President Bashar al Assad told Russia-24 TV that Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood ideology, not Turkish national interests, is the cause of his sending troops illegally into Syria, to fight for al Qaeda in Idlib.
Dr. Assad also discussed the challenges of the American occupation of Syrian oil fields and Syrian monies stolen by foreign banks.
Syria News provides the full transcript of the recent interview by Yevgeny Primokov, courtesy of SANA.
Journalist: Hello! This is “International Review” with Yevgeny Primakov. Today, we are in Damascus, in our temporary studio. His Excellency, President Bashar al-Assad, is not our guest in the studio; rather, we are his guests. Mr. President, thank you very much for receiving us and giving us the time to conduct this interview. We are happy to be with you and to see that you are in good health in these difficult circumstances.
President Assad: You are welcome. I am very happy to receive a Russian national television station.
Question 1: Thank you very much Mr. President. Clearly, the most important topic now, besides the war on terrorism that your country is waging, are the events in the Idlib governorate, and the danger of confrontation between the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey. The Turkish forces are directly supporting what is called “the opposition,” although we see in their ranks elements which belong to terrorist organizations, which are affiliated to Al Qaeda and other organizations. Turkish troops are also taking part in attacks against Syrian forces. The question is: what has changed in the relations between you and Erdogan, between Syria and Turkey? Before 2011, Erdogan used to call you “brother,” and your two families were friends. What has changed and pushed things to where they are now?
President Assad: The core of the issue is American policy. At a point in time, the United States decided that secular governments in the region were no longer able to implement the plans and roles designated to them; of course, I am referring to the countries which were allies of the United States and not those like Syria which are not. They decided to replace these regimes with Muslim Brotherhood regimes that use religion to lead the public.
In doing this, things would become easier for American plans and Western plans in general. This process of “replacement” started with the so-called Arab Spring. Of course, at the time, the only Muslim Brotherhood-led country in the region was Turkey, through Erdogan himself and his Brotherhood affiliation. Prior to this, our relations with them were good in both the political and economic fields; we even had security and military cooperation. There were no problems at all between Syria and Turkey. We didn’t do anything against them and we didn’t support any forces hostile to them. We believed them to be neighbours and brothers. But Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliation is much stronger than all of this and he returned to his original identity and built his policies with Syria according to this ideology.
It is well-known that the Muslim Brotherhood were the first organisation to endorse violence and use religion to gain power. Now, if we ask ourselves, why are Turkish soldiers being killed in Syria? What is the cause they are fighting for? What is the dispute? There is no cause, even Erdogan himself is unable to tell the Turks why he is sending his army to fight in Syria. The single reason is the Muslim Brotherhood and it has nothing to do with Turkish national interests. It is related to Erdogan’s ideology and consequently the Turkish people have to die for this ideology. That’s why he is unable to explain to the Turkish people why his soldiers are being killed in Syria.
Question 2: Is there any hope of establishing any kind of communication between Turkey and Syria gradually, at least between the military and the intelligence, and in the future, maybe, diplomatic relations?
President Assad: During the past two years, numerous intensive meetings took place between Russian and Turkish officials, and despite the Turkish aggression a few meetings were held between Syrian and Turkish security officials. Our shared objective with the Russians was to move Turkey away from supporting terrorists and bring it back to its natural place. For Syria, and for you also, Turkey is a neighbouring country. It is natural to have sound relations with a neighboring country; it is unnatural under any pretext or any circumstance to have bad relations. So, as to your question, is it possible? Of course it is, but we can’t achieve this outcome while Erdogan continues to support the terrorists. He has to stop supporting terrorism, at which point things can return to normal because there is no hostility between the two peoples. The hostility is caused by political actions or policies based on vested interests. On the level of the Syrian nation and the Turkish nation, there are neither differences nor conflicts of interests. So, yes, these relations should return to normal.
Question 3: Is this your message to the Turkish people, that there is no hostility against them? Have I understood you correctly?
