Now, when the future of Syria is discussed again on the resumption on Thursday in Astana, the talks between the regime and rebel representatives with the participation of Russia, Iran and Turkey, Bashar al-Assad gave on Tuesday an exclusive interview with Europe 1 and TF1 in Damascus.
Six weeks after the capture of Aleppo by the Syrian army, the President recounts in an interview about his strategy for the liberation of the territory. He not remained silent about the accusations of crimes and mass murders. In early February, the NGO Amnesty international reported that in one is located in Damascus prison from 2011 to 2015, was hanged nearly 13 thousand prisoners.
In an interview with Syria’s President says including about the role of France and the West in this conflict, which has killed more than 300 thousand people in 2011.
Fabien, Name (Europe 1): Two months after the liberation of Aleppo. Is it possible now to say that you won the war?
Bashar Al-Assad: No. I don’t think we can talk about winning the war, while we lost by terrorists across Syria. It is only a large step towards elimination of terrorism in our country, and I think this will be a long way. For one simple reason: the terrorists get the support of many Western countries, including France and the UK, as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the region.
— You are talking about a long way, but could you describe from a military point of view, still you are facing problem?
— When I talk about the elimination of terrorists in our country, this of course also means the liberation of all our territories. Her need to regain control of the government, that is facing the authorities to task.
— But what about Syria, what city are you talking about?
You mean after Aleppo?
— Of course, we will continue the campaign in the surrounding Aleppo area, to protect the city from further terrorist attacks from the West and the North, who receive direct assistance from Turkey, from the Turkish army.
Michelle Scott (TF1): a New stage will not Idlib? They say that the next big battle will be for Idlib.
— It can be Idlib, ar Raqqah or any other city. Now it all depends on the change in the current situation, since the plan may vary in accordance with it. We have not made this plan before the end of the fighting in Aleppo and the surrounding area. Therefore, to talk about the next stage too early. It all depends on the fighting in different areas.
But now the situation is much improved from a military point of view?
— Of course, the release of each city from terrorists means that the situation is getting better. But for us it’s not enough.
— For France, the main source of the terrorist threat, of course, is the “Islamic state.”* You think that all armed groups or most of them — the terrorists. Why don’t you consider IG as a special threat?
— First, it is not we, the government, consider them as terrorists: they are the law and international law. Any person in my or your country that takes up arms and begins to kill people and destroy property, is a terrorist. It is an international concept. Thus, we are not the only one who gives them that definition. In our case, according to our law, whoever delivers weapons was no longer considered a terrorist.
It seems to me that when you say that the French or the Europeans have concerns about the IG, this indicates a poor understanding of the situation. ISIS is a consequence, not a cause of the problem. The problem is the ideology of the organization, which adheres to the “Dzhabhat EN-Nusra”* and many such organizations in Syria, and maybe Libya and other countries. Thus, you would have to worry about all these terrorists, not just IG or “Dzhabhat EN-Nusra”. They do what tells them their ideology, that is, organize terrorist attacks.
FN: that is, there is no difference between Islamic state and these groups?
— Absolutely no. In Syria, all of these organizations share the same roots. The people who were part of the IG had been listed in the ranks of “Dzhabhat EN-Nusra”. Now they migrate from one movement to another, because they have one ideology, Wahhabism, which is at the origin of terrorism.
— In other words, the two of you is one and the same enemy? All these terrorists are no different from each other?
— Of course. And so the law says, not me. As I said, in accordance with the law and international law, no country in the world people can’t hold guns if they are not representatives of the army and police. I think in France the situation is exactly the same. If I’m wrong, please correct me. But I think that is the case all over the world.
MS: So, al-Raqqah, the ISIS stronghold, where he planned the attacks in France, is a priority goal…
— No. And these attacks are not necessarily prepared in ar-Raqqah. It is just a symbol of ISIS.
— The presence of IG is observed even in the vicinity of Damascus. They’re everywhere. They are now located in Palmyra and the East of Syria. So, no, it’s not just about ar-Raqqah. Priorities everywhere. Everything depends on the progress of the fighting. For us everything has a value: ar Raqqah, Palmyra, Idlib.
— Mr President, do you see yourself as the main bulwark against terrorism. There are many people, especially we who believe, and IG your mode the two faces of the same evil that is trying to crush any manifestation of a free democratic expression in your country. That you would be able to answer them?
— First of all, we — not the regime, and the state with all its institutions. Second, it traces the demonization of Syria, its government and army the biggest media and Western political circles, who from the beginning supported the so-called “moderate”. First they called them peaceful demonstrators, and then said that they have ceased to be peaceful, but still remained moderate. But they didn’t understand that actually only support the base, “al-Qaeda”* and IG.
