Damascus, SANA – President Bashar al-Assad said that there is a general state of awareness in Syria that what is happening in the country is a conspiracy from the outside, and that what the West in general and America in particular wanted from Syria was for a state to go so that another surrogate state would come in its place to present Syria as an easy morsel to the West, which is why they supported terrorists to achieve this goal.
In an interview given to the Iranian quarterly Tehran Foreign Policy Studies, President al-Assad said that what happens in Syria will have an effect on the global political map, and that if Syria is victorious, the idea of independence will spread more among states.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Journalist: Your Excellency, first of all, thank you for the opportunity you have given us. I thank Your Excellency and the working team; and I hope this would be a good initiative towards a joint hope contributing to the Iranian elites coming to understand or realize the reality of the situation in Syria and the reality of the confrontation between the front of the Resistance and the front of capitulation.
Question 1: Your Excellency, in what my memory keeps of modern history, I see that two of the US presidents have had negative stances towards Syria; President Bush designated Syria as being part of the Axis of Evil and declared that any country in the world is “either with us or against us,” and that meant that he put Syria in the enemies category. Also, President Obama, since the beginning of the events in Syria, has insisted on changing the situation in Syria and on having a different government in this country. They have openly said that President Bashar al-Assad should step down. These were not just words and attitudes that were expressed, but rather a comprehensive approach regarding the region. They employed all the mechanisms, including the military, all their diplomatic capabilities, they created the so-called “Friends of Syria,” the psychological war they waged regarding what was said about the use of chemical weapons, which was recently brought back into circulation. It was a comprehensive war. They also employed all those who are allied with them in the region. Despite all of that, you faced these challenges with a specific strategy and succeeded in withstanding all of this. Today, one can say that the US, along with all of its allies have lost in the case of Syria. They tried to change the government in Syria in a very short period of time. Today, President Obama is leaving the White House, whereas President Bashar al-Assad is still in power. What are the dimensions of the strategy you used to overcome this ordeal?
President Assad: First of all, I welcome you in Syria, and I’m very glad to be the first official to speak in the first issue of your magazine and to be able, through this interview, to address our Iranian brothers who stood by Syria’s side in the front trench in many battles since the days of the Islamic Revolution, in the same way Syria stood by Iran’s side in the front trench when they tried to conspire against it through the unjust war where they mobilized Saddam against Iran. And here is Iran today standing by Syria. I welcome you again. Of course, what you are saying is completely true. Regarding the US position. First of all, it is a position that is based on imposing hegemony on the countries of the world, especially after the US has enjoyed having domination over this world since the collapse of the Soviet Union and until today. The wars it is waging today aim at consolidating its project of domination through striking all those who stand in the face of this hegemony, particularly in light of the rise of other world powers and the beginning of having a kind of equilibrium in this world. This is something that the US rejects. It is natural that one of the tools of this US project will be targeting the countries that oppose this project, just like what they have done regarding Iran since the nuclear issue was raised in 2003 and the Syria issue and what is happening in it today. You have mentioned an important point. Of course, in addition to the terrorism tool, there have been psychological and economic tools, everything, but there has been the most important tool, which is the media tool that tried to lead everyone in Syria, and probably in the region – not only the officials but also the people – towards the wrong analysis and misunderstanding of things. This is something that we were subjected to on a large scale in Syria. In the beginning, the media and psychological battle aimed at creating the image that the most important issue in Syria was the President, an individual; and an individual should not be more important that the homeland, which is true; and that the second most important issue was the government and changing the political system. They didn’t talk about the homeland, which is their real battle. Their main battle was targeting the homeland, targeting the Syrian society with its ideology, identity, and historical orientations. This is their main goal. The first thing that helped us in confronting this issue, and before anything else, was having faith in God. To have faith in God is natural, but you have also to have faith in the people and their capabilities, and for us on the political level, the first thing that we came to understand was that the fake battle was the president and the other fake battle is the state, but the real battle was the homeland. So, we gave no heed to the titles they raised, we were not overwhelmed by them. We knew that the battle is a battle of homeland, and we relied on dialogue inside Syria so that some Syrians to whom the image was not clear in the beginning would come to realize what the real issue is about.
Question 2: The issue was not only on the theoretical level, it was rather a comprehensive war on the ground. In this war on the ground, what are the factors that you have employed to reach this stage?
President Assad: The main rule in any war is having public awareness. That’s why I say we started with the Syrian-Syrian dialogue because we knew that if Syria has popular awareness, it will win. If there was no popular awareness, we would lose, we would lose immediately. That’s why we have remained steadfast for five years. So, the first factor is popular awareness; and it was that popular awareness which has sustained the other factors. It was the main factor in activating the economy that is considered part of the battle; and it also contributed to mobilizing the intellectuals towards the correct opinion and idea that confront the ideas broadcast daily by 700 satellite channels and media outlets working against Syria from all over the Arab and non-Arab world. The second point, which has the same importance, is that this awareness was the main supporter of the Syrian Arab Army. How could the army fight the terrorists without public awareness? It’s impossible. Who supplies the army with moral and human support? These are the main factors that allowed Syria to be steadfast. There is of course another side, which is relying on friends, Iran being at their forefront. Iran’s role was essential in Syria’s steadfastness, and everybody knows that. The problems facing Iran now are no longer about the nuclear file, but about its support for Syria and for what is right. These factors, public awareness and the consequent support for the army, taking economic measures, and the support of brothers, are the factors which we relied on for our steadfastness.
Question 3: When you speak about educating and raising the awareness of the people, there must be public approval of the governing administration in the country. What are the indicators of that? And why do the people support and take part in this battle despite all the problems they have to endure, whether the economic ones or the problems spawned by the war?
