PRESIDENTIAL elections should be ‘about what the consensus is among the Syrians’ President Bashar al-Assad said in an extensive interview to Italian TV channel ‘RAI 1’.
First off he was asked: ‘How did you react to the news coming from Paris?’
President Assad: ‘We can start by saying it’s a horrible crime, and at the same time it’s a sad event when you hear about innocents being killed without any reason and for nothing, and we understand in Syria the meaning of losing a dear member of the family or a dear friend, or anyone you know, in such a horrible crime. We’ve been suffering from that for the past five years.
‘We feel for the French as we feel for the Lebanese a few days before that, and for the Russians regarding the airplane that’s been shot down over Sinai, and for the Yemenis maybe, but does the world, especially the West, feel for those people, or only for the French? Do they feel for the Syrians that have been suffering for five years from the same kind of terrorism? We cannot politicise feeling, feeling is not about the nationality, it’s about the human in general.’
On the claim that ‘some of the terrorists were trained here, in Syria’ President Assad said: ‘That’s by the support of the Turks and the Saudi and Qatari and of course the Western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways since the beginning of the crisis, of course, but that’s not the issue. ‘First of all, if you don’t have the incubator, you shouldn’t worry, but second, they can be strong as long as they have strong support from different states, whether Middle Eastern states or Western states.’
He stressed that ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he was in the American prisons, and he was put in New York in their prisons, and he was released by them. So, it wasn’t in Syria, it didn’t start in Syria, it started in Iraq, and it started before that in Afghanistan according to what they said, and Tony Blair recently said that yes, the Iraqi war helped create ISIS. So, their confession is the most important evidence regarding your question.’
Referring to the Vienna summit, the interviewer said: ‘Most countries are talking about the transition in Syria. There are different positions, but basically most of the countries agree with the idea of elections in 18 months. But they also say that in the meantime, basically, you should leave. What’s your position about that?’
President Assad: ‘No, in the statement there is nothing regarding the president. The main part of Vienna is that everything that is going to happen regarding the political process is about what the Syrians are going to agree upon, so the most output of that phrase is about the constitution, and the president, any president, should come to his position and leave that position according to constitutional procedures, not to the opinion of any Western power or country.
‘So, as long as you are talking about the consensus of the Syrians, forget about the rest of Vienna. Regarding the schedule, that depends on the agreement that we can reach as Syrians. If we don’t reach it in 18 months, so what? You have many things that I think are trivial now, or let’s say, not essential. The most important part is that we’re going to sit with each other then we’re going to put our schedule and our plan as Syrians.’
He was asked: ‘Do you imagine an electoral process without you?’
President Assad: ‘At the parliament, of course, there’s going to be parliamentarian elections because the parliamentarian elections is going to show which power of the political powers in Syria has real weight among the Syrian people, which one has real grassroots.
‘Now, anyone can say “I’m opposition.” What does it mean, how do you translate it? Through the elections, and the seat that they can get in the parliament will tell how much they can have in the coming government, for example. Of course, that will be after having a new constitution. I’m just putting a proposal, for example, now, I’m not giving you the thing that we have agreed upon yet.
‘And about the presidential (elections)?,’ interjected the interviewer.
President Assad: ‘The presidential … if the Syrians, in their dialogue, they wanted to have presidential elections, there’s nothing called a red line, for example, regarding this. But it’s not my decision. It should be about what the consensus is among the Syrians.’
‘But, there could be someone else that you trust, participating in the process of elections instead of you,’ suggested the interviewer.
President Assad: ‘Someone I trust? What do you mean by someone I trust?’
‘I mean someone else in which you trust that can make this job.’
President Assad: (laughs) ‘Yeah, but it looks like talking about my private property, so I can go and bring someone to put in my place. It’s not a private property; it’s a national issue. A national issue, only the Syrians can choose someone they trust. Doesn’t matter if I trust someone or not. Whoever the Syrians trust will be in that position.’
He was asked what is ‘the realistic timetable to get out of this crisis?’
President Assad: ‘The timetable, if you want to talk about schedule, this timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism. Before that, there will be no point in deciding any timetable, because you cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria, and they’re going to be – they are already they main obstacle of any real political advancement.
‘If we talk after that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition. It’s enough. I mean if you want to talk about first of all having a new constitution, then referendum, then parliamentarian elections, then any kind of other procedure, whether presidential or any other thing, doesn’t matter. It won’t take more than two years.’
The interviewer then asked: ‘There’s something else about the opposition; in these years, you said that you couldn’t consider as an opposition those who are fighting. Did you change your mind?’
President Assad: ‘We can apply that to your country; you don’t accept any opposition that are holding machineguns in your country. That’s the case in every other country. Whoever holds a machinegun and terrorises people and destroys private or public properties or kills innocents and whoever is a terrorist, he’s not opposition. Opposition is a political term. Opposition could be defined not through your own opinion; it could be defined only through the elections, through the ballot box.’
Interviewer: ‘So what do you consider opposition at the moment? Political opposition?’
President Assad: ‘I mean, ask the Syrians who they consider opposition. If they elect them, they are the real opposition. So that’s why I said we can define, we can give definition to this after the elections.
‘But if you want to talk about my own opinion, you can be opposition when you have Syrian grassroots, when you belong only to your country. You cannot be opposition while you are formed as person or as entity in the foreign ministry of another country or in the intelligence building of other countries. You cannot be a puppet, you cannot be a surrogate mercenary; you can only be a real Syrian.’
Interviewer: ‘Now in Europe, in Italy, we see so many Syrians coming, Syrian refugees, they are refugees. What would you like to tell these fleeing people, to your escaping people?’
President Assad: ‘Of course I would say everyone who leaves this country is a loss to Syria. That’s for sure, and we feel sad, we feel the suffering, because every refugee in Syria has a long story of suffering within Syria, and that’s what we should deal with by asking the question “why did they leave?” For many reasons.
‘The first one, the direct threat by terrorists. The second one is the influence of terrorists in destroying much of the infrastructure and affecting the livelihood of those people. But the third one, which is as important as the influence of terrorists, is the Western embargo on Syria. Many of those, if you ask him, “Do you want to go back to Syria?” he wants to go back right away, but how can he go back to Syria while the basics of his life, his livelihood, has been affected dramatically, so he cannot stay in Syria. The embargo influence of the West and the terrorist influence have put those people between the devil and the deep blue sea.’