succeeded in making some reconciliations.
Regarding the rise of ISIS, in the
context of events in Syria during the last four years, ISIS didnít rise
suddenly. Itís impossible for such Ė bigger than what we call an organization
and smaller than a state Ė to appear suddenly with all these resources,
financial resources, human resources, without support from the outside and
without being prepared gradually or incrementally for a long time before the
sudden rise during last summer. So, the rise of ISIS is not a precise word
because it didnít happen suddenly; it was a result of events that happened at
the beginning of the conflict that we mentioned in our statements many times,
but no-one in the West has listened to. If we want to mention the statement of
Kerry regarding the dialogue, I would say that we have in Syria so far is only a
statement, nothing concrete yet, no facts, no new reality regarding the
political approach of the United States towards our situation, our problem, our
conflict in Syria. But as a principle, in Syria we could say that every dialogue
is a positive thing, and weíre going to be open to any dialogue with anyone
including the United States regarding anything based on mutual respect, and
without breaching the sovereignty of Syria, and as a principle I would say that
this approach, the new approach of the United States towards not only Syria,
towards anyone, to make dialogue regarding any issue, is a positive thing, but
we have to wait for the reality.
Question 2: What kind of
communication is there between your government and the American government?
President Assad: Thereís no direct
Question 3: None at all?
President Assad: No, no.
Question 4: No kind of
conversation about what kind of settlement might take place, no conversations
about how to fight ISIS?
President Assad: Nothing yet.
Thatís why the United States-
Question 5: Nothing yet?
President Assad: Nothing yet. Till
this moment, no.
Question 6: Would you like to have
President Assad: Any dialogue is
positive, as I said, in principle, of course. Without breaching the sovereignty
of Syria, especially regarding the fighting of terrorism. The way we defeat
terrorism, thatís an important issue for us at this moment.
Question 7: But the question is
what are you prepared to do? It is your country that is suffering. What are you
prepared to do in terms of negotiations? If part of that is to see a transition
government, of which you would give up power, would you be willing to do that?
President Assad: Anything
regarding the Syrian internal politics should be related to the Syrian people,
not to anyone else. Weíre not going to discuss with the Americans or anyone what
are we going to do regarding our political system, our constitution, or our
laws, or our procedures. We can cooperate with them regarding fighting the
terrorism and making pressure on different countries like Turkey and Saudi
Arabia and Qatar and some of their allies in Europe that support the terrorists
politically and financially and by military means.
Question 8: This cannot end
militarily. Do you agree with that?
President Assad: Yeah, definitely.
Every conflict, even if itís a war, should end with a political solution.
Question 9: But then draw me a
roadmap that you have for a political solution. What does it look like?
President Assad: You have
different levels. You have the internal levels, you have the regional, you have
the international, and you have different means at the same time. The most
important part is the local. The local part should have two things: a dialogue
between the Syrians about everything; the political system, and any other
details that could be beyond this, about the future of the country, of course.
Second, make direct dialogue with the militants as we did during the last two
years in order to give them amnesty and to give up their armaments and go back
to their normal lives.
Question 10: When you say
militants, who do you mean?
President Assad: Some of them are
terrorists, some of them are people who were implicated by the events for
different reasons, so, whoever carries a gun and tries to destroy the public
infrastructure or attack the people or cause any harm or breach the law in
Syria. Thatís the militant.
Question 11: But so much of the
power is in your hands to engage in the process. I mean, if they demand that you
step down before they negotiate, thatís unacceptable to you.
President Assad: By the militants,
Question 12: No, I mean by the
United States, and Russia, and parties to the conversation.
President Assad: No external party
has anything to do with the future of Syria, with the constitution or president
or anything like this. Weíre not going to discuss it with them. This is a Syrian
issue. Whenever the Syrian people want to change their president, it should be
changed right away, in the same dayÖ even if we exaggerate, it should be through
a political process, through a constitutional process. Thatís how we change
presidents, not through terrorism and external intervention.
Question 13: Some say that ISIS
was the best thing that happened to you, and that even some of the things that
you have done have benefitted ISIS, that because of what ISIS has done and
because of your fight against the moderates in your country who, in terms of the
Arab spring, wanted to see more democracy here. That you, in the effort to crush
them, allowed ISIS to grow.
President Assad: Letís go back to
what President Obama said in one of his interviews recently; when he said that
the moderate opposition in Syria is illusive. Thatís very clear by President
Obama, and we always said thereís no moderate opposition. So, the rise of ISIS
wasnít sudden, again. The evisceration, the amputation, eating the hearts of the
victims started from the very beginning, and even beheading started from the
very beginning of the conflicts. It started with what they called moderate
opposition, then it continued with al-Nusra, then with ISIS. So, what happened
with those three, including ISIS, they attacked military bases, they killed our
soldiers, and they destroyed our economy. According to this logic, how could
that be the best thing that happened to me? In what logic? To lose? To destroy
the country? To kill your supporters and to kill others, and to kill civilians?
In what sense could that be the best thing that happened to me or to the
government? Thatís illogical, thatís unrealistic, thatís unpalatable.
Question 14: Again, I come back to
the idea of how, now, with the new reality of ISIS, how itís changed the
circumstances. As they have gained in strength, what new changes do you see in
attitude towards you and staying and the Syrian government?
President Assad: Regarding the
West, you mean?
Question 15: Yes.