© AFP 2016, George OurfalianВоенные Syrian army in one of the Eastern districts of Aleppo. 4 December 2016
That’s why they say now that we’re getting those terrorists use them as an alternative to the West no longer have a choice. First, the West does not have to choose between me and IG. This choice needs to be done to my people. Because this is purely a Syrian issue. And therefore we should not worry what they think about Western officials. They ought to think about your own population, to protect him from the terrorist attacks that occurred because of their policy.
FN: Mr. President, all of us, especially in France, was struck by the horror of terrorism. But we are also shocked released last week the report of Amnesty International. It refers to the prison Sayedna. It is located near Damascus. 13 thousands of executed prisoners, mass hangings, torture. In the report, the organization said that in this place the Syrian government in secret is killing his people. Mr. President, all means are good to win the war? Is it possible to do what you like?
— No, all legitimate. It is impossible to do not understand that…
— But according to a new report by Amnesty International about any legitimate speech here does not go…
— No. There is a difference between discussing the facts, what do you do now we are with you, and someone’s claims. If you want to talk about claims, it is possible to spend a lot of time because there are so many. Anyone can say what they want, and we can discuss. But in this case, about any facts of the question. If you want to discuss Amnesty International, please! This world-renowned organization, and she should be ashamed to build a report based on unsubstantiated accusations. If you come to court in your country (and you have the courts and the judicial system), he decides on the basis of statements or require proof? This report is built on unsubstantiated charges! There is no document, no evidence. And it was not even about 13 thousand people, and the figure of 5 thousand to 13 thousand. The spread is more than two times! This means that no hint of accuracy there. Not called a single name of the alleged victims. Of all the thousands there are only 36. There are also other spaces. In particular, it is argued that the Grand mufti gives the nod to the penalty, although in Syria, religious leaders are irrelevant to the judicial process. The death penalty in Syria legitimate. It is part of the Syrian law with the Declaration of independence. Thus, the government has the right to execute anyone under the law. And why would it then became involved in this illegal?
Torture is outlawed even in Syria. Can you confirm that in this prison do not practice torture, according to Amnesty International?
— The question is: why try? Why keep the torture? What is the purpose? What we benefit from this? Just for the sake of sadism? We are all sadists? Why would we do that? To get the information? We have all the needed information. Therefore, we do not resort to torture. It is not part of our policy. For one simple reason: if we staged such atrocities, it would play into the hands of terrorists, they would have benefited from this. We need to win the hearts of the Syrian people. If we arranged such atrocities at any stage of the conflict, we would have enjoyed such popular support as it is now, at the end of six years of struggle. That is the simple fact. If you go back to these reports, the report must be based on facts. There’s not a single fact. They should provide evidence, but are unable to do so.
— Amnesty International propose to send observers to your prison in order to gather evidence on the contrary or to confirm that you are right and no crime was not. What would you say to such a proposal?
— I think it would be better to start investigating the activities of the Amnesty International, since it is a report on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. It’s a shame, a shame for such an organization, which has never been objective, and always took sides.
MS: what about the testimony of former guards and inmates?
— It is a question of sovereignty. If you are every day pouring such accusations and reports, you can just do that without the end to receive a foreign delegation. Would you agree to require your government sending you to the Syrian delegation to investigate the reasons that your army when Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande attacked the Libyans and killed tens and hundreds of thousands of people? We can come to you to begin an investigation about the money that Sarkozy received Gaddafi? It is a question of sovereignty. No, we will not allow Amnesty International to come here. Under any pretext and for any reason. I’m not talking about the report, but you as big media would have to conduct its own investigation. What is the basis of this report? If all of this is an allegation, it cannot be taken seriously.
That is, you answer “no” to the proposal on the visit of international observers?
No, definitely not. We are not interested in this infantile report on the empty place. Alone allegations. They say they interviewed some witnesses, all of which the opposition and deserters. Objective this report will not be called.
— But you acknowledge that Syria conduct a formal, legal execution?
That’s how it is with the Declaration of independence. The death penalty is part of Syria’s laws in the case of murder. It has nothing to do with this crisis, neither the report nor this prison. There is a legal method called “trial”.
FN: Mr Assad, let’s talk about relations between France and Syria. Few weeks France will elect a new President. Among the issues we discuss now, is the restoration of dialogue with your government. Do you count on the restoration of diplomatic relations with France?
