the Main Conduit of Supplies for the Terrorists" -
13, 2016 "Information
SANA-President Bashar al-Assad gave the following
interview to AFP News Agency on the developments in
Syria and the region:
Mr. President, we would like to thank you for taking
the time to answer our questions in these crucial
moments in the history of Syria and the region.
How do you feel when you see tens of thousands of
your citizens starving, running away from hunger,
from their areas, which are being shelled by your
Russian allies, and trying to cross the borders to
Turkey? And how do you feel when you see the
pictures of them drowning in their attempt to cross
Assad: If we talk about emotions, I belong to this
people; and it is self-evident that I have the same
feelings my people have. Any scene of suffering is
painful to all of us as Syrians. But as an official,
the question for me is less about emotions than
about what I, as an official, should do, being
responsible before my people.
when the cause of this suffering is the terrorists,
not the Russian shelling, as claimed by Western
media, and when one cause for migration is the
almost five-year-old embargo against the Syrian
people, naturally my, and every Syrian officialís
first task is to fight terrorism essentially using
Syrian capabilities, but also using our friendsí
support in the fight against terrorism. Thatís why I
say the problem of Syrian refugees abroad, as well
as the problem of hunger inside Syria, as you
referred to it, is a problem caused by terrorism,
Western policies, and the embargo imposed on the
Mr. President, since you are talking about actions
rather than emotions, can we talk, or at least
think, about the possibility of putting an end to
shelling civilian populations in order to alleviate
the suffering of these civilians, and also lifting
the blockade imposed on certain areas?
Assad: The conflict has been, since the beginning of
the crisis in Syria, about who wins the support of
the people in Syria. Consequently, it doesnít make
sense for us to shell civilians if we want to win
them to our side. This is in theory. Practically,
while moving around in Syria, you will find that in
any area under the control of the state, all
sections of Syrian society, including the families
of the militants, are being cared for by the state.
What is more is that in a city like Raqqa, which is
under the full control of Daesh (ISIS), the state
continues to pay the salaries of employees and send
vaccines for children. So, it doesnít make sense for
the state to shell civilians while doing all the
above, unless we are talking about mistakes which
happen in every battle. The general rule is that
there are innocent victims in every war. This is a
rule of thumb in wars, but this is definitely not
the Syrian stateís policy.
Mr. President, what do you say to those emigrating
to Europe? Do you ask them to come back?
Assad: I would like to ask every person who left
Syria to come back. Thatís natural but not enough.
Emotions are not enough. They would ask: ďwhy should
I come back? Has terrorism stopped? Have the basic
requirements for life been restored?Ē Many of those
who have emigrated are neither against the Syrian
state or with the terrorists, but sometimes there
are circumstances which force people to emigrate.
So, my answer to this question is: when terrorism
recedes, and things are better, they will return of
their own volition without any invitation. So,
instead of asking these people to return, Iíll call
on the European governments, which have been a
direct cause for the emigration of these people, by
giving cover to terrorists in the beginning, and
through the sanctions imposed on Syria, to help in
making the Syrians return to their country.
Mr. President, will the Syrian state regain control
over Aleppo in the next few days? If so, what is
next? Is it extending full control to Lattakia,
Aleppo, and Idleb?
Assad: The battle in Aleppo now is not about
regaining control over Aleppo, because the Syrian
state is there; but the main battle is about cutting
the road between Aleppo and Turkey; for Turkey is
the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists. The
battle is going on now on more than ten fronts at
the same time, from north, to south, to the east, to
the far east too, and to the west in Lattakia. It
was going on in Homs, and now itís over. So, all
these stages are moving in parallel.
Do you think, Mr. President, that you can regain
control over all Syrian territory? And what is the
timeframe you have for that now?