President Assad: Of course, we used to describe them as brotherly people, even now, I ask the Turkish people: what is your issue with Syria? What is the issue for which a Turkish citizen deserves to die? What is the hostile act, small or large, carried out by Syria against Turkey during or before the war? There is none. There are mixed marriages and families, and daily interactions and interests between Syria and Turkey. In Turkey, there are groups of Syrian Arab origin and there are groups in Syria of Turkish origin. These interactions have existed throughout history; it is not logical that there is a dispute between us.
Question 4: Mr. President, I realize that I am talking to a head of state; nevertheless, I can’t but ask about the human dimension. This person [Erdogan] shook your hand, was your guest, you received him, and he called you a brother and a friend, etc.. Now, he allows himself to say all these things. How does that affect you emotionally?
President Assad: I have met people who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood from different countries. He is one of them from Turkey, there were some from Egypt, Palestine and others; they have all done the same thing. They used to say nice things about Syria or about their personal relationship with me, but when things change, they turn against the person. That’s how the Muslim Brotherhood are: they have no political, social, or religious ethics. For them, religion is not a form of good, it is violence; this is their principle. Erdogan is a member of the opportunistic Muslim Brotherhood and so it is normal for him to do what he has done. The lack of clarity and endless lying are part of their nature.
Question 5: The war in your country has been going on for nine years. It is twice as long as the World War II, the Great Patriotic War, and soon we will mark the 75th anniversary of our victory in it, which is a very important event for Russia. What strength does the Syrian people store that enables them to survive and triumph and avoid despair? What is the secret? Is it an internal strength, or something else? Or is it simply that you have better weapons?
President Assad: There are several factors which should be considered. The fact that we are a small country, means these factors make us a strong country in this war. First and foremost, national awareness and public opinion. Without the widespread awareness of the Syrian people that what is happening is the result of a Western conspiracy against their country, Syria might have perished or been destroyed very quickly. This popular realization produced a national unity despite different political leanings or different cultural and social affiliations – ethnic, religious or sectarian groups. This awareness created unity with the state in confronting terrorism; this is a very important factor.
The second factor is the Syrian people’s legendary capacity for sacrifice, which we have witnessed primarily through the Syrian Arab Army. Under normal circumstances, one would believe that these sacrifices can only be found in movies or novels, while in fact they were apparent in every battle and this is what protected the country.
In addition to the sacrifices of the army, the people themselves sacrificed. They have been living in extremely difficult circumstances: continuous shelling, sanctions and bad economic conditions. Nevertheless, the people remained steadfast with their country.
The third factor is the public sector, which has played an important role in keeping the state together. In the worst of circumstances, salaries continued to be paid, schools kept running and daily essential services were provided to citizens. Bottom line services continued to be provided so that life continues.
In addition to these factors, there is the fact that our friends have supported us, particularly Russia and Iran. They have supported us politically, militarily, and economically. All these factors together have helped Syria remain steadfast up until now.
Question 6: If you don’t mind, I’ll dwell on these factors for more details, and we will start with the Syrian society and what you have said about its diverse culture and tolerance among its different ethnic, cultural and religious groups. The extremist terrorists have struck a severe blow to this Syrian characteristic by promoting extremist demands and an extremist ideology. Yesterday, we were in the Old City of Damascus, and we couldn’t imagine what the situation would be like if the black flag of the caliphate appeared in Damascus, something which can only be imagined with horror. To what extent is Syria ready to rebuild itself as a multicultural state, tolerant, secular, etc.?
President Assad: What I’m about to say may sound exaggerated, but by nature I speak in real terms and do not like exaggeration. In actual fact, Syrian society today in terms of coherence and the social integration of its different segments, is better than it was before the war. This is for a simple reason: war is a very important lesson to any society, a lesson that extremism is destructive and that not accepting the other is dangerous. As a result, these segments within our society came together.