President al-Assad: First of all, what are the reasons of this public awareness? One of the reasons is the historical experience in this region. It is, like your region, one with plenty of conspiracies, occupation, and resistance. It is this situation that has created public awareness for us in Syria. This awareness is what made people distinguish between performance-related mistakes on the level of institutions and between the shortcomings that are related to force majeure, the “crisis” in this case. Of course, there were shortcomings. Shortcomings existed before the crisis, and are still there now. But before the crisis there were no justifications. Today, there are justifications although they are partial rather than total justifications. So, people’s awareness lies in the precise distinction between an issue related to the shortcomings in the performance of an official and between something that is related to the terrorists’ acts for instance, or to the sanctions imposed from the outside. This is first. Second, if we want to talk about the indicators that allow us to say there is approval, now you don’t have accurate statistics, because we might not be able to reach some areas that host hundreds of thousands of Syrians or more. There are also Syrians who left Syria and whom we can’t contact right now. Therefore, you don’t have statistics, and you don’t have accurate indicators. But there is one very important indicator, more important than all of those statistics. If there were no approval of the state in general, particularly regarding the national orientation and the political orientation, the state wouldn’t have withstood for five years. It remained steadfast because there is support. How did the citizens translate this support? First, through economic steadfastness. When you walk around in Syria, you see that all business owners go to their work, the owner of a facility runs it, and so this is one kind of steadfastness. Opinion leaders, university professors go to their universities and give lessons, determined to confront backwardness and ignorance with knowledge. This is steadfastness. There is a more important side and a more tangible indicator, which is how the Syrian people protected the constitution and the state at various junctures, through the elections; the turnout in the elections that were held, parliamentary elections this year and presidential elections in 2014, was unprecedented throughout Syria’s history since the independence. Why did these citizens head out to vote? Not necessarily because they agree politically with the state or not, but because they know that by this method they are facing terrorism and defending the state that represents them, even if they disagree with it politically. After the war, they may have another opinion, but during the war, they stood with the state. These indicators are the only indicators of approval that are present, and they are, in my opinion, more powerful than statistics, because this is a practical indicator. We did not send a form for the citizens to fill in; they got out of their homes and cast their votes, and the statistics indicate wide participation, part of it being by the refugees outside Syria, and those are not moved by anyone; they moved by themselves and headed in large numbers in many countries, especially in Lebanon, to participate. This is one of the most important indicators. As for why they did it, I think that now, especially today after more than five years, there is a general state of awareness in Syria that the issue is a conspiracy from the outside, and it is a process of targeting the homeland, and is eventually in the interest of the terrorists and has nothing to do with reform or anything else.
Question 4: When you talk about the role of the Syrian people and their awareness, it indicates that you are giving a message that the situation in Syria is different from what happened for example in Egypt or in Tunisia. What are these differences between the two cases and the indicators for that?
President Assad: In this region, we are similar in the cultural and social aspects. This is self-evident. Maybe we don’t have the same demands in normal cases, but the essential difference is that the governments that were in Tunisia and Egypt were governments with good relations with the West, and there’s satisfaction and even support for them in the West, whereas the relation with the Syrian state, before the crisis, was different. Even in the best of cases, even when some were talking about good relations with the West, and I’m not saying excellent, they weren’t. Actually, it was a good relation only in appearance. The West was seeking a relation with Syria in order to achieve certain goals, but in truth the West was never satisfied with Syria, and in the best cases there were always economic and technological sanctions on our country. And before the crisis, Syria was asked to play certain roles against the resistance or against Iran, but when Syria refused to do that…
Journalist: What were the Western demands?
President Assad: Essentially, to distance ourselves from the Resistance axis, stop supporting the Palestinian people and pursue peace initiatives that seek to relinquish rights, the rights of the Palestinian people.
Question 5: So, can we say that the West’s problem with you isn’t about internal issues and what is being alleged?
President Assad: It’s not, at all. If they had a problem with internal issues, why didn’t they incite against Saudi Arabia, for example? They incite against Syria, while we can’t be compared to Saudi Arabia in all fields; civilizational, political, democratic, and others. Why did they stand against you in Iran and you’re one of the most prominent states in the Middle East in the issue of liberties and democracy and left the rest of the states? The issue is political, so the difference between us and those states is that what was wanted was for one government in Egypt and in Tunisia to go so that another would come that the people are satisfied with and the external satisfaction remains standing. While in Syria what was wanted was different; it was for a state to go so that another surrogate state would come in its place to present Syria as an easy morsel to the West. The principle is different, so they supported terrorists in Syria for this goal, while they didn’t support terrorists in those states and stood by them, because those states are in the favor of the West. Syria was asked, in the last stage – particularly between 2008 and 2011 – by French President Sarkozy who was assigned this task by George Bush at the time – to convince the Iranian leadership with the Western proposition at the time, which was for Iran to hand over all the stock of enriched materials it has to the West without any guarantees. That’s what was wanted, and of course we refused that because that talk made no sense. What state would accept that without guarantees? The West would take those enriched materials and won’t return them to Iran. We know and you know that, that was the main task between 2009 and 2011. In previous stages, for example in 2002, what was wanted from us was to ratify King Abdullah’s initiative in its first form, when he said normalization in exchange for peace, without anything in return. What about rights? But, specifically in that stage, prior to the crisis, the main problem for the West was Iran, and what was essentially wanted from Syria, as the state that is closest to Iran, was to convince the Iranian leadership of what the West wanted.
Question 6: Can we say that what Syria is facing today, in terms of challenges, is the price for the position it took in the face of the American administration and the West?
President Assad: Of course, because America today is in a state of regression. The American strength and the American credibility are in a state or regression, at least since the economic crisis in 2008. On the other hand, other blocs are emerging, and there’s the beginning of balance. So, America wanted to upset this balance. It had to strike the independent states like Iran, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and any state that says “no.” Take note of what is happening in Brazil or Venezuela. It’s a coordinate operation in one framework which is restoring American hegemony. Therefore, what is happening in Syria is an attempt to preserve what is left of the American and western hegemony over the world.
Question 7: But the American administration failed in all cases in the region; in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. How can an administration that has failed in these files draw the features of the future?