Assad: Regardless of whether we can do that or not,
this is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any
hesitation. It makes no sense for us to say that we
will give up any part. The timeframe is dependent on
two scenarios. Suppose that the problem is purely
Syrian, i.e. that Syria is isolated from its
surroundings, we can put an end to this problem in
less than a year by moving on two fronts: fighting
terrorism and political action. The second scenario
Ė which is the case now Ė taking the shape of
continuing supplies to terrorists through Turkey,
Jordan, and partly from Iraq Ė because Daesh (ISIS)
exists in Iraq with Saudi, Turkish, and Qatari
support Ė naturally means that the solution will
take a long time and will incur a heavy price. So,
it is difficult to give a precise answer about the
Canít you say precisely how many years you need to
restore peace to Syria?
Assad: The question is: for how many years will
Turkey and Saudi Arabia continue to support
terrorism. That is the question. And when will the
West put pressure on these countries to stop
Mr. President, can we know who is your main enemy?
Is it the so-called moderate opposition and the
Islamists, or is it Daesh (ISIS)? Iím asking because
everybody can see that you are targeting, with your
shelling and blockade, the areas under the control
of this opposition and these Islamists. Who are your
Assad: I donít think that the term ďoppositionĒ can
be used, in France or anywhere else in the world, to
describe somebody carrying a weapon. Opposition is a
political act. Suppose that you mean to say
ďmoderate terrorists,Ē this is a different term.
Saying that, you mean that they do not belong to
Daesh (ISIS), al-Nusra, or to these extremist
groups. Obama said that the moderate opposition is a
fantasy. Biden said the same thing. But whatís more
important is reality which says that such an
opposition is non-existent. Most of the militants
belong to extremist groups, such as Daesh (ISIS),
al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Cham, and others. So, my answer
is that every terrorist is an enemy. We respect
every political opposition; and we do have political
opposition inside Syria. They adopt tough positions
against the state, and we are not attacking them.
I would like to get this straight. As far as you are
concerned, thereís no difference between these armed
groups, on the one hand, and Daesh (ISIS), al-Nusra,
and others, on the other?
Assad: Legally speaking, there is no difference. The
state will confront all those who carry weapons. It
will not ask them about their ideology. But the
difference is that the extremist groups refuse to
have any dialogue with the state. They believe that
they will fight, die, and go to heaven. This is
their doctrine. The other groups are not
ideological. Most of them have been misled. They got
involved in dialogue with the state later. Some of
them have laid down their weapons, and some are
actually fighting with the Syrian Army today. We
grant them amnesty in return for laying down their
Mr. President, what do you think of Jaish al-Islam
and Ahrar al-Cham? They did negotiate with you, and
went to Geneva.
President Assad: They went as part of the opposition
formed by Saudi Arabia, because it is Saudi Arabia
which supports terrorism worldwide. So, it is only
natural for the representatives of Saudi Arabia to
be terrorists, not politicians.
10: So, you will not negotiate with those.
Assad: In principle, direct negotiations were not
supposed to take place in Geneva 3. They were
supposed to take place through de Mistura. And here
we should be precise: we are not negotiating with
Syrians, but with representatives of Saudi Arabia,
France, the UK, and others. So, if you mean
Syrian-Syrian dialogue, the answer is naturally no.
Dialogue with these people is not a Syrian-Syrian
dialogue at all. A Syrian dialogue is that conducted
with Syrian groups which have grassroots in Syria,
like the political opposition in Syria, for
instance. Any persons calling themselves opposition
but belong to foreign states or foreign intelligence
services do not represent Syrians in the dialogue,
and simply we do not consider them Syrian.
11: You said that you were going to negotiate. All
those who went to Geneva were based outside Syria.
Can you explain?
Assad: No, some of them are based inside Syria, and
some live outside Syria but they are involved in
politics and have supporters in Syria. Iím not
talking only about terrorists, Iím talking about
people who have been formed in a foreign state and
act on behalf of a foreign state.
12: Mr. President, you talked about a Syrian
opposition inside Syria. My question is: donít you
think that had you been more tolerant in dealing
with this opposition in the past, you would have
avoided this conflict? Donít you bear part of the
Assad: We do not claim that we did not make mistakes
in Syria. This is natural in any state. And we do
not claim that we, in the Middle East, have reached
a stage of significant political openness. We were
moving in that direction, not very quickly, and
maybe slowly. Back to your question, the more
radical segments of the opposition inside Syria,
which attack the state, have not been imprisoned or
prosecuted by the state, neither before or after the
crisis. So, I donít know what is meant by tolerance
in this case.