President Assad: I think the West
has changed its calculations after the rise of ISIS, but that doesnít mean that
they changed their approach to the conflicts in Syria, in Iraq, and in our
region. I donít think theyíve learned the lesson well, and that, as a result,
will not change the course of events, because, the very beginning of the
problem, from the Western perspective, is to change the system or the president
or the government that they donít like, and theyíre still moving in the same
direction. Thatís why nothing concrete has changed yet; only the appearance and
the priority. Their priority is to fight ISIS, but that doesnít mean that their
priority is to get rid of ISIS.
Question 16: How can you see the
United States cooperate with Syria regarding ISIS?
President Assad: Thereís no direct
Question 17: But how do you see
President Assad: The future, you
mean. In the future, there must direct dialogue to fight terrorism, because the
terrorism is on our ground, on our soil, they cannot defeat it without our
cooperation, without having our information, because we lived with this and we
know the reality and how to defeat it.
Question 18: Most people believe
there is cooperation unofficially, and it goes through Iraq, and that somehow
Syria knows when airstrikes are taking place by the United States, because they
get that information from Iraq.
President Assad: From another
third party, not only Iraq. More than one country told us that theyíre going to
start this campaign.
Question 19: How does that work?
President Assad: What do you mean?
Question 20: You do you get
President Assad: In the campaign?
Question 21: Yes.
President Assad: How does it work
on the ground regarding ISIS?
Question 22: Yes. How do you get
information, about American airstrikes, so that it can coordinate with what
youíre doing, so that theyíre not bombing Syrian troops.
President Assad: Through a third
party, and it was very clear that their aim is to attack ISIS, not the Syrian
Army, and that is what happened so far.
Question 23: A third party means
Iraq, and who else?
President Assad: Iraq, another
country, Russian officials.
Question 24: Russian officials,
President Assad: Iraqi officials.
Question 25: Communicate to you
the American intentions?
President Assad: Exactly. In the
details that I mentioned now.
Question 26: Whatís the level of
that information? Is it just about airstrikes, is it about other activities on
the ground that are taking place?
President Assad: No, no details,
only the headlines, and the principle that theyíre going to attack ISIS in Syria
and Iraq during the next few days. That is what we have heard, nothing else.
Question 27: When you shot down an
American drone, did you know it was an American drone?
President Assad: No, because any
drone, any airplane, any aircraft, will not tell you that ďIím American.Ē So,
when you have a foreign aircraft, you shoot it. These are the rules, the
Question 28: How much of benefit
are you getting from American airstrikes in Syria, reducing the power of ISIS?
President Assad: Sometimes it
could have local benefits, but in general if you want to talk in terms of ISIS,
actually ISIS has expanded since the beginning of the strikes, not like some
Americans want to sugarcoat the situation as to say that itís getting better,
ISIS has been defeated, and so on. Actually, no, they have more recruits. Some
estimate that they have 1,000 recruits every month, in Syria and Iraq, they are
expanding in Libya, and many other Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations have
announced their allegiance to ISIS. So, thatís the situation.
Question 29: How much territory do
they control in Syria? ISIS controls how much territory, 50%?
President Assad: Itís not a
regular war, you donít have criteria. Itís not an army that makes incursions.
They try to infiltrate any area when thereís no army, and when you have
inhabitants. The question is how much incubator they have, that is the question;
how much hearts and minds they won so far.
Question 30: How do you measure
President Assad: You canít measure
it, but you can tell that the majority of the people who suffered from ISIS,
they are supporting the government, and of course the rest of the Syrian people
are afraid from ISIS. I donít think they win; I think they lost a lot of hearts
Question 31: Theyíve lost a lot?
President Assad: They have lost,
except the very ideological people who have Wahhabi states of mind and ideology.
Question 32: Explain to me why are
people fleeing to go to refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. What are they
fleeing from? The Syrian Army?
President Assad: No, those camps
started being built before there was any real conflicts in Syria, so it was
premeditated to be used as a humanitarian headline and title, to be used against
Syria to be a pretext a military intervention. Thatís how it started. Later,
they started giving incentives to people to flee there. Now, the majority of
those, they fled because of the terrorism, and Iíll give you an example. In the
elections, the presidential elections, most of the refugees in Lebanon, for
example, and even in Jordan, they voted for the president, not against the
president. Thatís a concrete indicator, you cannot ignore it. So, they did not
flee the Syrian Army; if they fled from the Syrian Army, they will be in the
Question 33: I have interviewed
some of them in the Jordanian refugee camps, and they were fearful of the Syrian
Army. And they were fearful of repercussions if people knew they were being
interviewed, so they were reluctant to give their name and where they were from,
but they had fled in fear of the Syrian Army.
President Assad: That could
happen. Of course, you have different kinds of people, you have different
perceptions, you have that perception. We donít say that everybody fled just
because of the terrorists. Some people fled just because of the situation, not
from the Syrian Army not from the terrorists, they want to go to a safer place.
So, they have different reasons for the refugees.
Question 34: There is another
number that is alarming to me. It is that 90% of the civilian casualties, 90%,
come from the Syrian Army.
President Assad: How did you get
Question 35: There was a report
that was issued in the last six months.
