Posted by Rafiq A. Tschannen
(Click on the link for English original Interview from the German TV)
Jürgen Todenhöfer: Mr. President, members of the opposition and western politicians say, that you are the main obstacle for peace in Syria. Would you be ready to step down as president if this could bring peace to your country and stop the bloodshed?
Baschar al Assad: The president shouldn’t run away from challenge and we have a national challenge now in Syria. The president shouldn’t escape the situation, but from the other side you can stay as president, stay in this position only when you have the public support. So, answering this question should be answered by the Syrian people, by the election not by the president. I can nominate myself, I can run for the election or not run, but to leave or not to leave, this is about the Syrian people.
Todenhöfer: You think, you still have a majority behind you in your country?
Assad: If I have – if I don’t have a support in the public, how could I stay in this position? United States is against me, the West is against me, many regional powers and countries and the people against me, so, how could I stay in this position? The answer is, I still have a public support. How much, what the percentage is – this is not the question, I don’t have numbers now. Of course, in this position, in this situation you must have public support.
Todenhöfer: I’ve been to some of the demonstrations, even in Homs, in peaceful demonstrations. Isn’t it legitimate that people demand for more freedom, more democracy and less power in the hands of one family, less power in the hands of secret services?
Assad: Let’s correct the question first to have the correct answer. We don’t have power in the hand of a family. In Syria we have the state, we have institutions, maybe not the ideal institutions, but we don’t have a family to run the country. We have a state. This is first fault.
Now we can answer the first part. Of course they have the right, they have the legitimate right whether they are demonstrators or not. Not only demonstrators ask for freedom. Actually the majority of the people ask for reforms, political reforms, not freedom. We have freedom but not the ideal freedom. But the reform, let’s say, to have more participation in the power, in the government, in everything else in their country. This is legitimate. But the majority is not in the demonstrations. We have people who have demonstrated and who have not, but this is legitimate.
Todenhöfer: A question that everybody is asking in the western countries and in your country: Who has killed the thousands of civilians who died in this conflict? The opposition blames you.
Assad: If you want to know who killed, you first have to know who has been killed. You cannot tell about the criminals without knowing about the victims. Those victims, you are talking about, the majority of them, are government supporters. So, how can you be the criminal and the victim at the same time? The majority are people who support the government and large part of the others are innocent people who have been killed by different groups in Syria.
Todenhöfer: Would you admit that some of these or a certain percentage of these innocents …….. a certain percentage?
Assad: No, we don’t have. We have an investigation committee about all the crime that happened in Syria. From the list that we have, from the names that we have, the highest percentage, are people who are killed by gangs, different kinds of gangs. With the Al Kaida, with the extremists or outlaws, people who escaped the police for years.
Todenhöfer: So, you say that rebels, whom you called terrorists, have killed more civilians than the security forces?
Assad: Not really. They killed more security and soldiers maybe than civilians – I talk about the supporters.
Todenhöfer: But if we only talk about the civilians, did the rebels kill more civilians than the security forces? Or did the security forces kill more civilians?
Assad: That’s what I mean. If you talk about the supporters of the government – the victims from the security and the army – are more than the civilians.
Todenhöfer: You said there are investigations against those members of the security forces who might have killed innocent civilians. Have some of them been punished?
Assad: Of course. They were detained in prisons. They are subjected to trial now, like any other crime.
Todenhöfer: Who has committed the massacre of Hula, in which more than a hundred people were brutally murdered, among them many children?
Assad: Yes. Gangs came in hundreds from outside the city, not from inside the city and they attacked the city and they attacked the law enforcement unit inside the city. And then they killed many families and as you mentioned, children and women and actually those families that’s been killed – they are government supporters, not opposition.
Todenhöfer: I was told by somebody who lives in Hula and who lost members of his family, he told me that the killers wore army uniforms. Why did they wear army uniforms?
Assad: Just to accuse our government. That happened many times. They committed a crime, they published videos, faked videos and they wear solder uniforms, our army uniforms in order to say “that was the army”.
Todenhöfer: You say, this is the strategy of the rebels?
Assad: From the very beginning. They do it all the time. Not only in Hula, in many places.
Todenhöfer: Who are these rebels whom you call terrorists?
Assad: They are a mixture, an amalgam of Al Kaida. Other extremists, not necessarily Al Kaida and outlaws who escaped the police for years, mainly smuggling drugs from Europe to the Gulf area and others who were sentenced in different sentences. So it’s a mixture of different things.
Todenhöfer: How many rebels are fighting against your government?
Assad: You don’t have numbers, but you can talk about thousands.
Todenhöfer: Twenty? Thirty?
Assad: You cannot tell. I wouldn’t give you any number if it’s not precise.
Todenhöfer: Would you say that all these rebels are terrorists?
