The Syrian army will regain control of the country’s north by force if rebels there refuse to surrender, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV on Sunday.
Assad, who said in the same interview he would not accept Western funds to rebuild his country, was speaking after Damascus said it rejected the presence of Turkish and U.S. forces around the northern town of Manbij, a day after soldiers from the two countries began patrolling the area.
Below is the full interview as published by SANA, the Syrian official news agency:
Question 1: Mr. President, now we can make the summary of some situations, because the ISIS is almost defeated, Damascus is almost safe and it’s under control of governmental forces, and so far, you have some operation in the south and in the east. Could you tell me now, as a President by career, and as a doctor by education, what was it… how you could miss the first symptoms of this war, first symptoms of this invasion to your country, because you call it invasion. What was it?
President Assad: We have to differentiate between the internal symptoms and the external. The internal symptoms, we have problems like any other society in our region, we are part of this region, and we always discuss these problems. Maybe we were short of solving the problem that we could have solved before the war, maybe not; this is subjective to every Syrian, could say from his different point of view. While if you want to talk about the external factor, which is very important in creating this war, because no other country in this region has a similar war, although we have the same societies and you have worse problems, like in the Gulf states, where you have no freedom at all, either to women or to people, to anything.
So, if that’s the reason, for example – because that was the slogan at the very beginning – why didn’t it start in those countries? So, actually what happened wasn’t internal, because the same problems have been there for decades now, some of them for centuries. So, actually this is where the external factor, that it wasn’t clear, because we didn’t see it, actually because the plan hasn’t been made in Syria; it was made in some Western countries like US, France, and UK mainly. Some other satellite states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, they were planning and they were sending money at the very beginning, after they failed in creating, let’s say, a spontaneous revolution, this is where they started sending money, and this is where the problem started. That was clear for us from the very beginning, but maybe we couldn’t control it.
Question 2: But why didn’t you see – for example, when I came to Eastern Ghouta months ago, I’ve seen the tunnels everywhere, which were constructed by the engineers, by huge machines, by bulldozers – how you could miss it? Do you have an explanation now, how they managed to do these underground cities?
President Assad: Of course, they could have used the tools that they already had in that area, whether stolen from the government, from private companies, and so on, and they had support coming from Jordan through the desert directly to al-Ghouta, where the desert is empty, and no-one can control it or observe it, and we don’t have, of course, the means like satellites and so on to see all this. At the same time, when they started digging, they started digging under the cities, something you cannot see…
Journalist: Even the security forces, they didn’t see it?
President Assad: They didn’t see it, because we don’t have direct visual line to see it. But we had information from inside, that they had tunnels, but that was later, when those tunnels became fully operational, but before that it was difficult for us to see it.
Question 3: When I came to Eastern Ghouta, I met people who could prove by themselves that they’ve seen how al-Nusra shot the chemical weapons to their areas. I’ve seen all these chemical suits in rooms where were the headquarters of al-Nusra, and so on. But, the West tells that you poisoned your own people with chemical weapons. Why is that, why nobody is listening to the people, and why the West is so insistent in that?
President Assad: Because the chemical narrative is part of their main narrative against the government in Syria, but they use it only when their troops, their proxies the terrorists, have been defeated in Syria in certain areas. They use this story or this narrative in order to have a pretext to intervene directly, militarily, and to attack the Syrian Army. That’s what happened many times, and every time they use this story, it’s only when their proxies the terrorists have been defeated. It should be – I mean, logically, let alone the reality that we don’t have any chemical weapons anyway, we gave them up…
Journalist: You don’t have at all?
President Assad: We don’t have, no. Since 2013, we don’t have. But put this aside, even if you have it, you should be using these weapons at least if you are being defeated, not when you win the war. And actually, every time we are winning, they use it, so this is against logic, but this is used as pretext in order to support the terrorists in Syria.
Question 4: Is there any way to prevent all these provocations, because the Russian Ministry of Defense tells that one of these provocations is to be prepared in Deir Ezzor, and they told it recently. How to stop this?
President Assad: You cannot, because this is not a result of our reality; this is the result of their imagination, of their media, this is something created in their own media and their own countries, and then spread all over the world on the Internet or in different media outlets. So, you cannot prevent the provocation. The Americans only tell lies, and they attack right away. When you don’t have international law to be respected, when you don’t have effective United Nations institutions, you cannot talk about preventing provocations, because this is a jungle now, all over the world.
