CCTV: Hello Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to give this interview to Chinese state television, CCTV.
President Assad: You and your team from CCTV are most welcome in Syria.
CCTV: According to the agreed framework between Russia and the United States, as soon as the list of chemical weapons arsenal is handed to the OPCW, the experts will visit Syria before November with the aim of destroying the chemical weapons by mid-2014. Can the Syrian government complete this task on time?
President Assad: Yes, the Syrian government is required to do two things: first, to provide OPCW with the necessary information and data; this was submitted a few days ago, since all the information was ready and documented. Second, the government is required to allow OPCW inspectors’ access to chemical weapons production and storage sites, which we do not have a problem with.
The main obstacle to the process, however, is the security situation in certain areas controlled by armed groups who may not allow inspectors access to the sites in order to obstruct their work. It is well know that many of these groups are affiliated with foreign states whose interests lie in obstructing the implementation of the agreement in order to place blame on the Syrian government.
CCTV: Mr. President, as you said, the security situation could be an issue, do you think the situation on the ground in Syria will delay the implementation of the agreement?
President Assad: In principle, it is not supposed to. But as I said, this depends on the agenda of certain countries that might instruct the terrorists on the ground to apply certain tactics to prevent the inspectors from carrying out their task in order to accuse the Syrian government of obstructing the implementation of the agreement. You are aware that the terrorists are very mobile and do not stay in specific areas. This is a possibility, but we won’t know until the inspectors arrive in Syria.
CCTV: Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is said to be huge – maybe a thousand tons. Is that true?
President Assad: Syria has been producing these weapons for decades, so naturally there are huge stockpiles. We are in a state of war and our land has been occupied for over 40 years. In any case, the Syrian Army has been preparing itself to fight using traditional weapons.
CCTV: How is the Syrian government preventing the armed opposition from reaching these weapons before they are destroyed?
President Assad: The process of storing chemical weapons is always conducted under special and strict protocols controlled by any state or army in order to prevent terrorists or foreign groups from hostile countries from accessing them; we have no concerns in this regard. Syria’s chemical weapons are in secure sites and areas under the full control of the Syrian Arab Army.
CCTV: Some western countries still have doubts about the intentions of the Syrian government, concerning the destruction of the chemical weapons. According to the UN resolution proposed by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, if Syria doesn’t implement the framework agreement fully, punitive measures could be taken against it. How do you see this?
President Assad: We are not concerned for two reasons. First, since independence, Syria has always committed itself to the agreements it signs; we commit fully to anything we agree to. Second, we are assured today by China and Russia’s role in the Security Council to insure that no excuse is used to justify aggression against Syria.
I want to add though that the U.S., the U.K. and France, through the proposed Security Council resolution, are trying to appear victorious against an imaginary enemy they assume to be Syria. That’s why we don’t need to be concerned about such propositions or agreements.
CCTV: We, in China, see this agreement to hand over chemical weapons to be in return for peace. Mr. President, are you concerned that western countries might take advantage of this agreement to find another excuse for military intervention in Syria in the future?
President Assad: This is a very important question, because if the United States was looking for a justification for the war, it will continue to look for other justifications. What prevented them from waging the war was not the Syrian-Russian agreement to hand over the chemical weapons, but rather the strong opposition to the war – internationally and domestically in the US; people did not find the reasons presented plausible and, as I already mentioned, the Chinese and Russian position at the Security Council was also a major factor.
As long as the U.S. wants to pursue its hegemonic policies over other countries, we should remain worried, regardless of the current crisis. As long as there are countries in the West who want to supersede the U.N. Charter and international law, we should always remain concerned. Any small country, Syria included, should be concerned by any violation of the UN Charter.
CCTV: Can you tell us how abandoning chemical weapons will affect the Syrian army?