If you go to the Old City or to any area under government control, you will not see this problem at all. On the contrary, as I mentioned, things are better than before. The problem is in the areas which were outside government control. That’s why I’m not concerned at all in this regard, despite the attempted Western narrative to show that the war in Syria is between sects, which is not true. A war between sects means that you come today to this area and find one colour, and in another area you find another colour, and in another place a third and a fourth colour; this is not the case. You will see all the colours of Syria, without exception, in the state-controlled areas. Whereas in the terrorist-controlled areas, they are not looking for a colour, but for parts of one colour, which is the extremist colour. This is because only extremists at the far end of extremism could live with them and that is why a large number of people fled the terrorist-controlled areas to state-controlled areas. That is why I’m not concerned at all in this regard. The challenge, however, will be in the areas which were occupied by the terrorists.
Question 7: This raises the question of the possibility of granting an amnesty. There are many people who were misled by the propaganda of the terrorists and extremists. Some of them committed crimes. Others were members of armed groups which committed terrorist acts. But there are those who did not carry weapons, or carried them without killing people. What are the grounds on which the government can reach out to them? And can there be compromises through which such people can be forgiven? This is a very important moral question. And in addition to the moral dimension, there are legal aspects as to resolving their status and integrating them in society, and maybe in the army as well.
President Assad: In this type of war, amnesty must be a core element of domestic policy. We cannot restore stability if we do not grant amnesty for the mistakes that have been made. From the very beginning of the war, we have regularly enacted amnesty decrees pardoning all those who acted against the national interest. In the areas which were controlled by the militants, we have conducted what we call local reconciliations that have resulted in the state legally pardoning individuals; all those who hand in
their weapons, receive amnesty provided that they return to their normal civil life under the authority of the state and the rule of law. This process has been very successful and restored stability to a large number of areas, and we are continuing to implement this policy.
There are very limited cases which cannot be granted amnesty, for example those who committed criminal acts and premeditatedly killed large numbers of people; most of these are terrorist leaders. However, in terms of the broader situation, I believe that most people want to return to the state, because a large number of them who carried weapons were actually forced to do so. They had no choice: either you carry weapons or you are killed. These people are not necessarily extremists. They do not have a terrorist past. They are ordinary people who were forced to carry weapons.
Similarly, there are those who had to take political or public positions in the media in favour of the terrorists for the same reasons, we know this for a fact. That’s why I believe that most of these people do support the state and were cooperating and communicating with us throughout. So, I fully agree with you, we must continue providing amnesty and we must continue with this process in the new areas we liberate, especially since we want most Syrians inside and outside Syria to return to their country.
Question 8: Now, we will talk about rebuilding the state, but the state always consists of people. When we talk about terrorists, we either force them to drop their weapons or persuade them to drop them and go back to their senses. Conversely, there are those who have their perceptions of justice; and you certainly meet state officials, whether in the security or police agencies, who have to reach out and resolve the status of those who became terrorists on the other side. These officials might resent that and find it difficult to accept. For instance, if I see this individual who used to aim his weapon at me living with me now on the same street and buying bread from the same bakery as I do, how should I behave? What do you say to state supporters who are not always prepared to accept such an amnesty or such an act of forgiveness?
President Assad: At the beginning of the war we used to see such cases. I recall when I passed the first amnesty decree, many Syrians resented it not only within the government, but also the broader public because some may have lost a family member from the terrorism. In the beginning, it was not easy to tell them that we will grant amnesty in order to restore stability. However, this was the case for the first few months only. Today, if you ask anybody or at least those who support the state, regardless of whether they work in the government or not, this is now accepted because they have seen the results. In fact, in many cases they are the ones pushing for an amnesty and a settlement, which helps greatly. So, there are no longer different viewpoints, because the facts on the ground have shown that this is the right thing to do and that it is good for Syria.