13: Maybe it was difficult for the opposition inside
Syria to assemble and to organize itself, before the
crisis, and to raise the voice as opposition. Maybe
they did not have a margin for movement.
Assad: You are talking about a general condition in
the Middle East. This is partly true, particularly
in the Arab world. But the question in this case is
not that of tolerance. The question has to do with
individuals rather than institutions. The question
is: what is the institutional action that we should
take in order to move forward. This has legal,
social, or cultural aspects, because democracy is
more of a culture than a law. You cannot proceed
with laws while remaining culturally in your place.
14: Mr. President, do you think that there might be
a Turkish intervention in Syria now? And do you
think the Saudi threats are serious?
Assad: Logically, intervention is not possible, but
sometimes reality is at odds with logic,
particularly when there are irrational people
leading a certain state. Thatís why I donít rule
that out for a simple reason: Erdogan is a fanatical
person with Muslim Brotherhood inclinations. He is
living the Ottoman dream. For him, the collapse
which took place in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria
is something personal. This threatens his political
future, on the one hand, and his fanatical Islamist
ambitions, on the other. He believes that he has an
Islamist mission in our region. The same applies to
Saudi Arabia. The collapse of the terrorists in
Syria is a collapse of their policies. I tell you
that this process is surely not going to be easy for
them, and we will certainly confront it.
15: Mr. President, are you prepared to give northern
Syria to the Kurds as a self-rule area after the
Assad: This question is directly related to the
Syrian constitution; and as you know, the
constitution is not given by the government, all
sections of Syrian society have a say in it, and it
is put to public referendum. Thatís why this should
be a national question, not a question put to any
Syrian official, whether it has to do with
self-rule, federalism, decentralization, or any
similar thing. All these things are part of the
political dialogue in the future; but I would like
to stress that the Kurds are a Syrian national
16: Is it true, Mr. President, that the Russians
persuaded, or tried to persuade you, to step down?
Donít you fear a Russian-American deal on this
President Assad: If we look at Russian policies and
Russian officials in the same way we look at
unprincipled Western officials and policies, this is
a possibility. But the fact is the exact opposite,
for a simple reason: the Russians treat us with
great respect. They do not treat us as a superpower
dealing with a minor state, but as a sovereign state
dealing with a sovereign state. Thatís why this
issue has not been raised at all in any shape or
17: Mr. President, are you prepared to give Russia
and Iran permanent bases on your territory? And in
this case, do you fear that Syria will become a
satellite to these powers?
Assad: Having military bases for any country in
Syria does not mean that Syria will become a
satellite state to these countries. They do not
interfere in issues related to the law, the
constitution, nor to politics. In any case, the
Russian base exists already, while the Iranians have
not asked to have one. But in principle, we do not
have a problem.
18: So, if the Iranians raise this possibility, will
Assad: The issue hasnít been raised, and
consequently this is hypothetical. But as I said,
when we accept it in the case of Russia, it means
the principle is acceptable. But this also depends
on the capabilities of every state and their role on
the regional and international arena.
19: Has Russia asked your permission to build new
bases on your territory?
20: Mr. President, the American elections are still
at the primaries stage. Are you, personally, with
candidate Trump or Clinton? Do you see a third
person who might be useful and in the interest of
Assad: We have never placed our bets on any American
president. We always bet on policies; and these
policies are not controlled only by the president,
but by the establishment in general, and by the
lobbies operating in the United States. If you look
at the competition between many candidates, now or
in the past, you will find that it revolves around
who is more inclined to start wars, and this doesnít
Intervention: Who is more aggressive, or more
inclined to war, Trump or Clinton?
Assad: The problem with American politicians is that
they say something and do the exact opposite, before
and after the elections.
