Question 1: I want to have your comment on this: when our President Mr. Hollande, said that President Assad couldn’t be the solution because he was part of the problem. Does this represent a general view for you, and how you see this? What’s your reaction?
President Assad: First, the first part of my reaction is: was Hollande assigned by the Syrian population to speak on their behalf? That is the first question. Would you as a French citizen accept a similar comment from any other politician in this world, to say that President Hollande shouldn’t be the French President? Isn’t it a humiliation to the French people? We look at it the same way. It’s a humiliation to the Syrian people when he says such a thing. Doesn’t it mean that he doesn’t recognize them?
Second, for France as a country that’s always proud of its traditions and the principles of the French Revolution and maybe democracy and human rights, the first principle of that democracy is that peoples have the right to decide who leads them. So, it’s a shame on him, for somebody who represents the French population, to do and say something which is against the principles of the French republic and the French people. Second, it’s a shame on him to try to humiliate a population with a civilized, long, deep history for thousands of years like the Syrian people. So, that’s my reaction, and I think it will not affect the facts in Syria, because the facts will not be affected by certain statements.
Question 2: If you had a message, one message, for Mr. Hollande and Mr. Fabius, especially after what happened yesterday in Paris? Is it “please cut your relations urgently with Qatar and Saudi Arabia?”
My message to Hollande and Fabius.. be serious when you talk about fighting terrorists
President Assad: First of all, this message has many aspects. The first part of this message is a question: are they independent to send them a message they can implement? Actually, the French policy these days is not independent of the American one. This is first. So, sending a message will lead nowhere. In spite of that, if I have a hope that there will be some political change in France, the first one is go back to the real, independent, friendly politics of France toward the Middle East and toward Syria. Second, be away from the American, how to say, methodology, of double standards. So, if you want to support the Syrian people – allegedly – regarding democracy and freedom, it’s better to support the Saudi people first.
If you have a problem about democracy with the Syrian state, how could you have good relations and friendship with the worst states in the world, the most underdeveloped states in the world which are the Saudi and Qatari states? So, this contradiction doesn’t give credibility.
Third, it’s natural for any official to work for the sake and interest of his people. The question that I ask in any message is: did the French policy during the past five years bring any good to the French people? What is the benefit? I’m sure the answer is no, and the proof of that answer is what I said a few years ago, that messing with the fault line in Syria is messing with an earthquake that will reverberate in the rest of the world, first of all in Europe because we are the backyard of Europe, geographically and geopolitically, so that time they said “are you threatening?” I didn’t, and Charlie Hebdo happened at the beginning of this year, and I said after that incident that this is only the tip of the iceberg, and what happened yesterday is another proof. So, they need to change their policy toward the interests of their people, and this is where we’re going to have the same interests with the French population, mainly fighting terrorism. So, the final message is: be serious when you talk about fighting terrorists. That’s my message.
Question 3: French experts say that terrorists are certainly being trained in the Middle East, and we have a lack of information. What would be necessary to have that kind of cooperation between Paris and Damascus?
President Assad: You need first of all seriousness. If the French government is not serious about fighting terrorism, we wouldn’t waste our time cooperating with a country, or a government, let’s say, with an institution that is supporting terrorism. First of all, you need to change your policy, to have one standard regarding this and not multiple standards, and to have that country be part of an alliance with countries that only fight terrorism, not countries that support terrorism and are fighting terrorism. This is a contradiction. So, these are the first basics of having any cooperation. We would like to have this kind of cooperation, not only with France, but with any country, but this cooperation needs an atmosphere. It needs certain criteria, and needs certain conditions.
Question 4: And in the future, if the government changes, would it be possible?
My job is about what is best for the Syrians
President Assad: In politics you don’t have friendship and emotions, you have interests. That’s my role as a politician, and that’s their role as politicians in your country. It’s not whether they like Assad or don’t like him, it’s not whether I like Hollande or not. It’s not about that. My job is about what is best for the Syrians, and what is best for the French, that’s our job. So, in the future we don’t have a problem. The problem is the policies, not the emotions.
Question 5: You just met President Putin. I mean, I don’t want to ask you what he said to you, but I want to ask you; when somebody said that Putin is the last guy who defends the West, would you say that? That Putin is the last head of state who defends the Christian-Western civilization?
President Assad: So he defends Western Europe?
Question 6: Exactly.
Whoever fights terrorism somewhere, will protect the rest of the world
President Assad: When you talk about terrorism, it’s one arena; it’s not the Syrian, Libyan, Yemeni and French arenas. It’s one arena. So, the incentive behind the Russian coalition that they announced a few months ago before they sent their military to Syria, is that if we don’t fight terrorism in Syria, or maybe in other parts of the world, it will be hitting everywhere including Russia, so that’s correct. When you fight terrorism in Syria, you’re defending Russia and defending Europe and defending other continents. That’s correct. This has been our view for decades now, since we have been fighting against the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1990s. We had that impression, we always asked for an international coalition for fighting terrorism because terrorism doesn’t recognize political borders, doesn’t care about procedures. No matter what procedure you took in France after Charlie Hebdo, what happened yesterday [Friday] proves that theory. So, that’s correct and that’s very precise; whoever fights terrorism, not only Putin, whoever fights terrorism somewhere, will protect the rest of the world.