Question 9: As to the situation on the ground, I’ll not talk about who controls this or that area, because the situation on the ground is fluid and ever-changing and should be left to the military. But it is clear now that the state has restored large areas in southern Idlib governorate. Here, peaceful life will return, as happened in other areas, in Eastern Ghouta, Deir Ezzor, and the other areas liberated previously. What will the state do when it goes into the liberated areas? Where will it start its work? And what is the most important aspect to restoring peaceful life?
President Assad: In many of the areas we have liberated, there are no civilians since most had left when the terrorists arrived. The first thing we do is to restore the infrastructure in order to enable the local population to return. The first thing they need is electricity, water, roads, police, municipalities, and other services. They need all these service providers; this is the first challenge. The second, which is equally important, is rebuilding schools so that they are able to receive students. If the infrastructure is available and I can’t send my children to school, what’s the point, it means I can’t go back to this area. So, schools and health services are fundamental after the exit of terrorists and the restoration of security. Later, of course, we engage with the local community to identify who was involved with the terrorists through various actions. As I mentioned earlier, this is an important step towards reconciliation and resolving the status of these people in order to restore normal life to the city.
Question 10: What are the difficulties which emerge during this process? And are there sleeper cells which undermine the process of reconstruction? What are the problems facing you?
President Assad: When I mentioned that the pardons and reconciliations have been successful, this doesn’t mean that the success was a hundred percent; nothing is perfect. Some of these people still have terrorist leanings and extremist ideology, and are still cooperating with extremist groups in other areas and carrying out terrorist acts. In the past few weeks, there have been a number of explosive devices planted in different places or under cars. These terrorist acts have claimed the lives of many victims. However, this doesn’t mean that we stop the process of reconciliations, but rather we need to hunt down these sleeper cells. We have been able to arrest a large number of them, but there are others that are still active. One sleeper cell might carry out a number of acts giving the impression that a full organisation exists. Whereas in fact it is one cell made up of a group of individuals and by arresting them you are able to restore safety and security. However, this challenge will remain, because terrorism still exists in Syria and outside support in the form of weapons and money is still at large. Therefore, we do not expect to eliminate these sleeper cells in the foreseeable future. We will continue to eliminate cells and others will appear, until things return to normal in Syria.
Question 11: Mr. President, in two months’ time, if I’m not mistaken, the country will hold parliamentary elections, in these difficult circumstances. How difficult will that be? Or, would they proceed according to plan, and nothing will stop or obstruct them?
President Assad: There is a constitution and we are governed by it. We do not give in to Western threats or Western wishes, and we do not consider any factor other than the constitution. The issue of postponing constitutional deadlines, whether for presidential or parliamentary elections, was raised with us several times and we refused to do so during the war. Parliamentary elections will be held in a few months’ and we will proceed according to the constitutional agenda regardless of anything else.
Question 12: We talked about the domestic situation, let’s now talk about the outer environment. The Syrian Arab Republic has been subjected since 2011 to tightly-enforced isolation, not only by the Americans and the Europeans, which was expected, but also by the Arab League and its member states, including the Arab Gulf states. We know that the UAE embassy was reopened, and that Oman did not close its embassy and continued to work as usual. Do you see a positive change on the part of the Arab world, or is the situation still as it was, and that isolation persists? And what are the prospects of your contacts with the European Union? I’ll not ask about the Americans, for everything regarding them is unfortunately clear.
President Assad: Most Arab countries have maintained their relations with Syria, but not publicly for fear of pressure. These countries have expressed their support for Syria and their wishes for us to defeat terrorism. However, Western pressure and American in particular, was severe on these countries to remain distant and not to open their embassies in Syria, particularly the Gulf states. Europe however, is completely different. In fact, for us, Europe for more than two decades and even before this war, has been absent on the global political arena. Europe has ceased to exist since 2003, after the American invasion of Iraq. Europe surrendered completely to the United States and its role was limited to implementing what it was charged with by the American administration.