Question 5: You are winning, you control most parts of the country already, but so many players are in Syria, so many parts, they have interests. America is making negotiations with Turkey about Manbij, Israel is making negotiations somewhere, the Iranians make negotiations, the Kurds they have their own interests. How to solve it all, how to keep Syria united? Because nowadays it seems like Syria is torn apart. How to stop this? Because you told your main logo is like “one Syria for one nation.”
President Assad: If you want to talk about Syria being torn about, this is about, let’s say, the geography, not about the society; the society is unified, so we don’t have a problem regarding this. So, we can look at Syria as unified as long as the people are unified. Being torn apart, this is occupation; different parts of Syria being occupied by the terrorists with the support of the West, mainly the United States and their allies. So, if you want to talk about the future of Syria, we don’t take them into account. Talk about the political process, this is going to be an only-Syrian political process. We don’t take into account the interests of any other country regarding something which is internal. If you talk about the war, it’s becoming now an international war, because that’s how it started. Actually, it wasn’t only about the government in Syria; the government in Syria is independent, we have good relations with Russia, with China, and other countries, and the United States wanted to re-draw the map of the world politically, and maybe militarily, so Syria was one of the main battlefields to re-draw this map, at least in the Middle East. That’s why when you talk about those interests, this is a fight between these powers: the main power: the United States and their allies supporting the terrorists, and the goal is to have hegemony, and the other power is Russia with its allies, their aim is to fight the terrorism and to restore the international law.
Question 6: But why Syria was selected for this game?
President Assad: For many different reasons. Syria is part of the group of countries that are considered as independent: Syria, Iran, North Korea, and now Russia as an independent country. So, the West doesn’t accept any independent position. America doesn’t accept any European independent position. And that’s why you have a problem in Russia with the US, because you wanted to be independent, and they don’t accept you, even if you are a great power or not, you cannot be independent.
This is one reason. And we are a small country, how can we say no and yes? We have to say only yes. This is one reason.
Second, the geopolitics of Syria, the historic role of the Syrian society, although it is very small, but this is a fault line, social fault line between the different sects and ethnicities, and when you control this area, you could have control the rest of the Middle East. That’s why the struggle on Syria started during the age of the Pharaohs, and the first treaty in the world was 12 centuries before Christ, it was between the Pharaohs and the Hittites, coming from north and south, they fought on Syria, and they signed the first treaty in history. So, the geopolitics of Syria are very important, so controlling Syria was a goal to the great powers since that time till this moment. So, it doesn’t matter whether Syria is big or small, or bigger or smaller, it’s important.
Question 7: What do you expect from Russia in this case? Because you have so many players whom you told should all leave Syria, you told that the Syrian nation one day will ask everybody to leave this ground. What do you expect Russia in this case? Because we are allies, we are friends.
President Assad: Friendship is a long-term issue between Syria and Russia, for six decades, but we signed the military treaty for more than four decades. So, we have two expectations: the first one, Syria and Russia have an interest in fighting and defeating terrorism, in Syria, in Russia, anywhere in the world. So, this is the first expectation and goal.
The second one is the long-term one. Russia is very important for the global balance that we’ve lost since the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, having Russia being here militarily and politically, in Syria and in the Middle East and in the rest of the world is very important for the balance. It’s not only important for Russia itself and for the other great powers; it’s very important for smaller countries like Syria to have this balance. So, that’s what we expect from Russia on both levels: fighting terrorism and having global balance.
Question 8: I’ve been to Eastern Ghouta and I’ve seen how strongly it’s destroyed, how hard it’s destroyed, and as far as I know, you need 400 billion Dollars to rebuild the country, but the West tells that they will not give a dime while you are in power. What can you do in this situation, because you have to rebuild the whole country?
President Assad: Frankly, this is the best Western statement during the war, that they won’t be part of reconstruction in Syria, because very simply we won’t allow them to be part of it, whether they come with money or not, whether they came with a loan, or with a donation, with a grant, whatever; we don’t need the West. The West is not honest at all, they don’t give, they only take. First of all, we didn’t build Syria through history by foreign money; we built it with our money, with our human resources. We still – in spite of the war – we still have the human resources to rebuild every sector in our country. We’re not worried about that.
