(Editor’s note: The following is an interview posted on June 17, 2013 by FAZ editor Rainer Hermann of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. The interview appeared in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). The entire interview is in German, therefore, The T-Room used the Google Translator service to translate this interview into English as a public service to our readers. To read the interview in German please go to http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/naher-osten/syriens-machthaber-assad-im-f-a-z-gespraech-europa-wird-den-preis-fuer-waffenlieferungen-zahlen-12224899.html After reading this interview, we invite you to read the recent T-Room post titled “Syria: Obama Administration Stands Firmly Behind Sunni Muslim Terrorists” written by Robert Fiske of the Independent. When read together, a picture begins to emerge to help you discern the difference between the propaganda being spewed by the West using the “good/bad” guy narrative to sell us war vs the reality, which is destroying Syria’s constitutional form of government and inserting the most extreme elements of Sunni adherents into power. Imagine for a moment Mexican drug gangs conducting the same operation with the backing of the EU and Canada on America’s borders all the while demanding our President, whether you like him or not, step down as a condition to stop killing fellow Californians, Arizonians or Texans? You’d be asking “who the hell do these people think they are?” Well, that is precisely what the Syrian people are asking “who the hell does the United States think it is?”)
17.06.2013 · In an exclusive interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Syria’s Assad warns president before exporting terrorism to Europe. Assad talks about weapons to the rebels, the use of poison gas, the role of foreign powers and the Geneva Conference.
© Syrian President’s FAZ editor Rainer Hermann talks with Bashar al-Assad near Damascus
Mr. President, the Syrian army has lost control over parts of Syria. The country falls apart?
We are not in an ordinary war in which we lose control of parts of the country and control other parts. It is not a war of an army against another army. Our army instead acts against gangs. It is true that the army would only penetrate to a place where they could. They wanted it, they did. So we can every place in which we penetrate even control. The hunt for the terrorists has a high price. We have no doubt that we will turn off the terrorists on our soil completely. The problem is the destruction that is created.
They speak of terrorists. Is anyone a terrorist insurgents?
Is it legal in your country to carry weapons to kill innocent people to terrorize citizens to do harm to steal? In all countries of the world, anyone who carries weapons – except armed forces and police – to harass and kill people, defined as terrorist. And people in Syria who carry weapons to do just that whether they have an extremist or criminal motive – for the terrorist to take the name. Therefore, we distinguish between terrorists and the opposition, which is political and a political program. Killing and slaughter but terrorism.
How long will the war last?
Since the first days of me the question is asked, when the crisis comes to an end. My response was that the crisis could take a long time. Because the external factor is obvious. An internal crisis is finally resolved either, or it develops into a civil war. Neither the one nor the other happens. The reason for this is the external factor that is trying to prolong the crisis politically and militarily.
Do not carry the blame for the destruction of the country? At the beginning of the protests were purely political in nature, and only later it became an armed conflict.
Since the crisis began, even several years before its onset, we started with reforms. We have adopted several laws, lifted the emergency law, amended the Constitution and it held a referendum. Maybe the West knows, maybe not. What he does not want to see is this: Even in the first weeks there has been demonstration of police deaths, martyrs. How could it happen that police officers were killed during peaceful demonstrations? Among the protesters were armed men who shot at the police. Sometimes they were in places far from the demonstration, and there before they fired on demonstrators and police, so one assumes that have a page opened on the other the fire.
There are centrifugal forces in Syria. Individual regions of the country to be closer to its neighbors. Will shift the boundaries in the Levant?
Taking a stone arch out the keystone, and that is Syria, the entire sheet is falling apart. Each playing with the borders in the region means to redraw the map. This has a domino effect that no one could control. It may be that one of the major powers initiates this process. But no one will be able to stop this process at a certain point. There are today in the Middle East new social boundaries – religious and national, in addition to the policy limits. You make the situation complicated. No one can imagine the map as the region will look at a Neuskizzieren. It will probably be a map for innumerable wars in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere, which can be stopped by anyone.