So, whether they communicate with us or not, the result is the same. Whether they open embassies or not, there is no value. We have met with a number of security officials from most European countries and they have been reasonable but they are unable to change course. Some have frankly said, “we are unable to change, our politicians cannot change their policies because the European policy is linked to the American policy.” They climbed the tree and are simply unable to come down. That’s why we do not waste our time talking about a European role and European policy. The master is the American. We can talk about the Americans and this automatically includes the Europeans.
But in answer to your question, yes, there is a change. There are clear convictions that this war has not achieved what those countries, or some of the colonialist countries wanted, that the Syrian people have paid the price, that stability has paid the price and now the Europeans are paying the price. The problem of refugees in Europe is huge, but they will not change in the near future. This is my conviction.
Question 13: Now, Turkey is blackmailing Europe by using the migrants. And this is what Erdogan is doing right now.
President Assad: Turkey started sending the second wave of refugees to Europe as a form of blackmail. Erdogan had threatened that he would send refugees. Yesterday, there were videos on various media outlets about the beginning of a migrant movement towards Europe.
Question 14: In one of your answers, you touched on the relation with Russia. We consider it a relation of partnership. But this relation went through difficult years when Russia limited its presence in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Many people saw that as a betrayal, and that Russia turned its back on its old allies and partners. Now, how do you describe these relations which have been strengthened naturally during nine years of war? Since our aforementioned opponents, including the Europeans and the Americans, who are “evil tongues” as we say in Russia, claim that Syria is under Russian control. Is that true in reality. For our part, we look at this relation as a partnership and an alliance.
President Assad: Our relations with you span more than six decades; this is not a short period of time and it covers several generations. We know each other very well and this relationship has been through various experiences. Through the different circumstances, including the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, our relations with Russia have always been based on mutual respect, a peer-to-peer relationship. We have never felt at any time, even during this war, that Russia is trying to impose its views on us. They have always treated us with respect; even when we differed, they respected the views of the Syrian government. This is a general rule that has governed the past decades and hasn’t changed because it is based on Russian customs, traditions, and perspectives. So, on a bilateral level the relationship between Syria and Russia is clearly a partnership, particularly now after the war, this partnership has become stronger and more reliable.
However, if we wanted to view our relationship with Russia from a different perspective, which is Russia’s international role, the issue is different. Today, many small countries and even countries of medium strength around the world, look towards Russia and rely to a large extent on its role, because it is Russia’s duty today to restore international balance to the global arena. The presence of the Russian military base in Syria is not only aimed at fighting terrorism but also at creating an international political balance in the Security Council, as well as a military balance in different areas with a view of restoring the Russian role. Restoring this role is in the interest of all states, including Syria and other small and medium-sized countries as I mentioned. Therefore, we view this relationship from two perspectives: a partnership on the bilateral level and a relationship based on this international role, which we hope will continue to increase as has been the case since President Putin came to power in 2000 and restored Russia’s position.
Question 15: Now we are talking about military and political support. What about the economy? Going back to rebuilding Syria, are there large Russian – or non-Russian – projects which help in reconstruction? Is there a state or a company which is prepared to come and invest in the Syrian economy without fear of sanctions or political problems caused by the United States and Europe? For instance, there used to be a flourishing pharmaceutical industry in Aleppo, which used to export its products throughout the Middle East, and you, as a doctor, know that. Are there any ideas to restore industrial production in the pharmaceutical field or other fields? And to what extent the lack of resources will affect these economic projects, considering that oil is now outside state control and is controlled by a power, which came from beyond the Atlantic and built its bases there under the pretext of protecting oil?
President Assad: When we built our infrastructure in Syria in the 1970s and the 1980s, we did not have oil at that time. It was built with Syrian money and with Syrian capabilities. So, we know we have the capabilities and can provide the resources. There is a lot of Syrian capital within Syria and mostly abroad and should most certainly take part in this process.
Since 2018, there has been a great interest from big companies outside of Syria – Arab and non-Arab, to participate in the reconstruction. However, what’s happening is that the Americans are applying huge pressure and threatening individuals and companies alike; this has no doubt frightened some of these companies. This is happening even with regard to Russian companies. There are several Russian companies which want to invest in Syria but fear taking any step. Chinese companies have the same problem.