President Assad: Okay, as I said
earlier, the war is not a traditional war, itís not about capturing land and
gaining land; itís about winning the hearts and minds of the Syrians. We cannot
win the hearts of the Syrians while we are killing Syrians. We cannot sustain
four years in that position as a government, and me as a president, while the
rest of the world, most of the world, the great powers, the regional powers, are
against me, and my people are against me. Thatís impossible. I mean, this logic
has no legs to stand on. This is not realistic, and this is against our
interest, as a government, to kill the people. What do we get? What is the
benefit of killing the people?
Question 36: Well, the argument is
that youÖ there are weapons of war that have been used that most people look
down on. One is chlorine gas. They believe that it has been used here. They said
that there is evidence of that and they would like to have the right to inspect,
to see where itís coming from. As you know, barrel bombs have been used, and
they come from helicopters. The only people that have helicopters are the Syrian
Army. And so, those two acts of war, which society looks down on, as-
President Assad: Let me fully
answer this, this is very important. This is part of the malicious propaganda
against Syria. First of all, the chlorine gas is not a military gas, you can buy
Question 37: But it can be
President Assad: No, because itís
not very effective, itís not used as a military gas. Thatís self evident.
Traditional arms are more important than chlorine, and if it was very effective,
the terrorists would have used it on a larger scale. Because itís not very
effective, itís not used very much.
Question 38: Then why not let
somebody come in and inspect and see whether it was used or not?
President Assad: We allowed.
Question 39: Youíd be happy for
President Assad: Of course. We
always ask that a delegation, an impartial delegation, to come and investigate,
but I mean logically and realistically, it cannot be used as a military. This is
part of the propaganda, because, as you know, in the media, when it bleeds, it
leads, and they always look for something that bleeds, which is the chlorine gas
and the barrel bombs. This is very important, the barrel bombs, what are barrel
bombs? They say barrel bomb as a bomb that kills people indiscriminately,
because it doesnít aim. This is not realistic for one reason: because no army
uses a bomb that doesnít aim, and the proof to what Iím saying is that, you
donít talk about the shape of the bomb to call it a barrel or cylindrical or
whatever. The state-of-the-art drones, American drones, in Pakistan,
Afghanistan, in Yemen, with state-of-the-art precision missiles have killed more
civilians and innocents than killing terrorists. So, itís not about this bomb
that doesnít aim, that kills people indiscriminately; itís about the way you use
Question 40: But youíre
acknowledging then that you do use it? You do use barrel bombs?
President Assad: No, no. Thereís
no such thing called barrel bombs. You have bombs, and any bomb is about
killing, itís not about tingling people.
Question 41: Most people
understand what a barrel bomb is. I mean, they understand how itís put together,
whatís put inside of the barrel, and they understand how itís dropped from
President Assad: No, we have had a
very good military industry for years, for decades, in Syria. We donít have to
make bombs, very primitive ones, very malicious ones. This bomb, this term, was
used only to demonize the Syrian Army. Thatís it. This is part of the
Question 42: If barrel bombs were
used by the Syrian Army, would you order the Syrian Army to stop using barrel
President Assad: Again, what is
this term, what is the barrel bomb? I mean do you describe the missile that you
Question 43: Itís a bomb that
inflicts terrible civilian casualties.
President Assad: Any bomb and
missile and even bullet is made to make casualties, but not civilian. Thereís no
military means made in order not to kill. But how you use, itís again about the
way you use it, itís not about the bomb. I mean, if you want to talk about
casualties, thatís another issue. Every war is malignant, every war is bad. You
donít have benign war. Thatís wars are bad because you always have casualties.
That is not related to certain kinds of bombs or bullets or whatever. This is
completely another issue.
Question 44: So in fact, are you
denying that barrel bombs are being and inflicting great casualties.
President Assad: Again, I always
say, we use a bomb, we use missiles, we use everything, we use bullets. You
donít describe what we use by the shape, whether it called barrel, spherical,
cylindrical missile, you donít describe it this way. You use armaments, if you
have casualties, itís a mistake that could happen in every war, but you aim
always to kill terrorists, not to kill your people, because you have support by
your people, you canít kill them.
Question 45: But you acknowledge
that they come from helicopters, barrel bombs.
President Assad: This is a
technical issue, a military issue. How to throw-
Question 46: But only one-
President Assad: No, no. You can
throw bombs by any airplane. You can throw them by missile. You donít have to
use helicopters, you can use them anyway you want.
Question 47: But, if I hear you correctly, you acknowledge that barrel bombs are
being used, but theyíre like other bombs in your judgment, and they are not
necessarily any different than other weapons. That is what you seem to be
President Assad: We donít have a
bomb that is called barrel bomb. This came from the media, we donít have it.
What you call our bombs, that is related to the media. And that is used by the
militants, then adopted by the West, in order to demonize the Syrian Army. We
donít have something barrel bombs that kill indiscriminately. If you have a
strong bomb or weak bomb, or whatever, I mean you could call it whatever you
want. I mean, we have regular bombs, traditional armaments. Thatís what we have.
Question 48: What do most people
consider barrel bombs more brutal than others?
President Assad: You have to ask
the one who created that term, as I said, for the media, for the propaganda.
This is part of the propaganda. If you want to refute the propaganda thatís been
going on for four years, you have many things to refute.
Question 49: You have often spoken
about the danger of a wider war in the Middle East. Let me talk about the
parties involved, and characterize how you see them. Let me begin with Saudi
President Assad: Saudi Arabia is
an archaic autocracy, medieval system that is based on the Wahhabi dark
ideology. Actually, I say itís a marriage between the Wahhabi and the political
system for 200 years now. That is how we look at it.