— The most important thing here — not our diplomatic relations. It is mainly and mostly about the political line of France. The absence of diplomatic relations does not yet pose any particular problem. Although, of course, in the long run it would be better to have good relations with any country, including diplomatic.
— So let’s discuss the political line of France!
Fine. French policy from day one was to support terrorists in Syria and is directly responsible for the bloodshed in our country.
This is a very serious accusation against France! How can you say that France supports terrorism?
— They say it themselves. I don’t blame them. They repeatedly said that I supported the war. François Hollande recently said that the refusal of the outbreak of war in 2013 was a mistake. They said that sending arms to so-called “moderate” groups that in fact are a terrorist. Talking about it is not I, but themselves. The Americans claimed the same as the French. If you look at the statements of your leadership over the past two, three, four years, you will find many statements made by French officials. They accuse themselves.
MS: Francois Hollande will soon leave the government. You stayed at his place. You won in the confrontation with Hollande?
— We are not talking about him or me. It’s nothing personal. I never even met him. Honestly, I did not interesuet with its 11% rating. I think this is the lowest indicator was not yet in none of his predecessors in the history of France. In fact, the conflict is between me and the terrorists, me, and those who support them. So far, the terrorists could not win the war. But they are destroying Syria. They killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians. And so I can’t say that won the war. They, of course, failed to carry out his project, but we have not been able to finish our war. I mean, I can’t say that I’ve won in this war.
— You follow the progress of the French electoral campaign?
— We follow him in General. In fact, we don’t expect anyone else to be in the elections in Western countries for the simple reason that we don’t believe Western leaders at their word when they are conducting a campaign. Their words are aimed at winning votes rather than the interests of their country. It is a fact, and I’m telling you this committed openly.
FN: Mr. President, do you still see differences between left and right in France on the question of relations with Syria?
Yes, the differences here may be noted, but in the end all that matters is politics elected President. Does it correspond to what he said before the election, or not? That is the question. That is, we are here anybody did not expect. Of course, we would prefer someone who does not seek to foment war. These are our preferences. But we have no confidence.
But who would you prefer among those who are against the war?
— Large differences at the moment I do not see. But again, I wouldn’t have to rely on the rhetoric of one or the other. From this point of view there is no difference.
MS: do you HAVE contacts with any of the candidates? Or not?
— No, we have not established contact with any of them.
FN: what about our intelligence?
In some cases, we had indirect contacts.
— With the French intelligence services?
— Have you personally had contact with the French intelligence services?
— During the visit of the parliamentary delegation in Syria, one of its members was the representative of intelligence. That is, the contacts are there. Of course, the French government said that it was only on the parliamentary delegation that they were not affected, and that it did not approve the initiative. But it is not: there are several communication channels.
In one of the countries in the United States, have changed the President. One of the first decisions of Donald trump has become a controversial ban on entry into U.S. for people from several Muslim countries, including Syria. You don’t feel any humiliation as a citizen of Syria and its President?
— No. This measure is not directed against the Syrian people, but against terrorists who could get along with arrived on the West by immigrants. Moreover, it has already happened in Europe, particularly in Germany and could happen in the US. I think that the goal of Donald trump — not to allow these people to enter the country, and he began to exercise it in their own way.
That is, he did the right thing?
— No, I’m talking about what we can agree or disagree as a person, but as President I don’t bother. I’m excited about the opportunity to return Syrians to Syria, and not to send them to US. I was not pleased with their emigration to other countries. I was pleased with their return to Syria, because they want to go. The fact that the majority of Syrians have left because of terrorism and Western embargo.
© AP Photo, Jeffrey PhelpsПортрет of the candidate in presidents of the United States Donald trump in Milwaukee
Thus, if I wanted to respond to this decision, I would ask Donald trump and the Western countries to lift the embargo and stop supporting terrorists. They wouldn’t have been a problem with it. No immigrants, or terrorists who are hiding among the immigrants. In addition, what is also very important, the hype around the decision of Donald trump was not due to a concern about the Syrians and the people of other countries. The fact is that our struggle, our problems and our conflict want to use as a tool against Donald trump. A few months ago, Barack Obama has made several decisions on the same issue, but the major us media did not talk about them. They started talking only after Donald trump made his statement in a rather sharp way.
So are you more comfortable with Donald trump than with Barack Obama?
— No, I cannot be comfortable until I saw his policy towards Syria. And yet I have not seen her. Again, you need to be careful with all the Western leaders, because they can say one in the morning and do the exact opposite in the evening. They do not take any obligations. They are very pragmatic and go up to trade their values. I would say rather, that their General policy is not based on values.