However, every problem has a solution. Most recently, a number of large international companies have started to come to Syria using different methods which enable them to evade the sanctions. So, there is a possibility now for these companies to work in Syria without facing sanctions. Of course, I cannot discuss these methods, but we have started to see a return of foreign investment. It is true that the movement is slow, but I believe it is a good start – a promising start, to support the reconstruction process which we have started. We did not wait; we have begun in some areas and in order to expand there must be a larger number of companies and investments.
Question 16: What are the areas which you consider priorities or most attractive to investors?
President Assad: Of course, the most important is rebuilding the destroyed suburbs. I think this will be of high interest for investment companies and several have already expressed interest; this is certainly a profitable area. Another sector is oil and gas, which is also profitable. There are already a number of Russian companies that have started operating in Syria during the past few years and are now planning to increase production. The biggest obstacle preventing expansion in this sector is the terrorist and American occupation of the most important sites of oil wells in Syria. The Americans know this of course, and that’s why they continue to occupy the oil wells and obstruct the reconstruction process. In short, these are the most important sectors. Of course, there are many other areas which any society needs, but are less important for international companies.
Question 17: As we know, there is a big problem caused by freezing Syrian funds in foreign banks. Is it difficult to finance some contracts because of that?
President Assad: That’s true. This is robbery in every sense of the word; but if the money is stolen it doesn’t mean that as a state and as a society we should stop creating wealth. We have many capabilities and this is one of the reasons why we have survived nine years of war. They are well aware that if the war stopped completely, Syrian society is capable of rising in a strong manner and that we will be stronger economically than we were before the war. This is why they have resorted to threatening Syrian and foreign companies. In other words, if a Syrian citizen wants to invest in Syria, they will likely be sanctioned, or oil revenues are prevented from returning to Syria. The more important factor is the ongoing war, which discourages companies and prevents them from coming to Syria. If these three factors are eliminated, we have no problem in rebuilding the country. We have strong human and material resources in Syria and we also have faithful friends like Russia and Iran who will help us.
Question 18: Mr. President, we talked about Idlib in general, and touched on the oil fields east of the Euphrates river controlled by the Americans, and we know that there is a power outage every four hours, and we know that power plants are mostly fueled by oil products. This factor – controlling oil and oil products – is crucial for Syrian economy. Do you have any plans to restore control over the areas east of the Euphrates? How are you going to proceed in that direction?
President Assad: Militarily the priority now is Idlib, this is why we see Erdogan using all his force and no doubt under American directives. This is because by liberating Idlib we will be able to move towards liberating the eastern regions. As I have said on several occasions, for them, Idlib militarily is an advanced post. They have used all their power to obstruct the liberation of Idlib, so that we do not move eastward. However, despite not yet advancing towards the eastern region, we are still in direct communication with the population there. There is a great deal of anger and resentment on their part against the American occupation and against the groups acting on behalf of the Americans.
I believe that this anger will build up gradually and there will be resistance operations against the occupiers. It is the national and constitutional duty of the state to support any act against an occupying power. As time goes by, the Americans will not have a population supporting them but a population standing against the American occupation. They will not be able to stay, neither for the oil nor to support terrorists like ISIS and al-Nusra or any other reason. The same of course, applies to the Turks who are occupying the northern part of Syrian territories. If they do not leave through political negotiations, they must leave by force. This is what we will do. This is also our patriotic duty as Syrians.
Question 19: It’s good that we have arrived at this difficult issue. If we talk about the Kurds who live in the east and northeast of the country, and who might not be happy with the Americans and the Turks, particularly the Turks, with whom they have a longstanding enmity. Their relationship with Damascus is difficult because they are separatists and supported the United States at one point and became its allies. The question here is about reunifying the Syrian Arab Republic and reintegrating its territories within its legal borders. How are you going to build your policy regarding the Kurds, taking into account that Damascus has almost accused them of treason because they signed an agreement with the Americans. Do you have a plan in that regard? What’s the price for integrating them? What can you give the Kurds? And what are the things which you cannot give them?