So how is the regional order look like in the coming years?
If we exclude the scenario of a destructive divide Syria, I believe in another positive scenario. The first challenge is the restoration of security and stability, the second of the reconstruction. The biggest and most important challenge, however, is to stand against extremism. Because it has been shown that in some societies in the region take place shifts towards extremism and removal of moderation, especially in matters of religion. This raises the question of whether we succeed to position these new companies, as they had been in history. Some speak of tolerance, some say it is coexistence. Believed to someone for tolerant, it may one day suddenly no longer tolerate the others. It depends not on mere coexistence, but by joining the parts of society. Had awarded this region. The other challenge is the reform that we want. The constant question is, what is the best political system that holds our society together: the presidential system or halbpräsidiale? The parliamentary? What is the appropriate party system? We can not have religious party here – neither a Christian nor a Muslim. Religion for us is the call to personal faith, not a tool to make policy. The important thing is to accept others. This is not done, there can be no democracy, even if we have the best constitution and the best laws.
What does secularism in an environment in which to win the Islamist tendencies in strength?
The Middle East is an ideology-bound region. The Arab society is based on two pillars: Arabism and Islam. Everything else does not have this meaning. For us in Syria secularism means freedom of religions: Christians, Muslims and Jews, with all their various denominations. Secularism is necessary for the unity of society and for the feeling of citizenship. There is no alternative. Because at the same time the religions in our region are strong. This is nice and not bad. Bad, however, that fanaticism turns into terrorism. Not everyone is a fanatic terrorist, but every terrorist is a fanatic. Therefore I say: The concept of our secular state is that everyone has the right to freely exercise his religion. No one is treated differently because of his religion, creed and race.
“If the opposition is independent and nationally, we have no problem.”
How do you rate the “Arab Awakening”, which some have called “Arab Spring”?
In spring there is no bloodshed, no killing and no extremism; schools are not destroyed, children going to school is not prohibited, the woman is not forbidden to dress the way she wants it. What we are going through today, is no spring. Look at what is going on in Syria – kill, kill, behead people, even people eat parts. The cure is not to come from spring from anywhere else. It will come from us. We and many other Middle Eastern states have myriad problems that we know and objectively considered. This is the right approach to solving problems. Much more important is that the treatment comes from within. For every thing that comes from outside, brings the creature to the world that is viable. When we call for dialogue and seek solutions, they must be locally and nationally, so that we reach Syria, which we want.
You throw countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and United Kingdom from interference. Russia and Iran are also actively involved?
There is a big difference between cooperation among States and the interference in the internal affairs of a state with the intent to undermine its stability. States shall cooperate in a will to ensure its sovereignty, independence, freedom of their decisions and their stability. The relationship between Syria and Russia, Iran and other countries that are on the Syrian side, a relationship of cooperation, which is guaranteed and protected by international law.
This interference is a blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty of the country; they want to destabilize the country and spread chaos and backwardness. We see the reality, we see what is happening in Iraq and previously in Lebanon. That had to do with what happened in Syria. The widens out naturally. What will be only then, should be a military intervention? Sure the situation will be much worse then than it is today. Then we will see the domino effect of the spread of extremism, chaos and division.
Lebanon and Iraq are marked by sectarian tensions. Wear Sunnis and Shiites of both countries their conflicts to Syria?
If you have religious systems in the neighborhood, religious unrest or civil war – as was the case in Lebanon 30 years ago – it is itself affected. Syria has therefore incorporated in 1976 in Lebanon to protect themselves and also to Lebanon. Therefore, we also care about what is happening in Iraq because we are directly affected them. To be against the war in Iraq, therefore, was critical of the U.S., despite threats of that time. Religious orders are dangerous.
On the side of the rebels in Syria fighting the Nusra front. Who is that? Who supplies them with weapons and money?