President Assad: There is no real issue since the Syrian Army was built for traditional warfare and the traditional arsenal will not be affected. Typically weapons of mass destruction are used in worse case scenarios – some describe it as suicide; in Syria, we are not going to commit suicide. It’s for this very reason that, ten years ago, we submitted a proposal to the Security Council to create a WMD-free region in the Middle East. This has been our conviction for a long time; had we thought it would affect the capabilities of the Syrian Army we wouldn’t have made that proposal ten years ago.
CCTV: Why did Syria keep chemical weapons during the past years?
President Assad: When we started producing them, in the 1980s, there was a gap in traditional weapons between Syria and Israel – the enemy occupying our land. In the second half of the 1990s, Syria stopped producing these weapons – we stopped production nearly 15 years ago – because we were able to partially bridge the traditional weapons gap and we continue to pursue this policy. So, basically the justifications for the existence of WMDs in the 1980s no longer existed and that’s why, as I said before, we proposed in 2003 to make the Middle East a WMD-free region.
CCTV: Will you get anything in return from your allies after handing over the chemical weapons?
President Assad: I can’t say that there is something in return. However, even before the Russian initiative, there were weapons contracts between Syria and Russia, and, as President Putin and a number of Russian officials have said, they will continue to deliver these weapons according to the agreements signed. The process of strengthening the Syrian arsenal was on-going before the agreement and it will continue; it has no connection with the chemical issue. It is linked to the fact that we are a country which is periodically attacked by Israel and whose land is also occupied by Israel. So, it is to be expected that we would strengthen our traditional arsenal and enhance the power of our armed forces in order to defend Syria.
CCTV: Mr. President, can you give us some information about what you might get from Russia in the military field?
President Assad: Primarily air defense systems since the greatest threat to us are Israeli warplanes, which attack Syrian territory from time to time. Air defense systems are the most important defense weapons for us in Syria today.
CCTV: Russia said that the Syrian government is in possession of evidence that the opposition used chemical weapons in the eastern Ghouta. Mr. President, can you provide us with this evidence?
President Assad: We have several types of evidence including different chemical materials and storage devices. These materials were sent to the Russian government at various stages, the last of which was about a week ago after the Syrian Army entered areas previously controlled by the terrorists and was able to gather this evidence. We also have confessions of the terrorists who brought these materials from neighboring countries and this evidence was shown on Syrian Television.
CCTV: Russia and the United States agreed that the Geneva conference should be held despite the differences between them concerning the chemical weapons. What are your expectations of the Geneva conference?
President Assad: From the very beginning, we supported the Geneva initiative, which will be implemented through the Geneva conference. We have always believed in political solutions when there is any kind of problem. Political action is crucial to solving big problems in any country. We have hopes for the Geneva conference, but these hopes also need to be realistic. In order for the Geneva conference – or any political solution – to succeed, it needs a number of factors and the right environment. The first factor, which would ensure the success of the Geneva conference, is putting an end to terrorist activities, preventing terrorists from entering Syria and ceasing the supply of arms and money to terrorist groups. Unless this is done, any political solution will be an illusion without any real value. That’s why we believe that the Geneva conference is important and necessary with the first provision for its success being the cessation of terrorist acts in Syria.
CCTV: Do you think that the general situation is suitable for holding the Geneva conference?
President Assad: We believe that the circumstances today are suitable for holding the Geneva conference, as we believed them to be suitable a month ago, six months ago, and a year ago. The problem is neither with the Syrian government, nor with Russia, China, Iran, or many other countries in the world that support the Geneva conference in order to reach a solution in Syria. The real problem lies with some western countries, particularly the United States, which want to hold the Geneva conference on the back of military advancements on the ground in favour of the terrorists. Another reason preventing the US and the West from going to Geneva is that they have not yet been able to unite the so called ‘opposition,’ which is not really an opposition because it does not represent the Syrian people, it is fragmented and riddled with infighting and conflicts within its different factions. As I said, like Russia and China, we believe that the time is appropriate to hold the conference.
CCTV: Mr. President, do you mean that one of the conditions for the Syrian government to attend the Geneva conference is for some countries to stop financing and arming the fighters of the opposition?