Question 50: And what is their
connection to ISIS?
President Assad: The same
ideology, the same background.
Question 51: So ISIS and Saudi
Arabia are one and the same?
President Assad: The same
Question 52: The same ideology.
President Assad: Itís the Wahhabi
ideology. Their ideology is based on the books of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.
Question 53: So you believe that
all Wahhabis have the same ideology as ISIS.
President Assad: Exactly,
definitely. And thatís not just by ISIS; by al-Qaeda, by al-Nusra. Itís not
something we discovered or we try to promote. I mean, they use the same books to
indoctrinate the people.
Question 54: What about Turkey?
President Assad: Turkey, letís
say, itís about Erdogan. Heís a Muslim Brotherhood fanatic. That doesnít mean
that heís a member, but heís a fanatic.
Question 55: President Erdogan isÖ?
President Assad: A Muslim
Brotherhood fanatic. And heís somebody whoís suffering from political
megalomania, and you think that he is becoming the sultan of the new era, of the
Question 56: You think he could
stop the border if he wanted to?
President Assad: Yes, of course,
definitely. He doesnít only ignore the terrorists coming to Syria; he supports
them logistically and militarily, directly, on daily basis, and if you take the
example of Kobani, what you call Kobani, we call it Ayn al-Arab, the city where
the Kurds were fighting ISIS and where the campaign started, the American
military campaign started there. It took them four months to liberate that small
city, not only because the airstrikes were cosmetic as we said, but because of
the direct support of the Turks to ISIS.
Question 57: They were supporting
President Assad: Directly.
Question 58: You were quoted as
saying that the Syrian Army could have eliminated ISIS in Kobani in three weeks.
President Assad: Actually, similar
cities with the same terrain and the same size were liberated in a few weeks,
without even using the airstrikes.
Question 59: Why have you spent
more time attacking Aleppo than Raqqa?
President Assad: We didnít attack
Aleppo. We try to get rid of the terrorists everywhere.
Question 60: Were they terrorists
in Aleppo, or were they moderates?
President Assad: In Aleppo? No,
you donít have any moderate militants in Syria.
Question 61: No moderate militants
in Syria? So the definition of a terrorist is what?
President Assad: Of terrorism?
Whenever you hold a gun, and kill people, and destroy public buildings, destroy
private properties, thatís terrorism.
Question 62: So, anyone who opposed your government in Syria, and used military
tactics, was a terrorist.
President Assad: With military
tactics, or without?
Question 63: Using weapons to-
President Assad: The word
opposition, everywhere in the world, including your country, is a political
opposition. Do you have military opposition in the United States? Would you
accept it? You wouldnít, and we wouldnít. No-one accepts military opposition.
Question 64: Itís one thing to say
to say thereís military opposition. Itís another thing to call them terrorists.
President Assad: Military
opposition is terrorism. Whenever you hold a gun, a machinegun, and you try to
destroy and kill and threaten, this is terrorism, by every definition in the
world. Itís not my definition. Whenever you want to make opposition, itís going
to be political opposition, like your country, you have the same criteria, we
donít have different criteria from the one you have in the United States or in
Europe or anywhere else.
Question 65: If thereís a
negotiation, would you accept as part of the negotiation and share power in
Syria with anyone who is in opposition to you now, whether they are moderates,
whether they are terrorists, but if in fact they lay down their arms and say we
want to be part of a future government, a transitional government, in Syria?
President Assad: Whenever they lay
down their arms, theyíre not terrorists anymore.
Question 66: Even ISIS?
President Assad: ISIS will not.
This, how to say, virtual. For ISIS to lay down their arms, this is virtual,
because their ideology is they want to fight and to be killed and to go to
heaven, to go to paradise. Thatís how we look at it. They wonít negotiate
anyway. So, we donít have to answer something which is virtual, not realistic.
The realistic one is that many of the militants laid down their arms and are
working with the government now. This is reality. Iím not talking about what is
going to happen in the future. That is happening, and that is part of the
reconciliations. Some people are interested in politics, they can take that
track, and some people are interested only to going back to their normal lives
and work any job, not being part of the politics. Of course we are open.
Whenever there is political opposition, we are fully open to deal with them.
Question 67: As you know,
Secretary Kerry has called you a brutal dictator. Secretary Kerry! Other people
have said worse. Does that bother you? Is that an accurate description of you?
President Assad: You want the rest
of the world to know the reality, of course you wonít be happy to hear something
that is a far cry from the reality, but at the end, this kind of description to
an official wouldnít be really important unless the Syrian citizens said this
word. And because the Syrian people still support you, itís a dictator, killing
your people, and have the support of the people. Itís a contradiction.
Question 68: Itís interesting to
have that conversation, but with respect, it is said that there was a time,
several years ago, in which you were in a very difficult place, and some people
thought the government might fall, even suggestions that you were planning to
leave, and then the Iranians came in, and Hezbollah came in, and the tide began
to turn. Is that a fair appraisal of the circumstances? Because if itís true, it
means that the Syrian people were not supporting you, because before foreign
forces came in, you were about to lose.
President Assad: First of all, the
Iranians never came in during the conflict. Never.
Question 69: General Suleimani was
here, in Damascus.