The Nusra front is a branch of Al Qaeda. It represents the same ideology. You can find it in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. Funding is provided primarily by anonymous individuals and organizations with same ideology. They have huge amounts of money and weapons. The donations will go directly to the Nusra front, it is difficult to track down sources and customers of these resources. The Nusra front aimed at the establishment of an Islamic state and is mainly based on the Wahhabi creed. Ultimately leads to the concept of Al Qaeda – see the situation in Afghanistan. This applies to women in the first place. The Nusra Front wants Islamic law, the Sharia apply. This is a misleading and distorted form of Islam. On Youtube you can get an idea of their barbaric actions. On Belgian TV was recently to see how an innocent man was beheaded with an ax. The members of the Nusra front coming from Syria, other Arab and Islamic states and from Europe.
What motivation have Saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the armed rebels fighting against you?
Do they support the armed men, because they believe in freedom and democracy as they claim in their media? Is there any democracy in these countries to support democracy in Syria? They have elected parliaments? They have constitutions, which have agreed to their peoples? Once the people have decided, has to look like the state order, as monarchy, presidential, Emirate or other? Things are quite clear. You should first take care of their own peoples, and then secondly, to answer your question.
How do you assess the Syria-politics of France and Britain?
I am of the opinion that France and Britain have a problem with the – have disturbing Syrian role in the region – in their opinion. You and the United States looking for lackeys and puppets that enforce their interests. We declined. We’ve always been independent and free. France and Britain are historically colonial powers. Probably they have not forgotten. You act in this region by representatives and collaborators. It may be that France and the United Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar control. We should not ignore the fact that the politics and economies of France and Britain are dependent on petrodollars. What is happening in Syria is a chance for these States to urge a non-submissive state to the brink and to search for a new president, the only “yes” says. They have not been found and they will not find in the future.
The EU has its arms embargo on Syria not extended, but not yet made a decision to supply arms to the rebels.
I can not say that the Europeans are on the Syrian side. There are countries that adopt a hostile attitude towards the Syrian government, especially France and the UK. The other states, mainly Germany, provide rational questions about arms shipments to terrorists. What would happen? First, Syria would be even more destroyed. Who would pay the price? The Syrian people. Second, the Europeans deliver weapons and know that they deliver these to terrorists. Some distinguish between “good” and “bad” fighters, as they have made a difference a couple of years between “good” and “bad” Taliban and a “good” and “bad” Al Qaeda before. Is that reasonable? If the Europeans deliver weapons of Europe’s backyard is a terrorist, and Europe will pay the price. Terrorism is chaos here, chaos leads to poverty, and poverty means that Europe is losing an important market. The second consequence would be the direct export of terrorism to Europe. Terrorists will return to fight learn and equipped with extremist ideology. For Europe, there is a cooperation with the Syrian government is no alternative, even if Europe does not like.
See yourself as part of the fight against terrorism?
That says a reason. Unfortunately, many managers in Europe are not rationally before, not realistic and not objective. You can take instead of negative feelings from the mind. Politics has to do with interests, not based on love or hate. You should ask themselves as German, where your interest is in what happens in this region. What happens here is against the interest of Europe. Because Europe has an interest in the fight against terrorism.
Quite a few see the Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. She is fighting on the side of the Syrian army, roughly in Quseir. There is evidence that Iranian Revolutionary Guards train Syrian units. Need these allies?
Media try to convey the image that the Hezbollah fighting, because the Syrian army was weak. In fact, we win great victories for a few months in different regions, which are perhaps more important than Quseir. But it is not reported. No one else is fighting in such areas as the Syrian army. There are also local vigilante groups who defend the army together with their own areas. That is one reason for our success. Quseir was particularly important because of the statements of western charge that we are dealing in Quseir a strategic city. That’s an exaggeration. In the city there were many armed men and weapons arsenals.
What then was the role of Hizbullah?
The terrorists had begun to bombard the Hizbullah related villages along the border. It was inevitable that Hizbullah intervene with the Syrian army to end the chaos. The Syrian army is a great army, and to carry out its task with local citizens in all areas. We really needed help, we would have brought these Hizbullah forces in the Damascus Countryside. You know that fighting on the outskirts of Damascus held. Damascus is much more important than Quseir, Quseir also Aleppo is more important than all big cities are there. This propaganda aimed twofold: First, to show that Hezbollah does the work, and secondly, the Western and international opinion against Hezbollah should be applied.