President Assad: It failed in Lebanon in 1982, it failed in Vietnam before that. It fails everywhere, since World War II. The United States succeeds in one thing, which is creating problems and destroying states, nothing more than that. It destroyed Iraq. What was achieved after that? Who created the sectarian situation? Who crated ISIS? Who created Jabhat al-Nusra? Who created al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? In fact, they failed in Afghanistan like in every other place. The problem is that we’re not dealing with an administration that builds its policies on reason. The American administration builds its policies only on electoral interests. It’s an administration that is subject to the American lobbies; the weapons lobby and the oil lobby. If the interest of those lobbies is to go to war and kill millions of people in the Middle East or kill thousands, the Americans don’t have a problem with that. What is important is achieving the interests of this narrow group. This is the truth of the American administration; therefore, we cannot analyze the American policy based on reason. It loses and falls in the same trap every time. Even Obama said he won’t wage wars, and what did he do during his term? He waged all wars, but in a different way. He never sent an American soldier directly, but he gave full cover for wars; he sent missiles, covered Western policies and tasked Europeans with implementing them. The truth is that all American administrations are similar, and these policies won’t change any time soon, until there is real balance in the world. This is my conviction.
Question 8: This American failure, is it due to lack of strategic vision and strategic challenges? Does the problem lie in the American strategy, or in the performance on the ground and in operations?
President Assad: In America, they have a problem with the political system. First, does this political system allow for the best people and particularly rational ones to assume leadership of the state, or does it allow opportunists? If we go back to American presidents, at least during the past thirty years, since Reagan at least – I don’t want to talk about what was before that – is there one of them that we can describe as a true statesman? No, so this is one aspect of the problem, and the other one is what I mentioned earlier: the fact that lobbies control the elections. Therefore, if any president would think, he would think first about his electoral interest before thinking about America’s interest. So, he would undertake an adventurist act against America’s interest. If we question all that the United States has done for the past four decades at least, did any of those administrations’ acts realize America’s interest? I think the self-evident answer is no. They are against the interest of the United States. So, I would say that the political system and the role of the lobbies in America – and the media organizations are, of course, part of the lobbies in the political system. All that makes the United States move from one failure to another without learning lessons. The issue isn’t about what’s on the ground. They are capable of achieving the same change with more rational and intelligent methods. Sometimes, you can affect change with culture, education and credibility. With political action you change more than you do with military action, but when you carry out this change via politics, weapons factories will not work, as their work is linked to the volume of wars being waged.
Question 9: I have a question that might be related to your last answer. Syria has a prominent position in terms of history and in geography. The war in Syria should be given a very different evaluation from that of the war that took place for example in Libya or in other places. The Syrian condition managed to divide all the energies available around the world into two camps. And it can be said that Russia today is using the veto right in the United Nations, and it managed to open a new front against the American front, and everyone around the world is either following carefully what is happening in Syria, or participating practically in this ongoing war. Why do we see that this complication in the situation in Syria made all eyes in the world look, in one way or another, on this case? Or do they, perhaps, have interests in this case?
President Assad: This is correct, although Syria is practically – even by Arab standards – a small country, not a big country, and it’s not one of the economically-rich states. Despite that, it played this role for social, historical, and political reasons. As for historical reasons, as you know, Syria is a state with a deep-rooted civilization. There are historical roles played by states which give it roles in the present and in the future. This historical role becomes stronger than anything, and the social, economic, and political situation in that state influences many of the states around it, particularly since Syria in the Arab world can be likened to the meeting lines of tectonic plates underground, which cause earthquakes. Among Arab states, it is the state with the most diversity of sects, religions, and creeds; and they’ve been living together in peace for centuries. So, any disorder that occurs in this plate will create an earthquake whose effects, repercussions or reverberations reach other states. This is on one aspect. Another is the fact that Syria has been marked for more than four or five decades by its independent positions, at a time when many of the Arab states went along with the West and surrendered to it. Some of them believe in God Almighty and the West, and some only believe in the West as the ruler and the one who commands and forbids, and perhaps creates. So, Syria was marked by its independence since that time; therefore, any change in the Syrian situation, whether political or social, will affect the entire region. On the other hand, as I mentioned before, since the goal of the United States was to change the state in Syria so that it may bring in place a surrogate state. That means this would be applied to other states, and thus the states that seek to maintain independence in the world, whether they are great states or regional ones, they knew that this change in Syria will affect them, not just our country or the Arab world. And as I said before, if Iran had submitted in the issue of the nuclear file to the Western will, all other states would have paid the price. So, we live in a region where we affect each other. Iran is an important state, and what happens to you will affect us and vice versa. This is the reason that made the word divided: what happens in Syria will have an effect on the global political map.
Question 10: As you have said, many forces are exploiting this case; the presence of extremists and takfiri forces in the region and in Syria. The only front that is confronting those extremist and takfiri currents is the Resistance front and Syria under your leadership. Today, even European countries believe that the presence of a government led by Dr. Bashar al-Assad in Syria helps confront movements of extremism and terrorism in the region, meaning that the two major forces that are competing for Syrian territory are first the terrorist forces and second the state and the governing system in Syria. In case victory or defeat is achieved for either side, meaning the terrorist forces or the state in Syria, what will be the effects of each on the Syrian interior, on the region, and on the world?
President Assad: This is a very important question, and one of the reasons why the war continues. First, on the Syrian level, which is what concerns us in the first place. Certainly in any war, if you are victorious you will emerge stronger, not on the political level in the first place, but rather on the social and national level, which is something that the West fears a lot. It knows and says that; that if Syria is victorious, it will become stronger, and this is a big problem for the West. But, on the other hand, there’s an important point; if we talk about the Resistance axis of which Syria and Iran constitute one of its main flanks – and some understand the resistance axis as just resisting Israel; no, the resistance axis is a comprehensive concept. We resist in order to preserve our sovereignty. We resist in order to preserve the safety of our people, countries, and interests. This axis is an axis in which the most important thing, in my viewpoint, is that it’s an independent axis. If Syria is victorious, the idea of independence will spread more among states, and they will know that the Western will is not divine will, and that you can defeat that will even if it’s at a high price, and then there will be a proliferation of the state of independence. The independent axis will grow stronger around the world, and therefore there will be more possibility for applying various Security Council resolutions, possibility for applying the UN Charter, for complying with international law and legitimacy and human rights and humane principles. Then, all that can be applied, at which point the concept of “the strong preys on the weak” will recede. This is one of the very important effects on the outside. Add to it regional effects; of course, when the master weakens, the surrogates in our region and their negative role will weaken, and the region will become more independent. There is another positive effect; as the battle with terrorism now in the world is centered in Syria, and most terrorists are coming to Syria, striking down this terrorism will protect all nations from its influences, not just in the region, but also in the world. So, I believe that this battle will have big effects if we are victorious. And if Syria is defeated, the results will be the opposite; there will be total Western hegemony, there will be no state that can say “I have a right,” then all will become slaves.