President Assad: It is not a condition, but if we want the conference to succeed, this needs to be done. In other words, if we, as Syrians, sit around the table and agree on something while terrorism continues, where’s the gain? There isn’t any. There can be no public referendum, no elections, no real work can happen if terrorism continues to destroy and kill throughout Syria. I’m not talking about a precondition. If it happens before the conference – that will be good, but if terrorism continues after the conference, it will have lost its value.
CCTV: As we know, the opposition now includes some political organizations, “the Free Syrian Army,” and extremist Islamist organizations like Jabhat al-Nusra. Which parties will you not negotiate with?
President Assad: We do not negotiate with those carrying weapons. We negotiate with the opposition; and the definition of opposition is a political act. The opposition cannot be a terrorist act, which involves killing people. No state in the world accepts to negotiate with terrorists. That’s why we negotiate with those who abandon their weapons; we have no problem with this. We also will not negotiate with anyone who accepts foreign intervention – whether military or political. Otherwise we have no problem negotiating with any party.
CCTV: How do you see the balance of power on the ground in Syria now?
President Assad: There is no doubt that there are a large number of armed men fighting and carrying out terrorist acts in Syria, the majority of which are foreigners. The army kills thousands of them, only for them to be replaced by another thousand coming from outside Syria. Consequently, the number of foreign fighters is much higher than the number from within Syria; the issue, is neither this imbalance nor the number of fighters.
The most important issue is popular support. If the Syrian people, or Syrian society, support the terrorists, then they are stronger. But if the Syrian society supports the army, then the army is more powerful. That’s why, and in answer to your question about the balance of power, I can say that the situation now favours the army and hence it has been able to make significant progress during the past few months; a large majority of the Syrian people – from different political factions – now support the army particularly after they have realized that what is happening is terrorism and has nothing to do with reform. This is the balance that we believe favors the Syrian armed forces.
CCTV: Do you think it is possible at present to reach a ceasefire between the two sides?
President Assad: No, because a ceasefire is reached between two fighting states – between two armies. There can never be a ceasefire between a state and terrorists. Anywhere in the world, it is the duty of the state, in accordance with the constitution, to fight terrorism against citizens in its society; it is self-evident that any state should defend its citizens.
On the one hand, by reaching a ceasefire, this means we are in fact recognizing the terrorists; on the other, it means that we have abandoned our responsibilities to defend our people. That’s why we cannot even accept the term “ceasefire” between a state and terrorists.
CCTV: Mr. President, what is the red line for the Syrian government in the negotiations in the Geneva conference? Is it the office of the presidency?
President Assad: As I mentioned earlier, the red line is first – using weapons against civilians and against the state and the army, and second – calling for any form of foreign intervention. Other than that, when the Syrians sit around the table they can propose anything: the constitution, legislations and anything else. Within the constitution of course lies the office of the presidency and other governance matters. In other words, we have no red lines except using arms and foreign intervention. If the Syrians decide to change the whole political system – it might become presidential, parliamentary, or any other type of political system – we have no problem. I personally agree to anything that the Syrian people and their representatives agree to.
CCTV: How do you look at the US insisting that you step down?
President Assad: First of all, this issue is the responsibility of the Syrian people alone. No state, whether friend or foe, has the right to determine on behalf of the Syrian people who should be their president. The people and nobody else chose the President in any country; that’s why we do not accept such propositions, neither from the United States nor from any other country. This issue is determined through presidential elections and people’s vote in the ballot box.
CCTV: Do you intend to stand as a candidate in the 2014 presidential elections?
President Assad: This depends on the desire of the Syrian people. If the Syrian people want me to be a candidate, then naturally I should accept; otherwise, my answer will be no. However, this issue is still nine months away and as such it is still too early to determine the wishes of the Syrian people; this should be done two-to-three months before the elections.
CCTV: Do you think that the Syrian people want you to be a candidate?