President Assad: Heís always here,
for decades. This kind of cooperation, like you say, no we have-
Question 70: He was here for the
same reason that he is in Iraq right now. He was advising Hezbollah and-
President Assad: You have
cooperation, as America, with different countries. You send experts, you have a
kind of cooperation. Thatís different from sending troops. Is that correct?
Different, sending troops is different from having cooperation on higher levels.
Question 71: It doesnít matter
where they came from. If they are under your command, so to speak, I mean if you
are giving direction to HezbollahÖ but the central point I want to-
President Assad: No, what you
mentioned, I mean your question implied that Iranians are fighting in Syria.
Thatís completely incorrect. Not correct, definitely. If they come here, we
would announce, we donít have a problem. We have the right to bring allies to
fight with us. At the same time, we announced that Hezbollah is in Syria, we
didnít deny this. So, why deny Iran and not deny Hezbollah? We donít.
Question 72: But my argument with
you, and you are an artful debater, my argument is, and Iím asking questions, I
have no position here, my question is: if the Syrian people supported you, why
when the so-called Arab spring came, were you almost about to lose power until
outside forces came in. Itís self evident that the Syrian people were not
supporting you if you were facing that kind of-
President Assad: If you have a
real Arab spring today, neither Iran nor Russia, not even Hezbollah can help
you. The difference in the situation that you mentioned earlier, between the
beginning of the crisis and today, is that we are more gaining support by the
Syrian people, because they discovered the truth. At the very beginning, many
people werenítÖ I mean the vision wasnít clear for many Syrians. Now, itís very
clear, and we have support even from many people in the opposition against
terrorism. So, the main factor, why the situation has changed, is not Iran or
Hezbollah; itís the Syrian incubator, the Syrian population. That was the
difference. Hezbollah is not a big army. It cannot play that role all over
Question 73: But the game on the
ground didnít change until they came here.
President Assad: No, thatís not
Question 74: So you didnít need
President Assad: No, we needed
them, of course. Thatís alliance, we need them. They play an important part. But
what has changed, the balance that you mentioned, when you talk about 23
millions in Syria, when you have Arab spring, letís say a few thousand fighters
from Hezbollah wouldnít change the balance. What has changed the balance is the
incubator that moved toward the government. That is what has happened.
Question 75: Here is what is also
clear, that even though Secretary Kerry has suggested you are part of the
problem or part of the solution, and they want you to be part of the solution,
but they have not yet changed their mind that you have to agree to share power
or give up power. They donít want you in power.
President Assad: First of all,
they didnít try to make negotiations or dialogue with us, so they donít know
what we want.
Question 76: Thatís why Iím here.
See, thatís why Iím here, to have you tell me what you want, thatís exactly why
Iím here. Tell me what you want.
President Assad: What we want is
whatever the Syrian people want. As I said, as a president, to stay or not to
Question 77: But the Syrian people
supporting you, you have a relationship with them, you know what they want. So
what do you want?
President Assad: Now, we want, in
such circumstances, we always ask for two things: first of all, dialogue.
Second, sharing, sharing of power, by any political entity that represents
Syrian people, not a political entity that has been forged in the United States,
the CIA, or in France, or in Qatar. By patriotic Syrian opposition that
represents the Syrians. And we have it, we have in Syria-
Question 78: So what do you mean
by sharing power?
President Assad: I mean if you
want to go back to constitutional procedures, they should go to elections, they
can share in the parliament, in the local administration, in the government, in
everything, and to be part of the decision in the government, like any country.
Question 79: You, and your father,
have held power in Syria, for how many years? The combination, of you and your
father, how many years?
President Assad: Is it a
calculation of years, or public support? Thereís a big difference. Years, it
doesnít matter how many years, the question is-
Question 80: Well, it does matter.
President Assad: No, what matters
for us is do the Syrians support these two presidents? Doesnít matter if they
are father and son. We donít say George W. Bush is the son of George Bush. Itís
different. Heís president, Iím president, he had support from that generation, I
have support from these generations now. That is the question. It doesnít matter
how manyÖ itís not the family rule, as you want to imply.
Question 81: Itís not?
President Assad: No, itís not.
Itís not a family rule. It has nothing to do with me being president. When he
died, I was nothing. I was just in the army. I wasnít, letís say, a high-ranking
Question 82: You know your family
much better than I do, but conventional wisdom is after your older brother died,
your father wanted you to come back, because he wanted you to be able to assume
power when he left.
President Assad: Actually, the
reality is the opposite; he wanted me to stay as a doctor and go back to London
and I refused. Thatís the reality.
Question 83: He didnít want you to
President Assad: No, never. He
didnít want me to be part of the politics.
Question 84: Then why did you
become part of the political process when you were a doctor?
President Assad: We live in a
political family, we live in a political environment, and in the army, Iím a
doctor in the army, and the army during the history of Syria has made the
history and the reality in this country.
Question 85: Because he was such a
significant political figure in the Middle East, would he have done things
differently, if he was President of Syria today?
President Assad: Thatís a virtual
question, I cannot answer on his behalf. Thatís a virtual question, nobody
Question 86: You think he would
agree with what you have done?
President Assad: Definitely. He
wouldnít allow the terrorists to take over, wouldnít obey or submit to external
intervention. And he would have defended his country like he did during the
Muslim Brotherhood. The same happened on a smaller scale in the eighties, late
seventies, early eighties, when the Muslim Brotherhood started assassinating,
killing, and destroying, and burning, and he fought them. That is his mission as
a president. Thatís what you have to do. To leave terrorists killing your
people, thatís your mission?