Question 11: Mr. President, we often hear that the war in the region and in Syria is in part a sectarian war. First, do you accept this discourse? Do you believe that the war is a sectarian war?
President Assad: This is completely contradictory to reality, because if it had been a sectarian war, it should have started when sects emerged fourteen centuries ago, not today. When did sectarian war emerge in our region? It emerged with the victory of the Iranian Revolution, because it was bidden that the Wahhabi institute run by Saudi Arabia must confront the Iranian Revolution, which was looked up to by peoples in the region when it succeeded. They felt afraid of this popular aspiration, so the West, particularly the United States, directed Saudi Arabia to move in the sectarian direction. Then suddenly Iran became Shi’ite. The question here is: what was Iran before the Revolution? What was the Shah? Why did those movements appear suddenly? So, this issue is totally linked to the Iranian Revolution, and it began to spread and it was used as one of the tools in Syria. Now, if we wanted to say that this thing is real, disturbances in Syria would have been enough to create this sectarian war. The truth is what happened was the opposite; today cohesion among sects in Syria is better than it was before the crisis, and not just better than it was at the beginning of the crisis, but better than before the crisis, because the crisis created more awareness. If there had actually been a sectarian issue, it would have exploded, and we would have seen that the lines dividing the warring sides – that is, if we use such language in Syria – are sectarian lines, and we wouldn’t have seen a state and terrorists; we would have seen sects and ethnicities fighting, and that didn’t appear obviously. So, the truth of the issue is not like that. There are differences in creeds, and if they weren’t different then why would there be different sects? So, this is natural, this is the nature of the world, the nature of humanity, and this is not an issue; this is thought; these are intellectual creeds, while the sectarian issue you talk about is a political issue with a sectarian title.
Question 12: One of the enigmas that cannot be understood easily in the Syrian case has to do with the Syrian Army. It is said that 80% of the Syrian Army are Sunnis, but the power in Syria is in the hands of the Alawite sect. A lot of money is being spent to sabotage the convictions of the Syrian Arab Army personnel, a lot of attempts are made to penetrate the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army so that this army would collapse. Some might imagine that there’s a background for such a collapse in the Syrian Army, at least due to the sectarian element we mentioned, along with the continuation of the war for more than five years and the depletion of this army’s energy. And also it can be said that there’s no prospect for resolving this war in the near future. Despite that, we see that first, the Syrian Arab Army managed to withstand on the ground. In addition to that, Syria managed to rally a supporting force consisting of 100 to 150 thousands of popular forces. What are the strategies that you employed to reach this level of steadfastness in these military forces?
President Assad: We didn’t reach them; they existed, and the main point in that issue is what I mentioned; is there sectarianism or is there no sectarianism? That is the criterion, which is why there was a media war from the outside since the beginning.
Journalist: Even if it wasn’t sectarian, sectarians are working on it, steering it in a sectarian direction.
President Assad: That is correct. If the balance had tipped in their favor, meaning that the army in their opinion is an army that is made up of a sect and defends a sect, then that army would have collapses in a month, it wouldn’t have lasted more, but what happened was the exact opposite. This is on the one hand. On the other, we in Syria always confront propaganda with facts. There are facts. You can go and look at the composition of the Syrian state and see that everyone participates in it. You go to the Syrian Army and see that there are people from all sects, and most importantly you look at the records of the army’s martyrs who fell in battle, and you see there are high rates from all sects. Add to that the fact that those who support the state politically are from all sects, those opposing the state politically are from all sects. And if you look at the surrogate external opposition working for America or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, it also has people from all sects. So, the issue is who is patriotic and who isn’t patriotic. This was their strategy, to create a sectarian state, but the nature of people triumphed. We cannot as a state create a non-sectarian state in Syria if one existed, but it became clear that it didn’t exist in the first place among people. On the other hand, we confronted this sectarian propaganda with national work, national work that includes everyone; the homeland is for everyone or there can be no homeland. This is what we relied upon in the military aspect and in the services aspect, and in all facets, when we ensured that citizens feel that this state is their state despite the presence of corruption here or shortcomings there. That exists, but this has nothing to do with the sectarian issue.
Question 13: Have not the attempts to exhaust this army and the lack of a specific horizon tire the army and the military forces, not just the sectarian aspect?
President Assad: Any war would weaken the state regardless of what that state is, and it weakens economy, and weakens society, and everything. That’s self-evident, but the problem is when society surrenders to the idea that it won’t win the war. We have faith in Syria that we have two choices: either lose the homeland or be victorious. Therefore, after more than five years, and despite of that tiredness you talk about, which exists and we all experience it, there is determination, there are results. There is faith also that when a friend and a brother from other states, Iran being at the forefront of them, this also gives hope to people that we’re not alone. It’s not correct that the whole world doesn’t have principles. The west doesn’t have principles but most of the world has principles. There are states that dare support, and there are states that don’t dare and they are with you. So, all these things alleviated the tiredness of the Syrian people. Another aspect, as I have said in the beginning, part of the major tiredness is because of the embargo. The Economic embargo may be more tiring than the military war, and this is where Iran’s role came, when Iran understood this point, and particularly His Eminence the Imam al-Khamenei, he directed to provide economic support to Syria, and this alleviated suffering, and the political position alleviated the suffering, and the military support as well. So, it’s true, there is tiredness, but there is also a horizon for victory with internal factors and external factors.