Question 7: There is a conference in Vienna about Syria, and also tomorrow in Ankara with the G20, and at several times different presidents have said “the solution is Bashar Assad has to leave Syria.” Are you ready, personally, to leave power if it could be the best solution to protect Syria?
The constitution will bring the president and the constitution will make him leave
President Assad: This is a two-part question. The first part, is there anything I have to do in response to any foreign request? My answer is no. I will not do it, no matter what that request is; small, big, important, not important, because they have nothing to do with the Syrian decision. The only thing they did so far is to support terrorists in different ways, by [providing an] umbrella and by direct support. They could only create problems; they are not part of the solution. Those countries, whoever supports terrorists, are not part of the solution in Syria. So, whatever they say, we don’t respond because we don’t care about them, to be frank.
Second, for me, as a Syrian, I have to respond to any Syrian will. Of course, when I talk about Syrian will, there must be a kind of consensus, the majority of the Syrians, and the only way to know what the Syrians want is through the ballot box. This is second. Third, for any president, to come and go, in any state that respects itself, respects its civilization and respects its people, is through a political process that reflects the constitution. The constitution will bring the president and the constitution will make him leave, through the parliament, through elections, through referendum, and so on. This is the only way for the president to come and go.
Question 8: What are all these talks about that the only solution not only for Syria; Iraq and Lebanon: partition? We hear much, you know, this is what you talk about, secular and sectarian. But there is a lot of talk everywhere, you know that better than us, about Syria with the coast, and Iraq too, and Lebanon. What is you feeling about that?
Any Syrian will tell you that we are supporting the unity of Syria.
President Assad: The impression that they try to give in the Western media is that the problem in this region is a civil war between different components, religions, and ethnicities that don’t want to live with each other. So, why don’t they divide their country? This is where they can stay. Actually, the problem is not like this, because now, under the government’s control in Syria, you can see that all these components live with each other a normal life, a natural life. So, if you want to make division, you have to create clear lines between the components, whether between sects, or between ethnicities. In that case, if you’re going to have that situation, if the region reaches that situation, I will tell you that the situation is going to be small states fighting with each other, never-ending wars for maybe centuries. Any situation like this means constant wars. For the rest of the world it means more sources of exporting instability and terrorism around the world. That’s the situation. So, this is a very dangerous way of thinking. We don’t have the incubator now, the social incubator for such partition. Actually, if you ask any Syrian now, whether they are with the government or against the government, they will tell you that we are supporting the unity of Syria.
Question 9: You spoke about the constitution. In several months, you will have elections inside Syria. Are you ready to have international observers for these elections?
President Assad: Yes, but we said international observation doesn’t mean UN organizations that have no credibility, to be frank, because they are under the control of the Americans and the West in general. So, when you talk about international observation or participation or cooperation, it means certain countries around the world that were not biased during the crisis, that didn’t support the terrorists, didn’t try to politicize their position toward what’s happening in Syria. Those are the countries that can participate in such coordination or observation, but we don’t have a problem with the principle.
Question 10: We talked about Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but we didn’t talk about Turkey, and they let go in Europe hundreds of thousands of refugees, and it seems that they let go in Syria jihadists. So, what is the role of Turkey?
Turkey is playing the worst part of our crisis
President Assad: The most dangerous role, in the whole situation, because Turkey offered all kinds of support to those terrorists, and all the spectrums of the terrorists. Some countries support al-Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda, some other countries support ISIS, while Turkey supports both, and other groups at the same time. They support them with, how to say, human resources, they recruit. They support them with money, logistics, armaments, surveillance, information, and even the maneuvers of their military through their borders during the fights in Syria. Even the money that’s being collected from the rest of the world passes through Turkey, and the oil that ISIS sells is through Turkey, so Turkey is playing the worst part of our crisis.
Second, that’s related directly to Erdogan himself and Davutoglu, because they both reflect the real ideology that they carry in their hearts, which is the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
Question 11: You think he is Muslim Brotherhood?
President Assad: Not necessarily to be organized, but the mentality, a hundred percent. He cares a lot about politicized Islam which is the opportunistic part of Islam which is not Islam actually. That’s how we look at it, because you shouldn’t politicize religion. So, it’s related directly to him, to his will to see the Muslim Brotherhood governing in the rest of the Arab world so that he can control them as a sultan, but actually more as an imam, not a sultan. That is what Turkey is playing.
Question 12: You know we are in a situation right now, yesterday night and before, Charlie Hebdo, and before and before. You said that, but I want your confirmation; you think that France cannot fight terrorism if it stays with its links with Qatar and Saudi Arabia?
You cannot fight terrorism while you follow or pursue the wrong policies that support terrorism directly or indirectly
President Assad: Yes. In addition, you cannot fight if you don’t have relations with the power that’s fighting ISIS or terrorism on the ground. You cannot fight terrorism while you follow or pursue the wrong policies that, at the end, in the end result, support terrorism directly or indirectly. If you don’t have all these things, no, you cannot, and we don’t think that they can, so far.
Journalists: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for this interview.
President Assad: Thank you for coming.
The interview was published in SANA. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.