MS: anyway, one moment that clearly hasn’t changed: the withdrawal of the US from the region. This is an obvious point. Now Astana begins the second phase of negotiations on the future of Syria, and, surprisingly, the Western countries were completely out of the game: they are not there. Is it good for the future of the negotiations and the prospects for peace in the region?
— No. The wider the support of the political process, the better. However, participating in this process Western countries, primarily France and Britain missed the chance to achieve something in Geneva, and twice. They’ve achieved nothing because I supported the government against the terrorist group. They did not seek for peace in Syria, and wanted to use the process for their own purposes.
— But does the fact that the future of the Middle East is in the hands of Iran and Russia, behind which there are no major democratic achievements, good point?
— I repeat: the more countries involved the better. So we believe not only we, but also the Russians. In addition, they invited many countries to participate, to help them in the fight against terrorism and to support the political process. The West has isolated itself. This is no fault of either Iran or Russia. Western countries too passively responded to these initiatives. For example, what is their position on Astana? Russia told them not to come? No! They decided not to participate.
In other words, Iran and the Russian peacekeepers, and the West is a warmonger?
— So. 100%.
FN: let’s talk about Russia. Would you say that all the decisions in the region takes the first place Vladimir Putin? And even in your country, Syria?
— No, it is not. In Syria we take decisions themselves. As for other countries, for them to say I can’t. Russia respects our sovereignty and at every stage, both strategic and tactical, she collaborated with Syria. She did nothing without consultation with us. Its policy is based on values and interests, in particular as regards the fight against terrorism. So no, we accept.
— Would you say that without Russia, your government would have long collapsed?
— This is a purely hypothetical question. No one can predict the results of the war, because it is default variable. Of course, without Russian support, the situation would have been worse. But to what extent? It is nobody knows. I can’t say, succumbed to the government or collapsed. In any case, Russian support had been crucial in weakening the Islamic state and “Jabhat an-Nusra”. The fact that these organizations began to negotiate when the U.S. coalition started their strikes, their cosmetic surgery. And they moved forward, until Russia intervened and they were forced to retreat. That is the reality. These are the facts.
MS: are You surprised that just a few years ago most observers and analysts said that you do not get long to stay in power? Now, especially after the capture of Aleppo, many argue that you will be able to resist. At this very moment at the talks in Astana to discuss the preservation of your position in power. In our country, if a politician shows poor results, it is usually not possible to remain long in its place. 17 years in power, six years of war, over 300 thousand victims, ruined and disunited country… You would say that these results, from the standpoint of law and morality, allow you to remain in power regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations?
You remember the terrorists who staged the attacks in France last year? You do not forget that the police shot some of them? Would you call the cops murderers or saviors? They also killed! The same goes for doctor who amputates the affected gangrene of the leg. Do you think he acted in an inappropriate or saved the patient’s life? You need to understand the reasons for the action. In our case, we are fighting terrorism to protect the people. And it’s not my personal point of view. It is the duty that lays upon us the Constitution and the law. If I didn’t, then he would be a murderer, because that would allow terrorists to kill more Syrians. Debt your army to defend the French. But your military could say: “We will not interfere, because we will be called murderers!”
— Would you say that you’ve done everything you can, and what is your country?
This is all I have, Yes! Of course. All that I need? This is a matter for the Syrian people, because there can be different points of view. But in regard to the question of good or bad results, and with the moral anguish of view, must decide the Syrians, not European leaders. They all said that Assad must go. Now do not say. I don’t care about none of these two opinions. I didn’t pay attention to them from the beginning. I care about the fight against terrorism, with plans to destroy our country. I knew this was my most important task. And what they say does not interest me. The results are related to the Syrians, and in any case not Europeans.
FN: But when the Syrian people will be able to say I approve of your policy? Now in France there are elections. When will the next elections in Syria?
— There are two means to achieve this. The tools that we have now and will be at the end of the war. Now we can consider any decision, vote, election, anything is possible. But until then, the people have only one way to Express yourself. To support you or not support. Why do people support the President after six years of war, if he proved himself bad? This is a very simple question: why do people support it? Why don’t they support terrorists? Going back to your question when you’re talking about 300 or 400 thousand dead and argue that it is the President killed them, if you give the terrorists a certificate of integrity, as if we kill people, and terrorists to protect them. That’s the issue. But it’s not. The truth is that we are fighting for the Syrian people. That is why Syrian people support the government, the army and the President.
* “Islamic state”, “Jabhat EN-Nusra”, “al-Qaeda” is a terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.