Question 14: You mentioned that there are cases of corruption in Syrian society. Of course this corruption casts a weight and burdens on the Syrian people, and you began more than once a process of reforms in the country, but these reform movements didn’t achieve their goals. What is your program and plan for achieving these reforms to lift the burden from the shoulders of the Syrian citizen who is the essential element in this battle?
President Assad: The reform process is like a building. Imagine that you are building a building, and at the same time there’s someone vandalizing this building. You can’t build a building like that. First, you must eliminate vandalism, so the reform process in Syria has certainly receded due to the current war and the presence of terrorism. There can be no process of economic, social, and political reform if there isn’t stability. Stability is the basis for any process made in any state and for any process of positive change, no matter what that process is: wide, narrow, long-term, short-term, you need stability. We have been living a state of no stability for more than five years. The priority for us in any plan is to first strike and eliminate terrorism. You cannot achieve anything with the presence of terrorism. This is first. Second, when you are able to proceed in the process of striking terrorism and make large strides, you start at the same time a process of sociopolitical dialogue, and I consider that a single process because dialogue isn’t just dialogue between parties or political forces. The process of reforming the homeland is a comprehensive process in which every Syrian citizen must participate, and that includes political forces and social forces. Then, you can talk about the political system needed for the future Syria, about the process of defining what the economic and social policies of the state are. Then, we enter dialogue of that kind. There is another aspect that will confront us after the crisis linked to the war and terrorism, which is the young generations whose national and political awareness has been formed during this war. Doubtless, this war left very bad and negative effects on many Syrians, especially the young and children. Some of them are in the areas where terrorists are present, some of them were indoctrinated with the extremist Wahhabi ideology, and the ideology of terrorism and killing and rejecting the other and so on. Such a person cannot accept development, cannot accept democracy, cannot accept the other. The other to him isn’t a son of the nation, meaning that they don’t have a national condition to begin with. There are others who developed many psychological issues that affected their view of the homeland and their faith in it. These cases must be dealt with if we want to achieve a development process.
Question 15: The current crisis in Syria cannot be ended except by two ways: the military solution, meaning that one side achieves victory, or political dialogue. Political dialogue needs recognizing parties with which dialogue can be held. The American administration says that with the exception of ISIS and al-Nusra the rest of the factions that are presents are factions that dialogue can be held with, but also, on the other hand, there are those who say that many of those factions are involved in terrorist operations. What is your definition of the sides that can be art of the homeland, of Syria’s future?
President Assad: First, this side we’re talking about must have faith in the homeland, and the first principle for faith in the homeland is for these parties not to be affiliated to other parties, not to be mercenaries or surrogates, not to support terrorism or bear arms and kill and destroy, because that’s not political work or patriotic work. When these conditions are available – and they aren’t available until this moment – we can talk about political dialogue with these parties. But the fact is that political dialogue solves a political problem, and the problem isn’t political until this moment because we undertook a reform process according to the demands of the opposition, or those who called themselves opposition, in the beginning. We changed the constitution and the laws and everything, and nothing changed. On the contrary, whenever we changed something, they moved more towards terrorism. It’s clear that political issues were just a title, because they were expecting that we will refuse, and if we had refused they would have said, “because the Syrian government refused reform, the disturbances began,” but that thing didn’t happen.
Question 16: If you allow me, I have two questions. The first question: there is duality in American policy, as on one side it proposes political solution and dialogue, and on the other side it opposes any process of dialogue or reconciliation. Of course, in the first side there is the project that de Mistura is pursuing, and on the other side, for example, what happened in Darayya and was opposed by the American administration. The second question: if some armed groups agreed to abandon arms, can dialogue be held with them?
President Assad: Regarding the first point, the issue of duality, this is the method of the United States. They use two tools, a terrorist tool to achieve their goals and make the Syrian state submit, and a political tool that opens the door to us to make concessions through. This means that the goal is one: if you fail with terrorism you succeed with politics, and if you don’t make concessions politically they will escalate the terrorist action, and this is what is happening. Every time The Geneva negotiations fail to extract national concessions from the Syrian state for the benefit of the terrorists and the states that stand behind them, terrorism increases in Syria. They say to you that you must choose, like someone who gives you the choice to die by gunshot or by hanging; the result is the same. This is the method of the United States, so this isn’t surprising. This has always been the American tactic. And when we say double standards, no, the United States doesn’t have double standards but rather triple and quadruple and quintuple standards, and it’s ready for a thousand standards if it had a thousand cases according to what serves its interests and its officials’ interests. As for the second question about the possibility of dialogue with armed groups that abandon arms, the answer is yes, and that is what we applied. Everyone who decided to lay down their arms had full amnesty. We were so flexible to the point that we even surpassed the law, as the law doesn’t exonerate terrorists of their actions. Despite that, and in the interest of the people and to avoid bloodshed, we offered amnesty.
Journalist: Not on the level of individuals, on the level of organizations?
President Assad: No, on the level of individuals. We don’t hold dialogue with terrorist organizations; we hold dialogue with individuals.
Question 17: Some believe that the region we live in – and you’re part of this region and Your Excellency run this part – there are two directions or two operations taking place. The first direction talks about conflicts and internal wars and what is happening in different areas: Saudi Arabia and its position against Syria, Syria and its position against Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, and these files in the region. And of course America is feeding this conflict to produce or reproduce another conflict from the heart or from the womb of this conflict. Through that, the American administration is trying to weaken the Arab and Islamic group that is confronting with its culture and civilization Western civilization. It wants to weaken this force. In your perspective, To what extent what is happening today, in terms of conflict on the ground, and we’re engaged in these conflicts, they achieve American interest? Whether in the first direction, which is internal conflicts, or in the second direction which is a civilization versus civilization conflict, which is the Islamic and Arab nation’s civilization against Western civilization? How much are we practically participating in that, whether we want it or not?