Question 87: Is it a fair
appraisal of what you believe, that everything must be done, and the ends
justify the means to stop terrorism in Syria, as you define it?
President Assad: No, itís not the ends justify the means, this is a
Machiavellian principle. You should have values and principles. You have
constitutions, and you have interests. So according to your values, you have to
defend your people, the population, the Syrian citizens, you have to defend your
country. For your interests, you have to get rid of terrorists. So, thatís how
we think, not only in a Machiavellian way.
Question 88: Tell us what the
Russians want. They are a strong ally of you. What do they want?
President Assad: Definitely, they
want to have balance in the world. Itís not only about Syria; itís a small
country. Itís not about having huge interests in Syria, they could have it
anywhere else. So, itís about the future of the world. They want to be a great
power that has its own say in the future of the world.
Question 89: And what do they want
President Assad: Stability. They
want stability and a political solution.
Question 90: And what does Iran
President Assad: The same. Syria
and Iran and Russia see eye-to-eye regarding this conflict.
Question 91: And what is your
obligation to both of them?
President Assad: What do you mean,
Question 92: What you owe them.
President Assad: Yes, I know, but
they didnít ask for anything. Nothing at all. Thatís why I said they donít do
that for Syria; they do it for the region and for the world, because stability
is very important for them, because if you have conflicts here, it will burn
somebody else there. If you want to talk about terrorism, terrorism has no
boundaries. It sees no borders, no political borders. Itís much more difficult
to take any procedure to face it due to the internet, which is difficult to
control. When you have ideology, it could cross everywhere, it could reach
Russia, it could Turkey, anywhere. So, they have the same interest. Russia, and
Iran, and many other countries that support Syria, not because they support the
president, not because they support the government, but because they want to
have stability in the region.
Question 93: Let me present an
alternative argument which the Untied States may very well believe, that they
support you because they had a longstanding relationship. They support you
because they want access to Lebanon. They support you because itís part of the
larger conflict between Sunni and Shiía.
President Assad: You mean the
Iranians or the Russians?
Question 94: The Iranians, and
because theyíve supported you militarily and financially.
President Assad: No. The way the
Iranians look at the Shiía-Sunni issue or conflict, is that this is the most
detrimental thing that could happen to Iran.
Question 95: To Iran? This conflict is the most detrimental thing?
President Assad: Anything related
to Sunni-Shiía conflict is detrimental to Iran. Thatís their point of view, and
thatís how we see it. We agree with them. So, actually they are going the other
way. They want always to have reconciliation, unification between the Muslims,
because thatís very good for Iran. They donít want to be partÖ they donít look
at the issue in Syria as a part. They know that Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis, they
want to instigate this conflict, in order to bring more of the Muslims to their
Question 96: As you know, there
are many people who look at the Middle East today beyond Israel, and say within
the Islamic world, itís all about the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran,
and choose your sides.
President Assad: Thatís what the
Israelis want to promote.
Question 97: No, some analysts
look at the Middle East today and say, it is a competition between Iran on the
one hand, Shiía nation, Iraq, Shiía, you here, Sunni majority, and Saudi Arabia.
These two are mortal enemies, fighting for influence in the Middle East.
President Assad: Thatís not
precise for one reason, because it looks like Iran wants to attack the Sunni and
Saudi Arabia wants to attack the Shiía. It actually started with Saudi Arabia
after the revolution in Iran in 79. So, it didnít start from Iran. Iran never
interfered in any other nationís internal issues, including Syria. We have good
relations with them, they never tried to interfere. Actually, itís Saudi
propaganda. I mean the whole issue of Sunni-Shiía conflict is a Saudi initiative
and propaganda. Itís reality, but because of the Saudis, not because of the
Question 98: But in Syria, they
are on opposite sides, Saudi Arabia and Iran are on different sides.
President Assad: Thatís what Saudi
Arabia wants to promote, and thatís what ISIS wants to promote, and thatís what
al-Nusra wants to promote. In their political discourse, they always mention the
Question 99: Iím now talking about
how you see, here, the region and what is happening now. One, is the rise of
ISIS here, the rise of ISIS and affiliated groups in Iraq. When you look at
Iraq, Iranians are supporting Shiía militia in Iraq, and theyíve been a very
effective fighting force. The United States is engaged in airstrikes. They just
had an airstrike yesterday in Tekrit which the Iranian militias have captured,
President Assad: Not everything is
correct. Itís not only Shiía militia who are fighting. Many others joined, so
itís a mixture now.
Question 100: Whatís the
possibility of Iranian-American cooperation?
President Assad: Regarding
Question 101: Yes.
President Assad: I donít think
anyone trusts or believes that the American administration wants to really fight
this kind of terrorism, because, I mean if you look at the airstrikes in Syria
and Iraq, the whole 60 countries launch much less airstrikes than only the
Syrian Army does on the daily, much less, so theyíre not serious. Second, they
only attack the northern part of Iraq. I mean, they attack the terrorists in the
northern part of Iraq, not the rest of Iraq. Why did they join now? They want to
get part of the cake, if thereís a victory against the terrorists, just to say
that we fought terrorists and we defeated ISIS? Where were they during the last
few months? They suddenly wanted to attack?
Question 102: So what do you think
Iran wants in Iraq?