President Assad: We are in contact with the Kurdish political groups in northern Syria, the problem is that some of these groups, not all of them, operate under American authority. We do not say “the Kurds” because the larger part of the Kurds are patriotic groups or tribes which support the state; however, these groups have no voice. Those who control the area are small groups acting with the Americans.
As to what is sometimes referred to as the “Kurdish cause,” there is no such cause in Syria for a simple reason. Historically, there are Kurds who live in Syria; these groups which came to the north did so during the last century and only as a result of the Turkish oppression. We have hosted them in Syria. Kurds, Armenians and other groups came to Syria and we had no problem with that. For example, there is no Syrian-Armenian issue. There is a great diversity in Syria and we do not have an issue with that diversity, so why would we have a problem with the Kurds?! The problem is with the groups that started to promote separatist propositions a few decades ago, mainly in the early 1980s. Yet despite this, when the Turkish state during various periods oppressed and killed the Kurds in Turkey, we supported them. We haven’t stood against their cause, if they call it a cause. In Syria, they were given a nationality, even though they were not Syrian. We have always been positive regarding the Kurdish issue. Therefore, what is called “the Kurdish cause” is an incorrect title, a false title.
The problem right now is dealing with the Americans. The Americans are occupiers; they occupied our lands. The Americans are thieves stealing our oil. You cannot play both sides: between those who protect the law and those who break it. You cannot stand with the police and the thief at the same time, this is impossible. You are either with the police or the thief. So, we cannot reach results in any dialogue with them, even if we were to meet thousands of times, unless they take a clear position, a patriotic position: to be against the Americans, against occupation and against the Turks because they too are occupiers.
Quite simply, this is our demand. This is a national position and as a government we are responsible for the constitution and for our national interests. The whole Syrian people accept nothing less than them taking a stand against the occupation. As for anything else, if they have other demands, the Syrian people have demands too. How do we achieve results? We engage in discussions and then we can decide: do we change the constitution? Do we change the law? Or any other measure, this is all possible. This is a Syrian-Syrian dialogue. However, the government in Syria does not own the constitution; the people own the constitution and therefore they are the ones who can change the constitution.
Question 20: If we take into account what is happening in Idlib, which we talked about at the beginning of the interview, and that Turkey is one of the main opponents of the Kurds, does the idea of reaching a reconciliation with the Kurds tempt you on these grounds? You can choose not to answer this question if you like.
President Assad: On the contrary, this is a logical question. These Kurdish groups which claim to be against Turkish occupation and issue statements that they will fight, did not fire a single bullet when the Turks invaded. Why? Because the Americans identified which area the Turks would enter and the boundaries that they should reach, as well as the areas that these groups should leave. So, do we agree on statements or on actions? We want to agree on the actions. In their statements, they have said that they are against the Turks, but they are not doing anything against them at all. They are neutral. They are moving in line with the Americans and the Turks. Only the Syrian government and other segments of Syrian society are fighting the Turks and losing martyrs every day. Other than that, I agree with you. If they were to say “we will agree with you against the Turks,” my response would be, we are ready, send your fighters so that together we can defend our land.
Question 21: In this region, there is also a very old enemy of the Syrian Arab Republic, which always reminds people of itself, Israel, or the Zionist entity as you call it. How do you see the “great” Deal of the Century, the gift given to us by American President Donald Trump? Where might it take us? I don’t mean to influence your answer in any way. I’m only recalling what is being discussed in Russia, that the deal as a solution for the Palestinian cause is simply a dead end.