Regarding the money, before the war we didn’t have any debt, because we built our country with some loans from our friends. So, we don’t have money. You can have loans from your friends, you can have money from Syrians living abroad, Syrians living inside, and the money of the government. So, we’re not worried about that. It may take a longer time, but we’re not worried at all about rebuilding Syria. Don’t forget that reconstruction after the war, when you talk about 400 billion, less or more – this is approximate – is a whole economy, it’s a whole market, it’s a whole investment. So, the Europeans talking about coming for reconstruction, they’re not coming to help Syria; they’re coming to get money. And many European companies now are making contacts with us to open the door for them to come and invest in Syria.
Journalist: This is in private?
President Assad: In private, of course. But of course, with the support of their governments. So, they need this market, they are in a very dire situation economically since 2008, most of the European countries. They need many markets, Syria is one of them, and we are not going to allow them to be part of this market, very simply.
Question 9: When we’re talking about the restoration of the whole country, it means the restoration of trust and friendship between people, because we can see this partly as a civil war when the brother shoots the brother, because of the different religious or any other views. In this case, you start with constitutional committee. The opposition made their list for constitutional committee. Will you run for the next presidential term, or how to restore this political structure of your country?
President Assad: First of all, we don’t have a civil war, because civil war should be based on sectarian lines, ethnical lines, religious lines, and so on. We don’t have that in Syria. You can go everywhere, especially in the areas under the control of the government where you can see the full spectrum of the rich Syrian societies existing and people living together. Actually – and this is not exaggeration, this is fact – the war was a very important lesson. So, this diverse society is becoming much more unified than before the war, because we learned the lesson. While if you go to the areas under the control of the terrorists, they don’t represent one color of this society, actually they only reflect their incubator and the people who don’t have any other choice but to live in those areas, they don’t have any other choice. So, we don’t have to worry about the civil war. So, it’s not people shooting each other; these are mercenaries, these are terrorists. You have terrorists in your country, in Russia, and they are Russian, but they don’t represent part of the society, they represent their own ideology. So, the same situation in Syria. So, regarding the unification of the people, we don’t have a problem with that.
Regarding the presidency, it has two factors: the first one, my will, and my will be based on the second factor which is the will of the Syrian people. We still have three years’ time. At that time, in 2021, will the Syrian people be ready to accept that person, that president, or not? If no, what do I get with the presidency? I cannot do anything, I cannot succeed, I cannot give my country anything, so the answer will be no. If yes, in that time, I’m going to think about it, but it’s still early, we still have three years till that time.
Journalist: But what about all these constitutional reforms which were asked by the United Nations?
President Assad: We made reforms in 2012, and now we have the Sochi conference, they’re going to discuss it. Any constitutional reform, it’s not related to the president, it’s not related to the government; it’s related to the Syrian people, so there must be – if we’re going to go in any kind of amendment or change or whatever – it’s going to be through referendum, national referendum. If there’s a national referendum and the people will support a new constitution, of course we’re going to do it, but this is not related to the will of the United Nations or to the foreign countries, it’s not. This is going to be fully Syrian. If the Syrians don’t want any change, there will be no change whatsoever.
Question 10: One of the main players is the Unites States, and Trump made his meeting in Singapore with Kim. Recently, Iran told that we will never meet with Trump because Kim is not Muslim; he doesn’t understand what’s going on, we will never talk to Trump ever. Will you, if it will be necessary, meet Trump directly or indirectly? Do you think it’s necessary for you to talk to Trump?
President Assad: We believe that discussing or talking or negotiating with your adversary, and any other one of course, is productive, but in this case, since we have the first negotiation with the Unites States in 1974, we never achieved anything in any subject. The problem with the American presidents is that they are hostages to their lobbies, to the mainstream media, to the huge corporations, financial, oil, armaments, etc. So, they can tell you whatever you want to hear, but they will do the opposite, and this is the case, and it’s getting worse and worse, and Trump is a very stark example. So, talking and discussing with the Americans now for no reason, without achieving anything, is just a waste of time. We’re not happy to talk with the Americans just because they are Americans. We are ready to discuss with anyone who could be productive, and we don’t believe that the American politics will be different in the foreseeable future. So, it’s just, again, a waste of time now.
Question 11: Every time I’m thinking about Syria, I remember that you’re a doctor by career, that you lived in London for a long time, you’ve been integrated into that society, and now that society considers you as a, like, a symbol of evil on the earth, and everyone tells there – like in the newspapers and politicians – that you poison people with chemical weapons, you do all these awful stuff to your own citizens. How do you feel about this, or does it make any pressure for you emotionally, and to you and to your family? How you explain to them what’s going on?