How big are the units of Hezbollah in Syria?
There are no associations. There are individual fighters along the border, about where the terrorists were to be found at Quseir. They have supported the Syrian army in the purges along the Lebanese border. The forces Hezbollah are stationed towards Israel and can not leave the south of Lebanon. Although Hezbollah had sent fighters to Syria, how many can it be? Some hundreds? We speak of a battle with a hundred thousand soldiers of the Syrian army. Some can take hundreds at a place influence, but do not change the balance of power in Syria.
The governments of France and Britain say they would be available evidences that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons. Now, says the American government. Why do you allow the inspectors of the UN only access to Aleppo?
Let’s start with what the White House has announced, with 150 deaths in a period of one year. Militarily, conventional weapons can kill a lot more than that number in a year in one day. Weapons, which are used for mass destruction, are capable of hundreds of thousands to kill at once. Therefore they are used. It is therefore illogical to use chemical weapons to kill a number of people that can be achieved by use of conventional weapons. France and the UK and some U.S. and European leaders have said, we would these weapons used in some Syrian areas. We have not said that we possess chemical weapons, nor that we do not possess. Chemical weapons are weapons of mass destruction. Had Paris, London and Washington only one evidence for their claims, they would have submitted this to the world. Where is the chain of evidence, which should lead to the conclusion that “Syria used chemical weapons” have? As proof that the terrorists are those who use chemical weapons, we have asked the UN to send a commission to the place where the terrorists have used chemical weapons – and that was in Aleppo. French and British have blocked this request. If the commission came, it would have found that terrorists have used chemical weapons. Everything that is said about the use of chemical weapons, is a continuation of the lies about Syria. It is an attempt to justify more military interference.
Why then sit inspectors from the UN?
It will turn out that France and Britain go by the truth. They wanted the Commission gets access to all the same places and doing work that once done the weapons inspectors in Iraq. They have interfered in matters that do not fall under their authority. We are a state, we have our army, we have our secrets. We will not allow anyone to gain insight into it, not the UN, not France, not Britain, not others.
Why the Syrian army bombarded residential areas?
We hunt the terrorists, wherever they go. They often go into residential areas. Take the example of Quseir. Western media reported 50,000 civilians in Quseir. The number of inhabitants was originally much smaller. As the terrorists seized the town, the inhabitants left him. We found almost no civilians when we moved in Quseir. Come the terrorists, the civilians leave any place, and the fights break out. This is evidenced by the fact that most of the victims are members of the military. The civilians who were killed are victims of terrorists who executions enforced and used civilians as human shields. A large number of civilian victims killed by suicide attacks and car bombs. The remaining deaths are either Syrian or foreign terrorists.
After your army conquered the city of Quseir: Why not use that to reach out to national reconciliation of the opposition?
From the first day we had our hand out to anyone who wants a dialogue. We have not changed this attitude. We held a national dialogue conference at the beginning of the crisis, in parallel, we were fighting the terrorists. In opposition to the notion we should not all be lumped, we should team up with politicians not terrorists. You have an opposition in Germany, but it carries no weapons. We speak of opposition, we mean politicians. We are always ready to enter into a dialogue with these politicians. This has nothing to do with Quseir. I do not think that national reconciliation is a more accurate term. It is not with us as a civil war in Lebanon. It is not a question as between whites and blacks in South Africa. Here is a dialogue that aims to get out of the crisis and move the terrorists to lay down their arms. The Geneva conference followed the above policy objectives. So, the political process has not stopped. However, there are obstacles from the outside – Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK. They do not want dialogue. Rather, they want the continuation of the riots, and that causes a delay in the dialogue and political solution.
With whom you are willing to sit down at a table?
Has with any opposition, which carries no weapons, do not support terrorism, and a political program. The opposition has to prove itself in elections, which are local elections and – most important – parliamentary elections. We are dealing with forces that call themselves opposition. Here we ask two questions: What is their popular base? What is your political program? Accordingly we act.