President Assad: They want to get
rid of the terrorists, definitely, and to have stability.
Question 103: How long do you
think that will take?
President Assad: Nobody has any
idea, because you know, you have support from the outside, you have the support
of the petrodollar, of ISIS, and many extremists in Iraq, and in Syria. So, how
long that support will continue, we cannot tell.
Question 104: When you look at the
future, and you look at the battle ahead, what the end result to Syria? How much
of this can Syria take? How much of the conflict that is here today can the
Syrian government withstand? How much, the Syrian country, the civilian loss?
Will there be anything left in Syria?
President Assad: Of course, Syria
is still here. Itís not the first kind of crisis that weíve been facing here in
Question 105: But nothing like
President Assad: No, during the
history, you have many similar crises. Damascus and Aleppo have been destroyed
many times, but, I mean, itís about the population. The Syrian population are
determined to survive and to protect their country, and to rebuild it. How much
do we tolerate? That is about the potent power that every population has, and
the Syrian people proved that they have strong potential in that regard. Anyway,
we donít have any other option. What option do we have? Whether we suffer,
whether we pay a high price or a lesser price, what options do we have but to
defend our country, but to fight terrorism. We donít have any other option.
Question 106: I asked the question
because many asked it; whatís the cost to Syria, what itís going through, and
how to put the pieces together? Whenever there is finally, an end this, how will
you put the pieces back together, and who will put the pieces back together?
President Assad: Thereís a
misconception in the West that whatís happening in Syria is a civil war. This is
where you can ask that question. What is happening in Syria is not a civil war.
When you have civil war, you should have, how to say, clear lines separated
between different sects or ethnicities or different components. Thatís not what
we have. What we have are terrorist-infiltrated areas, and people are suffering
from the fighting and from the terrorism of those terrorists. So, you donít have
division in the society now. You donít have the sectarian issue now. Actually,
youíd be surprised if I tell you that the sectarian situation in Syria today is
better than the sectarian situation, letís say, before the crisis. People are
more unified now regarding the conflict, regarding the unity of the sects,
religions, and so on. So, we cannot talk about how can you rebuild, letís say,
the society. The society is suffering from the humanitarian aspect of the
problem, but itís not divided anymore, and thatís very important, and thatís why
weíre assured, that, I mean, even this conflict, which is a very bad conflict,
as you say, every cloud must have a silver lining, and this is the silver lining
in this crisis, that the population is more unified now. So we donít have a
problem as long as the society is unified and homogenous, regardless of some
dark part of this society, ideological corners in our society that support the
Wahhabis, support ISIS, and support the extremists, but this is not the general
situation in our society.
Question 107: Why do you think
that they, people in the West, question your legitimacy?
President Assad: This is
intervention in Syrian matters. I donít care about to be frank, I never care
about it as long as I have the public support of the Syrian people, thatís my
legitimacy. Legitimacy comes from the inside. But why? I will tell you why,
because the West is used to have puppets, not independent leaders or officials
in any other country, and thatís the problem with Putin. They demonize Putin
because he can say no, and he wants to be independent, and because the West, and
especially the United States, donít accept partners. They even accept followers.
Even Europe is not a partner with the United States. Best to be very frank with
you. So, this is their problem with Syria. They need somebody to keeping saying
yes, yes, and a puppet, a marionette, and so on, somebody they can control by
Question 108: There are those who
argue that you feel now that youíre militarily stronger, that the advent of
Hezbollah and Iranian advisors and American airstrikes and coalition airstrikes,
that you feel militarily stronger, and therefore youíre less willing to
President Assad: Any war can
deplete the strongest power, even the United States. When you go to war, you
will be depleted in every sense of the world, and we are a small country, weíll
be depleted more than a great country. So, you cannot say that you are
militarily powerful, this is again the reality, but you can say that you are
politically powerful, because when you win the hearts and minds of the people,
more support from the population, this is where you become more powerful. So,
what we achieved militarily, not because we are stronger militarily; because we
have more support.
Question 109: And how much do you
believe you may have some opportunity to win the minds and hearts of the Syrian
people because they fear ISIS more than anybody?
President Assad: We cannot ignore this reason.
Question 110: Then ISIS has
changed the circumstances?
President Assad: We cannot ignore
that factor, we cannot ignore it. We donít say no, this is a factor, but there
are other factors. When youíre transparent with the citizens, with the people,
when youíre patriotic, you work for their interests, they will support you even
if they disagree with you politically. So, we donít have support now from the
traditional supporters. We donít have support because they donít oppose us. We
have opposition who oppose our government in many aspects; economy, politics,
political systems, and so on. But they know that we are working for this
country, and when you have a war, itís time for unity, not time for division for
recriminations and so on. Thatís why I said we can have more support, and we
already had it recently.
Question 111: What circumstances
would cause you to give up power?
President Assad: When I donít have
the public support, when I donít represent the Syrian interests and values.
Question 112: And how do you
President Assad: I have direct
contact with the people.
Question 113: So, you determine
whether they support you?
President Assad: No, I donít
determine; I sense, I feel, Iím in contact with them, Iím a human. How can a
human make a direct relation with the population? I mean, the war was a very
important ďlabĒ for this support. I mean, if they donít support me, they could
go and support the other side. They didnít. Why? And thatís very clear, thatís
Question 114: Some have argued to
me that the majority of Syrians support neither the government nor ISIS.