Assad: It depends on the act. If the attack people and burn and destroy – of course this is terrorism by the law. But you have people who were implicated without being criminals. For different reasons – financial reasons. They were paid the money, sometimes on the threat and sometimes for certain illusions and delusions. So, not all of them are terrorists. That’s why we absolved many of them when they give up their arms.
Todenhöfer: Did you capture some of the Al Kaida fighters you were talking about?
Assad: Yes, we caught many, tens of them.
Todenhöfer: From which countries?
Assad: From maybe Tunesien and Libyen, so I think.
Todenhöfer: Could I meet one of them?
Assad: Yes, you can.
Todenhöfer: With a translator? Alone?
Assad: Of Course.
Todenhöfer: What is the role of the United States in this conflict?
Assad: It’s part of the conflict. They offer the umbrella and political support to those gangs to create destability or to destabilize Syria.
Todenhöfer: You say, the United States is politically supporting the rebels? Is that correct?
Todenhöfer: And you say, these rebels, whom you call terrorists, kill civilians. This means, you’re accusing the American Government of being at least partly responsible for the killing of innocent Syrian civilians. Is that correct?
Assad: Of course. Exactly. As long as you offer any kind of support to terrorists, you are partner. Wether you send them armament or money or public support, political support in the United Nations, anywhere. Any kind of support, this is implication.
Todenhöfer: You know, that western politicians see the situation differently and they are discussing a military intervention in Syria. How would you react? Would you retaliate against western countries?
Assad: It’s not about retaliation, it’s about defending our country. Our priority is to defend our country not to retaliate to anyone. This is our duty and this is our aim.
Todenhöfer: And you’re prepared for such an attack?
Assad: Whether you’re prepared or not, you’ve got to defend your country, but you have to be prepared.
Todenhöfer: If for you the United States, is part of the problem, why don’t you negotiate with them? Why don’t you invite Mrs. Hillary Clinton to Damascus? Why don’t you make the first step?
Assad: We never close our doors in front of any country in this world and any official as long as they want to help in solving the problem in Syria – providing that they are serious and honest. But they closed their door. So, we don’t have any problem. We always announced publicly that we are ready for any kind of help or dialog.
Todenhöfer: You would be ready for a dialog with Mrs. Hillary Clinton? You would be ready to walk with her through these streets of Damascus to show her the hospitals, to show her the situation in the city?
Assad: As I said, we don’t close the door in front of anyone, including Americans or any other one, it’s not particularly Mrs. Clinton or any other American official. Of course we don’t have a problem. We did it many times with others – to walk in the streets – as you mentioned. And we do it again. We don’t have problems, of course.
Todenhöfer: Let’s come to the internal situation. Are negotiations with different opposition groups a realistic option or do you think you have to fight this conflict out ‘til the bitter end?
Assad: Dialogue is a strategic option. Whatever you do, whatever other option you have – you need a dialogue. At least to make sure that you can do something peacefully. But as long as you have terrorism and as long as the dialogue didn’t work, you have to fight the terrorism. You cannot keep just making dialogue while they are killing your people and your army.
Todenhöfer: But you could have a dialogue with those who are not terrorists.
Assad: We had dialogue last summer and we kept inviting them. Some of them accepted the invitation and they made dialogue and the participated in the election in the parliament and they had some seats in the parliament and they have a portfolio in the recent government, last week.
Todenhöfer: But they got only two percent in the last elections.
Assad: Yes, that’s not our fault, we don’t have to offer them the percentage. So, we don’t create the government.
Todenhöfer: Would you be ready to talk also to the opposition in exile?
Assad: Yes, and we announced that. We said we’re ready to talk to anyone.
Todenhöfer: Would you be ready to discuss and negotiate also with rebels if they lay their weapons down?
Assad: Definitely. And we did. And we absolved them and some of them live normal life now. They don’t have any problem.
Todenhöfer: You would be ready to talk to everybody – if he lays his weapons down?
Assad: Of course. And we were talking with them before they lay down their weapons in order to get that result.
Todenhöfer: What about the Kofi-Annan-Plan – has it failed?
Assad: No, it shouldn’t fail and Kofi Annan is doing – so far, difficult – but a good job. We know, he had many obstacles but it shouldn’t fail. It is a very good plan.
Todenhöfer: What is its main obstacle?
Assad: The main obstacle – that many countries don’t want to succeed. So they offer political support and they still send armaments and send money to terrorists in Syria. They want it to fail in this way.
Todenhöfer: Who sends the weapons to your country? Who is the country who is supporting the rebels most?
Assad: If I don’t have evidence, concrete evidences, I tell you what the indication are. Those countries announce publicly that they support those terrorists, mainly the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, and his counterpart in Qatar. They announce publicly that they support them. This is regarding the armaments. Turkey, I think offers logistic support for smuggling.