Why you have not been negotiated with the opposition in Syria?
We have invited in the first dialogue conference of 2011 anyone who considers himself a dissident. Part of the opposition came, others suggested the invitation on the grounds that, we are not come to meet them. What does that mean? What do we offer them? Ministerial positions in the Cabinet? Yes they have no seat in Parliament. How can we know who deserves to be in the government? This requires criteria and standards. This has nothing to do with moods. The only opposition, which is now in the government, the opposition, which has won seats in parliament. To put it bluntly: The state is not the property of the President, to distribute gifts of ministries. It is a national process, and constitutional government are determined by the people. Our doors are open.
Is there room for a political solution?
If the opposition is independent and nationally, we have no problem. The opposition abroad presents its reports to Western foreign ministries and their intelligence. Who financed them, gives them before their decisions. For us, opposition means that it represents a part of the population and not a foreign state. To be a genuine opposition, you have to Syrian soil with his people as well as its problems and needs of life. Only then will this opposition can be part of a political process.
You said that you do not negotiate with slaves, but only with their masters. What does this mean?
I have made this comparison in order to clarify what really happened. The television was to see how the French Ambassador has spoken in Syria with the Syrian opposition, as he gave her commands and she even insulted. In another video oppositionists testified as the American ambassador to Syria has insulted them. Practically, we will conduct negotiations with the United States, France and Great Britain as well as their tools, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The forces that call themselves the opposition abroad, are mere employees and in this sense slaves.
What do you expect from the conference on Syria, to be held this summer in Geneva?
We hope that the Geneva Conference, an important station is to advance dialogue in Syria. Especially since we announced the beginning of a vision for a political solution. We should not ignore the fact that there are states that are not interested in a success in Geneva. These are the same states that support terrorism in Syria. Succeed in the conference – and that is what we hope – to ban weapons being smuggled to Syria and infiltrate terrorists – there are terrorists from 29 countries – then this is an approach to success. Not the Geschähe and sat terrorism continues: What then would be the value of a political solution? A political solution is based on stopping the smuggling of terrorists and weapons into Syria. We hope that the Geneva Conference begins with this point. If it were possible for her to decide, I consider the conference a success. Without this result, the conference would not succeed.
What would be the consequence of a failure of the conference?
The Syrian crisis is not over, it will spread to other countries, and the situation will deteriorate. The mind commands it true that all interest in the success. But the opposition abroad would lose their money, the conference should be successful. If you have neither money nor a base in the population, it has nothing.
Can emerge from Geneva with people from different political camps, a transitional government?
We took on an expanded government, the different sides represents and prepares the parliamentary elections. Who has success in these elections, will take part in the government, who does not, it has no place.
It is, after so much bloodshed, a political new beginning is possible only with new leaders. Are you willing to give up your office as President?
The Constitution prescribes the duties of the President. His legislative session ends in 2014. The country is in crisis, the functions of the President are larger and not smaller. Of course you can the country during a crisis not let you down. Again and again I compare the situation with a ship caught in a storm. Just imagine, the captain leaves the ship and flees with a rescue boat. Give under these circumstances, meant to commit a major national betrayal. Another thing is, if the people decide that someone should lose his office. How can you know if the people want that you give up the office? Either through elections or a referendum. The referendum on the new constitution, 58 percent of voters participated. 89.4 percent voted for the new constitution, which is a good indicator. The president is not the problem. Other states want the president assigns in favor of certain of these countries lackeys.
In 2014, a presidential election will be held. How should they proceed?
Under the new Constitution, there will be more than one candidate, and that will be a new experience. It is difficult to know exactly how it will be until we have tested it.
Syria will look like in five years?
I repeat: extremism is the biggest challenge. If we can tackle this, we can follow a correct democratic path. The democracy that we seek in Syria is not an end but a means for stability and development. This question is not about laws and constitutions. The democratic process is a cultural and social process in the first place.