Intervention: So, the promises made by Trump do not
Assad: No. As I said, since I donít build on what
the American candidates say, I see no reason why I
should comment on any of them, i.e. they are all
alike to me.
21: Mr. President, do you intend to be a president
for life, as was your father? And if you donít
intend to do that, are you in the process of
grooming a successor; and would this successor be
one of your sons?
Assad: First, the presidency is not a hobby that we
enjoy. It is a responsibility, particularly in these
circumstances. As to my selecting a successor, this
country is neither a farm nor a company. If I want
to remain president, that should be dependent on two
factors: first, my desire to be president, and
second, the desire of the people. When the next
elections come and I feel that the people donít want
me, I shall not stand. Thatís why itís too early to
talk about this. We still have years before the next
22: Mr. President, you know that there have been
many accusations to your government and to you
personally, most recently by the UN investigation
committee, which accused you of genocide, which is a
crime against humanity.
the UN Human Rights High Commissioner spoke about
blockading a number of your cities, like the town of
Madaya, and accused your government of committing
war crimes, and also about crimes he says you commit
by throwing barrel bombs on civilians. Arenít you
concerned that you will one day face an
President Assad: First, you know that UN
institutions express balance among the superpowers
and the conflict among them.
organizations are now basically controlled by
Western powers. Thatís why most of their reports are
politicized and serve a political agenda. The
evidence is that these organizations havenít said
anything about clear massacres perpetrated by
terrorist groups against innocent civilians in
Syria. What refutes the reports of these
organizations is that, first, they do not provide
any evidence, and this is the case in general.
Second, there is a logic for things: if Western
states and rich Gulf states are against an
individual; and this individual is killing his
people, how would he withstand for five years in
these circumstances? Thatís why Iím not concerned
about these threats or these allegations.
23: You said that these reports and institutions do
not provide any evidence. But donít you believe that
these reports are correct, particularly the latest
report by the UN committee about the death of
thousands of prisoners in your prisons? There are
eyewitnesses in this case.
Assad: No, there is a difference between individual
crimes having been committed and having a state
policy of systematic killing. I said that innocent
people die in the war. That is true, but war crimes
are committed when orders are given to follow a
policy of committing massacres for certain purposes.
Had this been true, people would have fled from
state-controlled areas to the areas controlled by
armed groups. What is happening is the exact
opposite: everybody moves to the state-controlled
24: Mr. President, how do you think you will figure
in history, as a man who saved Syria or a man who
Assad: This depends on who will write the history.
If it is the West, it will give me all the bad
attributes. Whatís important is how I think.
Certainly, and self-evidently, I will seek, and that
is what Iím doing now, to protect Syria, not to
protect the chair Iím sitting on.
25: Mr. President, do you still really intend to
negotiate with the militants, or are you thinking of
crushing them militarily?
Assad: We have fully believed in negotiations and in
political action since the beginning of the crisis;
however, if we negotiate, it does not mean that we
stop fighting terrorism. The two tracks are
inevitable in Syria: first, through negotiations,
and second through fighting terrorism. And the two
tracks are separate from each other.
26: Mr. President, what is your comment on the
resignation of French Foreign Minister Laurent
Fabius? And do you believe that this will change
French policy in any way? And would you make any
initiative in the war against terrorism towards
France in order to make communication possible with
it and make it change its policy towards you?
Assad: Changing personnel is not that significant.
Whatís important is the change of policies. The
French administration changed almost completely
between Sarkozy and Hollande, but for us the
policies have not changed. They have been
destructive policies extending direct support to
terrorism. Thatís why we should not assume that the
foreign minister makes the policies. They are made
by the whole state, headed by the president. As to
what we can do in Syria, I donít think that Syria
has to do anything towards France. It is France
which should do something towards fighting
terrorism. So far, it supports terrorists, albeit
politically, and in some cases it supported them
militarily. It is Franceís duty to reverse or change
its policies in order to fight terrorism,
particularly after hundreds of French citizens paid
with their lives for their wrong policies.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Assad: Thank you.