President Assad: In this current age, I don’t believe in a thing called conflict of civilizations. We are living a single civilization called the human civilization. There are conflicts of movements. They could be cultural movements that are in conflict with each other, let’s say. This is natural. But the conflict we are experiencing is a political conflict that was given the title of clash of civilizations, because as I said religious and sectarian differences are of a new political origin and not an old one, and herein lies the Western game. Doubtless, we have, let’s say, whether in the Arab region or on the level of the Muslim world or maybe the third world, a big problem called the conflict of identity. You in Iran have now an Islamic identity and a Persian national identity. We have an Islamic identity and we have an Arab identity. This is natural. What the West is thinking here is that it comes to strengthen one element of identity, because this identity is unstable in our thought as societies, and since there are weak conflicts that exist, the West comes to strengthen them and say that the Islamic identity clashes with the Persian identity or that the Islamic identity clashes with the Arab identity, creating conflicts between those who belong more to one current or the other, creating a problem inside. Why is the West creating this problem? Because one of the West’s problems, when it comes to hegemony, is identity. When you identify with a certain creed, this creed makes you see things clearly and makes your firm and strong. When you lose identity, you belong to neither the Islamic identity nor the Persian identity, what will you defend? When the West comes to you and demands something from you, you will say “no problem, why should I defend my rights? I don’t have rights.” Rights are linked to identity, and the homeland is linked to identity. So, the Western game throughout the past century until today is to target identity. This is why they created a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict; and now they create and Arab-Kurdish conflict, as they did in Iraq, and they created in one stage an Islamic-Christian conflict, or at least they created fear in one side from the other side. When they create these conflicts, these identities become small, narrow, dissonant, and ineffectual, and at that point they reach their goal. So, to answer your question, every conflict we are engaged in in this region serves the Western goal directly. We must be have an intellectual conflict; for intellectual conflict is a natural right in any subject. Disagreement between creeds is a natural thing, but disagreement doesn’t mean not to have dialogue. We must continue with dialogue, and each side should try to convince others intellectually with their viewpoint. This is a good thing.
Question 18: Do you see that we have a chance, while we are engaged in these conflicts – and we shouldn’t be engaged in them – in not allowing the American and Israeli administrations to achieve their goals via this conflict?
President Assad: Yes. When we realize the importance of accepting the other; I disagree with you but I accept you, and you disagree with me but you accept me. You and I are the sons of one civilization, one nation, one state, one homeland. When we’re convinced of that thing there is no problem. But when I believe that you are an absolute wrong and I’m an absolute right; and that I must exclude you, then we will enter into conflict. Other than that, dialogue and disagreement is something rich, good, and beautiful. You have this richness and Iran and we have this richness in Syria, and that creates a wide horizon for thought and therefore for development. You made big strides in the scientific field, chiefly in the nuclear field. If you didn’t have mental openness in the homeland, you wouldn’t have been able to achieve this scientific openness, because the two matters are interlinked. So, I say that disagreement is good, but when it reaches the point of exclusion, it becomes destructive.
Question 19: Let’s move away a little from the previous dialogue. Saudi Arabia, regardless of its pretexts, entered Yemeni territory; and for the past 17 months, it has been fighting and it hasn’t achieve its declared objectives. On the contrary, we see that the southern borders of Saudi Arabia are facing a danger today. Now, in addition to the war against Yemen and involvement in Bahrain, and in addition to the confrontation with Iran, Saudi Arabia entered the process of normalization and establishing relations with the Israeli entity. What are the effects of this Saudi performance on the Islamic and Arab world?
President Assad: It doesn’t affect much, because it isn’t a real change, but rather a change in appearance. It changed the state from being secret to being public. This relation has existed for more than five decades, since before 1967. We say that the first results of the Saudi-Israeli cooperation is the ’67 war with the goal of targeting Abdul Nasser at that time. It’s not necessary for the meeting to be direct, it could have been via the Americans, or maybe it was upon a request from the Americans, or from a Saudi request to the Americans. There are various methods for this communication but practically, coordination was in this framework. The Arab initiative in 2002 that King Abdullah proposed was in this framework. The initiative of King Fahd in 1981 that aimed at removing the Palestinian resistance from Lebanon was in this framework. The difference now is that the work that wasn’t public, or maybe was indirect, has become public and direct now.
Journalist: The position being public or not public, this is related to the intellectuals. The general opinion is that Saudi Arabia is a country which enjoys a certain status. It has the Two Holy Mosques, the Qibla of the Muslims, and it runs these sites, so the Islamic public opinion is facing the fact that an important Islamic state like Saudi Arabia is today normalizing relations with Israel, and that has its effects on the public opinion.
President Assad: But for me, I believe that this is a positive thing, because those intellectuals used to believe that Al Saud were the custodians of the Two Holy Mosques. They are in fact not custodians of the Two Holy Mosque; they are custodians of what is the greater holy mosque for them which is America. This is the truth, this is what they are doing. The larger segment of Muslims in the world, as I said, must know this fact. What changed Saudi Arabia suddenly? Was it against Israel and then it became with Israel? No. It was shy of declaring that thing, and it declared it. And the first question that this large segment of Muslims must ask is that if Al Saud are protecting the Two Holy Mosques, what are they going to do regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque? How are they establishing relations with Israel which is still is trying on every occasion to vandalize the structure of Al-Aqsa Mosque, to cause its collapse, so they could build the temple? What will Saudi Arabia do? It didn’t do anything, it didn’t issue a single statement against Israel. This is the truth. This is the positive aspect that we should look at, because that segment will know the truth. True, in the beginning they will be shocked, but we should talk to them honestly and say to them “what you saw is old, not new, but you didn’t know it. Maybe the political intellectuals know these facts, but now it’s your turn to know the truth.” If we had said that before, if we had accused them, they would have said “no, this isn’t true, those are the Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques,” and such sentimental talk; but now it’s no longer possible to deny that.
Question 20: It is said that some have implicated Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war to deplete its resources, and also that the American administration has cleverly implicated Turkey in Jarablos to deplete its resources. Strategically, what has Turkey done recently in Jarablos, and what are its effects on the future of the region and Syria?