President Assad: Actually, emotionally, we live with the disaster in Syria for seven years. So, when you have a bigger disaster, you won’t feel smaller pressure, you don’t. I mean every blood that’s been let on daily basis form a single Syrian person will create much much more emotion than their fake narrative. This is first. Second, when you know that they are lying, you don’t feel anything emotional. You could feel something when there’s credible criticizing based on facts and convincing stories, let’s say. This is where you can feel, let’s say, some pain or emotional pressure. The problem with the West is that they don’t have statesmen anymore. The substitute of statesmen and real politics is fake politics, and fake politics need fake stories, and chemical stories are part of these fake stories. Actually, the Western politics – I’m not talking about the people, only the politicians – they have no morals at all, they have no values at all. So, when you deal with people without values, without morals, they don’t incite anything in your heart, or in your brain, or in your mind.
Question 12: And the last question probably is that every time we come to Western Ghouta, we see the signs left by ISIS or al-Nusra: “we will return.” For us, it’s scary, because we spent a lot of money, we lost a lot of lives supporting Syria in her struggle with the “caliphate.” So, for us, it’s scary that one day it can return. What’s your estimation?
President Assad: First of all, this is ideology, this is a dark ideology that was promoted for the last five, nearly five decades – because it started in the late 60s, it’s not only in the 90s or after – around the world mainly by the Saudi Wahhabis, and of course with the support of the Unites States and the West in general. So, this is religious danger with political support, so it’s both. So, it’s not something spontaneous. They will return, of course, because they’re going to be used again and again by the Western powers, but maybe under different brands. Those powers were in Afghanistan thirty years ago and Reagan called them “holy fighters,” he didn’t call them terrorists. Now, they are called terrorists, but they are using those terrorists. Maybe ten years later, they’re going to be used somewhere in this world under a different brand; the same product but they are rebranding this product. So, it’s a Western tool. That’s why asking about feeling this danger is correct.
This is first. Second, you’re right to feel this worry, even in Russia, not because you lost lives in Syria; because you have the same terrorism in Russia. How I look at it? If those terrorists succeeded in Russia, I will be in danger; they’re going to come to Syria and to other countries, and vice versa. So, you’ve been defending the Syrians, but you’ve been defending the Russians. So, you paid the price in Syria in defending the Syrians, but you are defending the Russians as well, because terrorism has no political borders; for them it’s one battlefield from Russia to Syria, maybe to Indonesia, and maybe to Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean.
Question 13: How you can stop the occupation in northern Syria because of this agreement between America and Turkey, one which is Syrian soil?
President Assad: We adopted two ways: the first one and the main one was the reconciliation; it succeeded. This is how we could have brought those areas back to their normality where the people live a normal life and the government is controlling the life of the people through the institutions. The other one is attacking the terrorists whenever they don’t give up and join the reconciliation. We’re going to attack them and take control by force, which is not our favorable way, but it’s the only way to gain control of the country.
Journalist: But this like they separated the parts; they’re divided between themselves, I mean Americans and Turkey they consider it like the territory which controls the…
President Assad: Don’t believe that; America controls everything, controls Turkey, and America sent Turkey, and America prevented Turkey five years ago when Erdogan wanted to invade Syria five years ago, and they told him no. Why? Because that time the terrorists were succeeding, were expanding, so, why do we need Erdogan? When the terrorists started retreating, they told Erdogan now you can interfere because it’s getting better for Syrians and for the Russian and for this group of Iran and the groups who are fighting terrorists, so you better interfere just to make it messy again, and that’s what’s happening, but all these areas are under the control of the United States, nobody else.
Journalist: That’s why they make such a strong pressure on Iran, you mean?
President Assad: Exactly, for different reasons, but at the end they control ISIS in the east and they supported ISIS in the east, they supported al-Nusra in Idlib in the northwest, and they supported al-Nusra and ISIS and other factions in the south, the Americans, but they assign different roles to different countries. Sometime they ask the Turks, sometimes they ask the Saudis, sometimes the Qatari, and so on, but all those countries, including the French and the British, all of them are American puppets and satellites, to be very simple and clear.
Journalist: Thank you so much.
President Assad: Thank you.
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