President Assad: Obviously there are Syrians who would want me to run and there are those who do not. There are no figures at the moment to determine where the majority lies, but we do have indicators – one of which is the Syrian people’s support of the state two and a half years into the crisis.
We are not only facing terrorist groups, we are facing powerful countries which are backing these groups: the West, countries in the region, and Gulf states which have a lot of money and are funding these terrorist groups. Without popular support, we wouldn’t have been able to withstand all of this for two and a half years; this is a major indicator for us. Nevertheless, we need to look for a certain method before the elections in order to determine with more accuracy the size of support for the state, and the size of popular support for the president and those who want him to stand in the coming elections.
CCTV: It was said that the future of Syria depends on Russia and America. How do you see that?
President Assad: In general, superpowers, and especially Russia and America, influence all other countries, negatively or positively, according to their own agendas; there is no doubting this. We live in a world today, which is similar to a small village in that we all influence each other.
However, regardless of the significance of these countries, and regardless of their influence, they do not replace the influence of the Syrian people. No state in the world can replace the people of another country no matter how small or weak that country is. That’s why I have always said that the Syrian people primarily decide the future of Syria. However, this doesn’t mean that the position of a country like Russia does not have a positive affect on the crisis, and that the position of a country like America – or other Western countries does not have a negative affect on the current situation in Syria.
CCTV: How do you see the Chinese role in the Syrian crisis?
President Assad: China is a superpower today and an important international power in every sense of the word: politically, militarily and economically. For us in Syria, what is important is China’s role during the crisis. The Chinese position, particularly through the cooperation with Russia, was crucial and has had a positive influence on the Syrian crisis. In other words, without the Chinese position, in cooperation with Russia, the situation in Syria would have been much worse. Its role in the Security Council prevented the big Western powers from using the Security Council to launch an aggression against Syria; I can say that China’s role has had a significant and positive impact on Syria during this difficult crisis.
CCTV: Do you have the final decision concerning military operations and state policy?
President Assad: In accordance with the constitution, the President of the Republic has clear authorities. He is the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces, and consequently he is the lead decision-maker in moving and leading the armed forces in Syria. At the same time, the presidency plays a major role in foreign policy, and as such is responsible for setting the foreign policy agenda. I have exercised these authorities fully before and during the crisis.
CCTV: Mr. President, during two years of crisis, what is the situation of your family?
President Assad: We are like every other Syrian family. There’s no doubt that the events in Syria, which have been very difficult and cruel, have affected every family in Syria. Every family has lost a loved one, a relative or a neighbor; where there was once happiness, grief now prevails in every Syrian household. Like any other family, this has affected us as well.
There is no doubt that the security situation in Syria has also affected the lives of many people; the lack of security, the incidents of kidnapping and killing by terrorists have restricted people’s mobility in many regions. However, the biggest challenge for us in Syria is to try and live as normal a life as possible. The first priority for every mother and father is to be able to work and provide for their families; the second priority is to ensure that the educational process continues and that children are able to go to school.
CCTV: The proceedings of the UN General Assembly have started. There is no doubt that the Syrian issue will be a major point for discussion. Do you want to say anything to the states taking part in this meeting?
President Assad: Before World War II and the formation of the UN, there was the League of Nations. That organization collapsed at the time because many big powers did not abide by its charter. What’s happening in the world since the 1990s – for about 20 years now – is an increased violation of the UN Charter and international laws and resolutions. This implies that the United Nations is heading towards a collapse, as was the case six decades ago. With the return of the joint Russian and Chinese role aimed at creating a balance within this organization, I urge all relevant states to abide by the UN Charter; this organization and its charter constitute a real guarantee for peace throughout the world. The opposite is also true, if the Charter is violated, this will lead to more chaos, unrest and wars around the world and particularly in the Middle East. This is the fundamental message to all the countries taking part, especially the big powers, including China.
CCTV: Thank you very much for this interview.
President Assad: Once again, you are welcome in Syria, and please send my regards to all the staff of CCTV.