President Assad: Our relations with the United States were restored during the Nixon administration in 1974. Since that time, we have met with numerous American officials in the administration, with presidents and members of Congress, and we have learned one thing only: anything an American politician does, is first and foremost to serve his personal interests in relation to the next elections. They do not think of higher national American interests. They do not think of world stability, or of international law, or the rights of peoples. This doesn’t exist in their policies. They only think of their elections and nothing else.
As to the ‘deal of the century,’ this proposition was made at this particular time only for the next American elections. The presidential elections will be held at the end of this year. So, the idea is meaningless, an empty shell. The idea, if applied, is not harmful, but rather destructive to the Middle East and the peace process which started in the early 1990s. However, when would their idea succeed and when would it fail? It succeeds if the people of this region agree that it should succeed. If you review all political and official statements, as well as public opinion on social media, you will find a total rejection of this plan, including from states and governments allied with America and those that have relations with Israel. So, it’s safe to say that it is a stillborn plan. Trump might be able to use it in his next elections in order to please the Israeli lobby in the United States. But after that, we will probably not hear about the ‘deal of the century’ until the next elections. At which point there will be another and worse plan presented for the next elections.
Question 22: Thank you very much Mr. President. I have one final question, maybe a more emotional question. To what extent have these past nine years been difficult psychologically for you? To what extent have they been difficult to your family? Your wife has founded and manages one of the biggest charities in Syria which provides a great deal to children, to the wounded, and to restoration of normal life. I realize that I might be asking embarrassing questions, and I apologize for that, but to what extent have you suffered from what is happening within your family? And when you look back at what you have done during the past nine years, do you say to yourself that you haven’t done what you should have done on certain issues, or that a mistake was made in this regard and the right thing was done on another issue, and more should have been done?
President Assad: There are two sides to this question: one is the formal, when I think about this war in my official capacity within the state and the other is the personal.
As an official, the first thing you think of in this situation is protecting the country; this is your duty as a head of state. Here we can take as an example something that lives on as a tradition, which is the Great Patriotic War in Russia. Your relations with Germany, like any other country, were good. You had normal relations: agreements, engagements, meetings and you had not done anything against Germany. Nevertheless, the Nazis attacked Russia and you lost 26 million martyrs, maybe more. Was there any other choice but to defend your country? No, that was the only choice. The decision taken by the Russian leadership at the time was the right decision supported by the Russian people who defended their country. Were there mistakes? Of course, there are mistakes in every action. Are there political or military decisions which could have been better? Certainly, for everything has flaws and errors. The same applies to us in Syria. The decisions which we took from day one, were to preserve the sovereignty of Syria and to fight terrorists until the end, and we are still doing that. After nine years, I believe that had we taken a different direction, we would have lost our country from day one. That’s why this decision was the right one. As to the mistakes made in daily matters, they are always there, of course. Every time there is a mistake, we should correct it and change the decision. This is the normal thing to do.
On a personal level, here I am like any other citizen; every individual has ambitions for his country. Especially that before the war, we were advancing and achieving significant growth, and the country was developing at a fast pace. It is true that we had many problems because when the reform process moves quickly, it has negative aspects, maybe in the form of corruption or policy mistakes. But by and large, our national capabilities were improving and developing. After nine years, when you see how far behind you are economically, technologically, culturally and educationally, of course there is a sense of frustration at times at a personal level. Certainly, in the end, any war regardless of its causes or outcomes, is a very bad thing. You cannot have a positive feeling towards any war. You will always feel pain and frustration. On a daily basis, you are losing good people and draining your resources. So, there is certainly a kind of pain that you feel on a daily basis on a personal level. However, at the same time, this pain should be the motivation and the incentive for you to do more and to have confidence and hope that you are capable of becoming stronger and better than before.
Journalist: You have confirmed once again that a person like you can only have one position, the position of the statesman, because the views you have expressed are the views and the position of a statesman.
Mr. President, thank you very much for agreeing to give us this interview. Today we have been with President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar al-Assad, and this was “International Review.” I am Yevgeny Primakov, wishing you all the best.
President Assad: Thank you.
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