President Assad: Some that donít
support either? If you donít, I mean this is like saying that ISIS is like the
government. I donít think that this is realistic. Even people who oppose the
government, they oppose ISIS, thatís how we look at it.
Question 115: Thatís the question,
isnít it? Even those who oppose the government oppose ISIS, and the question is,
how do you bring those two together, and what are you prepared to do, and what
are they prepared to do, and how will you get those people that have a vested
interest here, like the Russians and the Iranians and the Americans, to-
President Assad: Because very
simply, they cannot put the government and ISIS on the same level, so itís not
difficult for them to choose. They didnít chooseÖ I mean, not to support the
government doesnít to support ISIS. It means automatically theyíre going to be
with the government against ISIS, but not with the government in other issues.
Itís opposition, I mean, you have points of view, but as I said, itís not time
for division. Now, you support the government. When you get rid of ISIS, then
you oppose the government in your own way, you use political means. But you
cannot compare a government with the terrorists.
Question 116: Which raises the
question: can you destroy ISIS without coming together with a united plan, a
President Assad: On the local
level, you are correct. You cannot destroy terrorists, not only ISIS, you have
al-Nusra Front, which is as dangerous as ISIS. You cannot destroy them unless
you are unified as a society. But, again, ISIS now is not the Syrian case. ISIS
is in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. So, itís not enough to be unified on the local
level; itís on the regional level and on the international level, something we
donít have yet. Thatís why defeating terrorism is going very difficult because
of that situation.
Question 117: Something we donít
have yet. So, thatís the question: you donít have it yet, and how do you get it?
Because thatís the future.
President Assad: You are talking
about more than one party. You are talking about the international parties,
first of all the United States, regional parties, first of all Turkey which is
our neighbor and plays a very negative role, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and the
local parties. We would like to see this cohesion in fighting terrorism, but how
can we convince them? We tried, maybe not directly, because we donít have any
direct channels with them, but thatís how it should be. If they could see the
reality and the future in clearer vision, they would make dialogue with every
country including Syria, not because they support the Syrian President or the
Syrian Army, we donít need their support internally; itís about only fighting
terrorism. You need to make dialogue. You cannot kill them and defeat them from
the air. Thatís a foregone conclusions.
Question 118: Thatís true in Iraq
or here, you canít do it from the air.
President Assad: Anywhere, no you
Question 119: Do you want to see
another conference, like the Geneva conference that failed?
President Assad: Yes, thatís the
aim of Moscow conference. The next one.
Question 120: Thatís it?
President Assad: Yes.
Question 121: And what might
President Assad: that depends on
different parties. I mean, I cannot talk on behalf of every party. For us as
Syria, you should have principles, to agree about, letís say, some principles
like unification of Syria, denouncing terrorism, something like this, and then-
Question 122: Sharing power?
President Assad: Sharing power,
thatís in the constitution anyway. I mean, sharing power is about how much
grassroots you have, how much of the Syrians you represent. You donít come and
share power just because you want to share power. You should have public
Question 123: You have to be a
forced to share power.
President Assad: Exactly, exactly,
you have to represent them. So, maybe if we reach a conclusion and we reach
agreement in Moscow, it could be as preparation to go to Geneva 3, for example,
but itís still early to tell.
Question 124: I came here after
Secretary Kerry made his remarks. My impression once I got here is that when you
heard those remarks, you were optimistic. The State Department backed a little
bit, and said we still think there needs to be a new government, but you were
optimistic after you heard that. You believe there is a way for your government
and the American government to cooperate and coordinate?
President Assad: Thatís not the
main point. I mean, regarding that statement. I think the main point, we could
have a feeling, and we hope that we are right, that the American administration
started to abandon this policy of isolation, which is very harmful to them and
to us, because if you isolate a country, you isolate yourself as the United
States from being influential and effective in the course of events, unless you
are talking about the negative influence, like making the embargo that could
kill the people slowly, or launching a war and supporting terrorists that could
kill them in a faster way. So, our impression, letís say, we are optimistic,
more optimistic. I wouldnít exaggerate. That at least when theyíre thinking
about dialogue, doesnít matter what kind of dialogue, and what the content of
the dialogue is, and even doesnít matter what their real intentions are, but the
word ďdialogueĒ is something we havenít heard from the United States on the
global level for a long time.
Question 125: But you just did,
from the Secretary of State: we need to negotiate. Thatís dialogue.
President Assad: Exactly, thatís
what I said. I mean, thatís why I said itís positive. Thatís why I said weíre
more optimistic. I mean, when they abandon this policy of isolation, things
should be better. I mean, when you start dialogue, things will be better.
Question 126: Why donít you reach
out to Secretary Kerry and say, letís talk.
President Assad: Are they ready to
talk? We are always open. We never closed our doors. They should be ready for
the talks, they should be ready for the negotiations. We didnít make the embargo
on the United States. We didnít attack the American population. We didnít
support terrorists who did anything to the United States. Actually, the United
States did. We always wanted to have good relations with the United States. We
never thought in the other direction. Itís a great power. Nobody, not a wise
person would think of having bad relations with the United States.
Question 127: But can you have a
good relationship with a country that thinks you shouldnít be in power?
President Assad: No, thatís not
going to be part of the dialogue as I mentioned earlier. This is not their
business. We have Syrian citizens who can decide this, no-one else. Whether they
want to talk about it or not, this is not something we are going to discuss with
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