President Assad: First of all, the world “implication” may not be accurate here for a simple reason: I can implicate someone who has some sort of mind and independence, convince them of something, and give them wrong information, then they become implicated. But in this case, when we talk about Saudi Arabia and Turkey, these states are subservient to America. It gives the orders and they carry them out. As for the Turkish situation, Erdogan has wanted for several years to interfere in Syria but he wasn’t allowed, and now he entered Jarablos because he was allowed.
Journalist: Why was he allowed?
President Assad: He was allowed, I believe, because the Americans are always trying to complicate the situation. Whenever the situation becomes complicated, they can play upon contradictions, meaning that the Turkish-Kurdish contradiction will lead to Turkey heading to America to complain against the Kurds, and the Kurds will complain to America about the Turks to give them support; and when there’s a Kurdish-Arab disagreement they both will go to the Americans. This is the American logic: divide and conquer. The more they divide the people the more they can play upon contradictions as they do in our region, and now Turkey’s entry complicates the situation, but in the end, Turkey is an American player and a pawn among the pawns of American policy, playing for its advantage and under its orders at the time and in the shape it wants, and it’s another one among its methods that it will use to serve its agenda when the final solution for the crisis in Syria becomes near.
Question 21: But there are those who say that the recent coup attempt was supported by America, and America tried with the Jarablos issue to give a privilege for Turkey to make up for it.
President Assad: This is analysis. There is no precise information. But with American logic, this happens, because America has no principles; it uses the Machiavellian principle that says that one can do anything for the sake of achieving what they want, so nothing is unusual. This isn’t unlikely but we can’t be certain that it’s true or not.
Question 22: I heard, Mr. President, in your speeches, more than once, that you defend the cause and the homeland and the national identity, while the states opposed to you and the leaders of those states, Erdogan, Obama, the Saudi officials, have a personal problem with your good self; they envy you for your presence and steadfastness in this state. If those people changed their position, do you envision that it would be possible to enter with them in a negotiations process for the future of Syria?
President Assad: For us, our primary goal is preventing the shedding of Syrian blood. Therefore, under this title, anything that prevents the shedding of this blood, we will do regardless of emotions. I can’t say regardless of principles, because preventing the shedding of blood is a principle, it’s the most important principle, it’s the greatest principle. Dealing with a terrorist is not a good thing, but if dealing with the terrorist prevents shedding blood and achieves the greater principle, you have to pursue it. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, dealing with them doesn’t mean that we trust them. They are people without morals. Even if we sit with them a thousand times, they will remain in our eyes criminals and hypocrites without morals. This is a constant. But in political work, the main goal of any official is to achieve the people’s interest, so when there’s an interest in dealing with these states, we have to do that. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, we always have to make a distinction between states and peoples. The Turkish people actually didn’t assume a hostile position towards Syria despite all of the lies presented to them by the media that is loyal to Erdogan and to the Gulf states. We hear from time to time officials, parliamentarians and public figures who criticize Erdogan and attack him and hold him responsible for the crisis in Syria. So, when we meet with an official in a state, it doesn’t mean we meet with him for the sake of that official; rather we meet with him because he is the natural channel for meeting with the people. So, we have to always have within our goal that the Syrian-Turkish relation must be on the popular level in the first place. Officials come and go, but have to preserve popular relations and not fall into the mistake of transferring enmity between states to enmity between peoples.
Question 23: One of the bills Syria is paying is for defending the Palestinian cause. During the past five years of the war taking place in Syria, did this war affect your support for the Palestinian cause and your support for the Resistance?
President Assad: On the political level, it doesn’t affect it. We are still in the same position that we were in five years ago, but we cannot deny that the effects of the war and mistakes made by some of those who call themselves Palestinians and their support for terrorists rather than returning the favor to Syria – even though Syria stood by them – no doubt these things affect the popular state which is mostly an emotional state, particularly since these people, the Syrian citizens, paid a great price over generations in terms of their security and livelihood for standing alongside those who bear this cause. And their reaction is the opposite of what is expected, as they side with terrorists and support them and some of them bear arms against the Syrian citizens who made sacrifices for the Palestinian cause. And they don’t only side with terrorists, but with the Israeli plot against the Syrian people. All of that has an effect, but I believe these emotional effects are temporary, due to the pressure and the war. When they emerge from the crisis, the people go back to normal and return to think in the normal, proper, and more open-minded way, particularly since those you mentioned and do not represent the Palestinian cause. They are individuals, and the cause is always bigger than individuals. So, I’m not worried about this issue. As for the political level, as I said we are in the same position.
Question 24: Three short and private questions: the first one, we all noticed that during the month of Ramadan you spent Iftar time with some soldiers in combat fronts and in difficult situations, and in areas where combat situations and exchange of gunfire continued. You are the symbol of this country, and any harm to your person would affect the situation and the state in Syria. Why did you do it?
President Assad: Why did I visit the soldiers?
Question 25: Yes, what are the motivating elements that made you take on these dangers or confront them?
President Assad: First, for me, this is my duty as President of the Republic and as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Armed Forces, to be as much as possible at the front line with soldiers. Second, I stay with them maybe during several tours, several hours, but they stay in these areas for several weeks and months. What I do is much less than what they do for their country. This is on the one hand. As for dangers, this issue is posed to me constantly. I always say we believe in destiny and fate. This is self-evident; when your time comes, it comes, but what is most important is that in this issue I learn from the soldiers. I conducted a number of tours, but in that tour you talked about, and while I was talking with the solider holding the rifle and sanding at the line of fire with the terrorists less than one hundred meters from him, I said to him “why aren’t you wearing your helmet?” and he said to me spontaneously “God is the protector.” There’s another side; when we talked in the beginning about the war, this psychological war had several elements and goals, but the first goal was to instill fear in our hearts, and I want to send a message to those all the time, in every visit, that neither in the first day nor today after more than five years have you managed to instill fear for even one second, and we will not be afraid.
Journalist: Why aren’t you afraid?