Todenhöfer: And the United States?
Assad: We know so far that they offer political support.
Todenhöfer: Means of communication, also?
Assad: We have found information about this but I didn’t mention it because we don’t have concrete evidence to show it to you.
Todenhöfer: What about Kofi Annan’s plan for a united government for a government formed by the different groups, opposition groups, also with Bath-Party-members?
Assad: You are talking about the Geneva Conference now.
Todenhöfer: Yes, his plan for a unity government.
Assad: We talked about it in Syria. We have a unity government where you have the opposition that participates in this government. But you should have criteria – how did you define opposition?
We may have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions – could they participate? This kind of government, the democracy, needs criteria and needs mechanism. For me, the mechanism is the elections. If you represent the people, you go to the election, you run the election and you win seats, you can come to the government. While if You’re only opposition – you don’t have any seat in the parliament – whom do you represent? Yourself?
Todenhöfer: When are the next elections?
Assad: Which elections?
Todenhöfer: About the elections. The next elections of the presidential issue.
Assad: I talk about the parliamentarian. It was only two months ago.
Todenhöfer: But, for example the opposition in exile didn’t participate in this election. Would you accept members of the opposition in exile to participate in an interim government? Let’s call it an interim government.
Assad: If they can comply with our rules, with our laws, they’re not participated in criminal acts or asking the NATO or any other country to attack Syria which is against our law. They have the right to participate. We don’t have a problem. Many of the opposition in Syria, inside Syria participated. Why to ban the opposition outside from this participation? We don’t have any reason as a government.
Todenhöfer: A man like Ghalioun or is the president now of the national council – you would be ready to accept them?
Assad: It’s not about the names or the position, it’s about the principles. We have to go back to the file: does he have to anything legally to ban him from being part of these elections or not. So this implants to everyone, it’s not about means.
Todenhöfer: Mr President, when do you think about what happened to the leaders of Egypt and Libya? When you remember the pictures we all have seen on TV – Aren’t you scared for your family, your wife, your little children?
Assad: I find you describe two different situations you are talking about. Describing what happened to Al Gaddafi, this is savage, this is crime. Whatever he did, whatever he was, nobody in the world can accept what happened to kill somebody like this. What happened to Mubarak is different. It’s a trial. Any citizen, when he watches a trial on TV – he would think that he won’t to be in that position. The answer is: Don’t do like him. Don’t do like him. But to be scared, you have to compare. Do we have something in common? It’s a completely different situation. What’s happening in Egypt is different from what is happening in Syria. The historical context is different, the social fabric is different and our policy was always different. So, what is in common? You cannot compare. You cannot feel scared – maybe feel sorry or a pity whatever.
Todenhöfer: But the nevertheless you have a hard Opposition, you have hard fighting rebels and you know what these rebels want to do. So, my question, I repeat it, aren’t you scared for your family?
Assad: The most important thing that when you do things that should comply with your convictions. This is why you can’t feel scared for your life. Of course the people can disagree with you but at least they trust you are doing something for the interest of your country. When you defend your country – why to be scared, when you do something to protect the people. Why to be scared? You may say that you have thousands of victims but if you have hundreds of thousands of victims- that’s what is supposed to be in Syria.
Todenhöfer: But in the end – what is your solution for this conflict in this country? And I ask again my question: Do you feel or do you think you have to fight this conflict out – ‘til the bitter end? I repeat it.
Assad: We have two axes of a solution: The first one – you have to fight terrorism. There is no question about fighting terrorists. Nowhere in the world. But what you do is somebody kills civilians, kills innocent people, kills children and kills your soldiers and the police and anyone. You have to fight with him if he is not ready for a dialogue. And that’s what we’ve been seeing so far.
The other axe is to make a dialogue with different political components and at the same time to have reform, to participate everyone. And the people will decide who should be our representative or, I mean, the people’s representative through the ballot box.
Todenhöfer: Couldn’t reforms come a little bit faster?
Assad: It’s a subjective thing. You think it’s faster, I think it is slower – but at the end the principle is you do as fast as you can without paying a heavy price or without having a lot of side effects. So, as fast as possible, that is not related to me or to the government or to the state. That is related to the objective circumstances in Syria.
Todenhöfer: Mr. President, our time is running out. Where would you like to see your country in two years – what is your vision for Syria?
Assad: I like to see it in every year in prosperity. Prosperity means a better economy, better in every aspect, culturally and whatever – but that needs security. Without security you cannot dream about prosperity. That’s how I feel.
Todenhöfer: Mr. President, thank you very much for the interview. Good luck for your country and especially peace, freedom and democracy.
Assad: Thank you for coming.