‘Opposition must be Syrian opposition,’ says Assad

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Syrian President Assad shares a meal with the troops of the Syrian army
Syrian President Assad shares a meal with the troops of the Syrian army

SYRIAN President Bashar al-Assad has given an extensive interview with Australian TV channel SBS.

In the interview, he covered such topics as Brexit, the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers allied against Syria, and the rebuilding of his country once the war has ended and won for the Syrian people.

Highlights of the interview are presented below.

Journalist: ‘Mr. President, thank you for speaking with SBS Australia.’

President Assad: ‘You’re most welcome in Syria.’

Journalist: ‘It’s now more than five years since the Syrian crisis began. It’s estimated somewhere around a quarter of a million people have been killed, many of them civilians. There’s an undeniable humanitarian disaster. How far into the crisis do you think you are, and is there an end in sight?’

President Assad: ‘Of course, there is an end in sight, and the solution is very clear. It’s simple yet impossible.

‘It’s simple because the solution is very clear, how to make a dialogue between the Syrians about the political process, but at the same time keep fighting terrorism and the terrorists in Syria. Without fighting the terrorists, you cannot have any real solution.

‘It’s impossible because the countries that support those terrorists, whether Western or regional like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, don’t want to stop sending all kinds of support to those terrorists.

‘So, if we start with stopping this logistical support, and as Syrians proceed to dialogue, talk about the constitution, about the future of Syria, about the future of the political system, the solution is very near, not far from reach.’

Journalist: ‘Much of the reporting in the West at the moment suggests that the demise of the Islamic State is imminent. Do you believe that’s true, and how far away from seizing Raqqa, this very important city of Raqqa, do you believe you are?

President Assad: ‘It’s not a race. Raqqa is as important as Aleppo, as Damascus, as any other city.

‘The danger from those terrorist groups is not about what land they occupy, because it’s not a traditional war. It’s about how much of their ideology can they instill in the minds of the people in the area that they sit in or live in. Indoctrination, this is the most dangerous thing.

‘So, reaching Raqqa is not that difficult militarily, let’s say. It’s a matter of time. We are going in that direction.

‘But the question is, when you talk about war is about what the other side, the enemy can do, and that’s directly related to the effort of Turkey, especially Erdogan, in supporting those groups, because that’s what’s happening since the beginning.’

Journalist: ‘To be clear, do you categorise all opposition groups as terrorists?’

President Assad: ‘Definitely not, no. When you talk about an opposition group that adopts political means, they’re not terrorists.

‘Whenever you hold machine-guns or any other armaments and you terrorise people and you attack civilians and you attack public and private properties, you are a terrorist.

‘But if you talk about the opposition, it must be the Syrian opposition. It cannot be a surrogate opposition that works as a proxy of other countries like Saudi Arabia or any other country. It must be a Syrian opposition that’s related to its Syrian grassroots, like in your country.’

Journalist: ‘You do say that some of these people legitimately needed reform. Was that as a result of any heavy-handedness from your government at all?’

President Assad: ‘No, we had reform in Syria. It started mainly after 2000, in the year 2000. Some people think it was slow, some people think it was too fast, this is subjective, not objective, but we were moving in that regard.

‘But the proof that it wasn’t about the reform, is that we made all the requested reforms after the crisis started five years ago, and nothing has changed. So, it wasn’t about reform. We changed the constitution, we changed the laws that the opposition asked for, we changed many things, but nothing happened.

‘So, it wasn’t about the reform; it was about money coming from Qatar, and most of the people that genuinely asked for reform at the beginning of the crisis, are not demonstrating now, they are not going against the government, they cooperate with the government.’

Journalist: ‘One thing that intrigues a lot of people about the Syrian crisis is why your close allies Iran and Russia stay so loyal?’

President Assad: ‘Because it wasn’t about the President, it’s not about the person. It’s about the whole situation.

‘The chaos in Syria is going to provoke a domino effect in our region, that’s going to affect the neighbouring countries, it’s going to affect Iran, it’s going to affect Russia, it’s going to affect Europe, actually. So, when they defend Syria, they defend our stability and they defend their stability.

‘And at the same time, it’s about the principle. They defend the Syrian people and their right to protect themselves.’

Journalist: ‘Do you have a preference who wins the upcoming US election?’

President Assad: ‘Actually no, we never bet on any American president, because usually what they say in the campaign is different from their practice after they become president, and Obama is an example. We have to wait and see what policy they’re going to adopt, whoever wins the elections.’

Journalist: ‘Mr. President, you’ve spent a lot of time yourself, as you’ve just said, in the United Kingdom. Can you see there being any repercussions, from Britain’s decision to exit the European Union, for Syria and for the Syrian crisis?’

President Assad: ‘This is an indication for us, as those officials who used to give me advice about how to deal with the crisis in Syria, and say “Assad must go” and “he’s disconnected” are proven to be completely disconnected from reality, otherwise they wouldn’t have asked for this referendum, but I think this is a revolt of the people there against, I would call them sometimes second-tier politicians.

‘They needed special, let’s say, statecraft officials, to deal with their country. If another administration came and understands that the issue of refugees and security is related to the problems in our region, this is where you’re going to have a different policy that will affect us positively.

‘But I don’t have a lot of hope about this now. Let’s say we have a slim hope, because we don’t know who’s going to come after Cameron in the UK.’

Journalist: ‘Mr. President, as a father and as a man, has there been one anecdote, one story, one image from the crisis, which has affected you personally more than others?’

President Assad: ‘Definitely, we are humans, and I am Syrian like the other Syrians. I am very sympathetic to any Syrian tragedy affecting any person or family, and in this region, we are very emotional people, generally.

‘As an official, the first question you ask when you have that feeling is what are you going to do, what are you going to do to protect other Syrians from the same suffering? That’s the most important thing.

‘So, I mean, this feeling, this sad feeling, this painful feeling, is an incentive for me to do more. It’s not only a feeling.’