President Assad: How can someone with a just cause be afraid of a terrorist and a mercenary? It doesn’t make sense. He should be afraid, because he is the surrogate, he is the one fighting for money. I fight for the homeland. I have greater confidence. I have the people on my side, who does he have on his side? He kills the people, so the people are not on his side? How could I be afraid? When the people are with you, you have nothing to fear. At the same time, when God is with you, you have nothing to fear. If God wanted this country to collapse, it would have collapsed, and after five years it hasn’t collapsed. By economic logic, a country in this kind of war can’t withstand for more than five years. In the logic of calculations, it withstands for one year, two years. But five years, it doesn’t make sense. All the economic, psychological, and logical principles have been shattered, which is why the West until now is analyzing and not reaching any result. It doesn’t know what is happening. Here I would say that there are always divine things.
Question 26: Away from media and media propaganda, during these five years, I want to ask you, did you actually see divine aid and divine succor?
President Assad: Of course this kind of divine role you don’t see at a specific moment. You see it in a long-term state. When you see the sequence of matters, how events unfold, how coincidences occur. There are cases that become beyond human power, then you say that God intervened. This is why I used to say, “Syria is protected by God.” I said it more than ten years ago, and it has been proven. When you see the logical and scientific facts breaking, what remains? The spiritual and divine side remain in this matter. Then you say it’s really a divine thing. But there’s another more important aspect; when you see someone knowing they are going to their death and when they are asked – and we’ve seen that in more than one place – we ask them what they want, and they say “I want martyrdom” and they go knowing that they are going to their death, and when they have the strength to fight until they are martyred, what does that mean? This is something bigger than human beings, meaning that when you see great heroics, the state becomes a divine force that comes to that person to give them the ability to withstand on the personal level. All these things of course make you see divine power.
Question 27: I know the answer to this question, but I want to ask it so that others would know too. Syria, and you personally, defended Iran and were its allies for years. Is this alliance the result of strategic thinking from the person of Dr. Bashar al-Assad, or is all of it or part of it a result of the legacy Bashar al-Assad inherited from the late President Hafez al-Assad?
President Assad: This is a delicate question, because, after all, I’m his son at home, so certainly you acquire things from your father. It’s difficult to know exactly even when you grow up what is the thing you get from your father, but not necessarily a specific idea; maybe sometimes the way of thinking. On the other hand, we at home never talked about politics. I never asked him, not even once, about his position towards Iran when we stood by Iran in the eighties, for example. But you understand this person at home and know him through the media and speeches and political positions as a President and you can connect these two aspects more than anyone else. So, for there to be influence in the thinking mechanisms and strategies, I believe that this is self-evident. I cannot say yes precisely, but there’s no doubt that this exists. But there’s another aspect that has to do with my strategic vision regarding the Syrian situation. You cannot talk about Syrian policy without interacting with what is around you, particularly the most influential states. In this regard if I wanted to be neutral now as if there’s no special relationship between me and the Iranians, I would say: is Iran a state that influences Syria or not? When I talk about the Palestinian cause and about Lebanon and the relationship with the West, and Syria is targeted by the West, does Iran influence all those files or not? So, on the strategic level, we in Syria need the relationship with Iran. How you proceed with this relationship and in what direction, this is a matter of details, but Iran is an influential state, so you need this relationship. Let’s put Iran aside; what motivated me regarding the relationship with Turkey – the relationship didn’t exist in the days of President Hafez al-Assad – is the same logic; Turkey is an influential country negatively and positively. If you build a good relationship with it, you will benefit, and this is what happened in the period between 2004 and 2011, and when Erdogan decided to take this relation in the negative direction, we paid a big price. So, we must have a strategic vision regardless of presidents. President Hafez al-Assad went, and there will be a day when I will go, but we must know that the relationship with states isn’t built on emotions; it must be built on facts. If Iran is an influential state, you need the relationship with it. If we assume that Iran – God forbid – would play one day a negative role like Turkey did, then we have to engage in dialogue with Iran. But fortunately Iran is playing a positive role, and we must bring Turkey to play a similar role to Iran’s. This is how I see things.
Question 28: When we look at the group of forces influencing the Iranian interior, we see that the Leader Imam has a special vision and fondness for your person. First, how do you explain this vision, and second, what is your vision regarding the Leader Imam?
President Assad: First, on the personal level, there’s great fondness between me and His Eminence Imam Khamenei that has nothing to do with politics; rather it has to do with personal qualities, with his modesty, with respect. These are qualities that make you love that person and build with him a personal relationship even if you and that person are outside the field of politics. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, in the political framework, he is a person who has faithfulness. He expressed Iran’s faithfulness towards Syria’s position when Syria was among the few states that supported Iran in the eighties. The Iranian people were faithful, and His Eminence the Imam expressed that loyalty directly at several points, but this crisis in particular increased this cohesion and this vision, because these ordeals show faithfulness more clearly, and he was clear in that point. Third, he is a major strategic figure, and this crisis proved that he saw things since the beginning as I saw them, with the same accuracy, even though I live in Syria and he doesn’t live in it. He takes information from state agencies and I live here with the citizens; but despite that, during the first weeks he knew exactly what was happening, really, if we talk, and it’s not in my nature to compliment, I don’t compliment anyone, but we must say things as they are for history. He saw things in this way, and when you look at things from a personal perspective and from a strategic perspective, you can say that this person earned himself a great position on the historical level in this region.
Question 29: Thank you for your patience, and if there’s a message you would like to relay, we are at your service.
President Assad: What is primarily important to me is to send greetings of love and appreciation to the Iranian people, because every political decision taken by the leader or taken by the Iranian government and President Rouhani, or President Ahmadinejad before him, in the beginning of the crisis, every step you have taken, whether it’s a political position, an economic step or military support in one form or another, is the sum of the Iranian people’s agreement on supporting Syria. And thus it’s a direct contribution from every Iranian citizen, whether they are poor, modest, or rich with their funds in supporting Syria against terrorism. I want to take advantage of this interview to relay the appreciation of every Syrian for this role played by the Iranian people and leadership.
Journalist: I have benefitted personally, and I thank you for your concern and your patience and for the answers to our questions, the accurate answers you have given.