PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Cuba’s official state news agency Prensa Latina last week.
The News Line presents selected extracts from the interview below. Interviewer: Mr President, how would you evaluate the current military situation of the external aggression against Syria, and what are the main challenges of Syrian forces on the ground to fight anti-government groups?
President Assad: Of course, there was a lot of support to the terrorists from around the world. We have more than one hundred nationalities participating in the aggression against Syria with the support of certain countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar with their money and Turkey with the logistical support, and of course with the endorsement and supervision of the Western countries, mainly the United States, France, and the UK, and some other allies.
But since the Russians decided to intervene in supporting legally the Syrian Army in fighting the terrorists in Syria, mainly al-Nusra and ISIS and some other affiliated groups, the scales have been tipped against those terrorists, and the Syrian Army has made many advances in different areas in Syria. And we are still moving forward, and the Syrian Army is determined to destroy and to defeat those terrorists.
Q: Mr. President, how does the resistance of the Syrian people take place in the economic front to foreign aggression, I mean the economy? A: Actually, the war on Syria is a full-blown war; it is not only supporting terrorists. They support the terrorists, and at the same time they launched a political war against Syria on the international level, and the third front was the economic front, in which they dictate to their terrorists, to their surrogate mercenaries, to start destroying the infrastructure in Syria that helped the economy and the daily needs of the Syrian citizens.
At the same time, they started an embargo directly on the borders of Syria through the terrorists and abroad through the banking systems around the world. In spite of that, the Syrian people were determined to live as much normal life as they can. That prompted many Syrian businessmen or the owners of, let’s say, the industry, which is mainly medium and small industry, to move from the conflict areas and unstable areas toward more stable areas, on a smaller scale of business, in order to survive and to keep the economy running and to keep the needs of the Syrian people available.
So, in that regard, most of the sectors are still working. For example, the pharmaceutical sector is still working in more than 60% of its capacity, which is very important, helpful, and very supportive to our economy in such circumstances. And I think now we are doing our best in order to re-expand the base of the economy in spite of the situation, especially after the Syrian Army made many advancements in different areas.
Q: Mr. President, how do you see at the present time the coexistence among Syrian ethnic and religious groups against this foreign intervention? How do they contribute or not in this regard?
A: The most important thing about this harmony between the different spectrums of the Syrian fabric, is that it is genuine, because that has been built up through history, through centuries, so for such a conflict, it cannot destroy that social fabric. That is why if you go around and visit different areas under the control of the government, you will see all the colours of the Syrian society living with each other.
I would add to this, that during the conflict, this harmony has become much better and stronger, and this is not rhetoric; actually, this is reality, for different reasons, because this conflict is a lesson. This diversity that you have, it is either to be a richness to your country, or a problem. There’s no something in the middle. So, the people learned that we need to work more on this harmony, because the first rhetoric used by the terrorists and by their allies in the region and in the West regarding the Syrian conflict at the very beginning was sectarian rhetoric.
They wanted people to divide in order to have conflict with each other, to stoke the fire within Syria, and it didn’t work. And the Syrians learned that lesson, that we had harmony; we had had harmony before the conflict, in the normal times, but we have to work more in order to make it much stronger.
So, I can say without any exaggeration that the situation regarding this part is good. In spite of that, I would say the areas under the control of the terrorists – and as you know those terrorists are mainly extremist groups affiliated to Al Qaeda – in which they worked very hard in order to indoctrinate the young generation with their dark ideology, and they succeeded in some areas, this dark ideology with the killing and beheading and all these horrible practices.
With time, it is going to be more difficult to deal with this new generation of young people who have been indoctrinated with Al Qaeda and Wahabi doctrine and ideology. So this is the only danger that we are going to face regarding our society, harmony, and coexistence that you just mentioned.
Q: What is in your opinion the role of the US-led international coalition in relation to the groups that operate in northern Syria, in particular regarding the Kurds group. I mean the bombing of the American airplanes and the coalition in the northern part of the country. What to do you think about that?
A: You know, traditionally, the American administrations, when they had relations with any group or community in any country, it is not for the sake of the country, it is not for the interest of the people; it is for the agenda of the United States. So, that is what we have to ask ourselves: why would the Americans support any group in Syria? Not for Syria. They must have their agenda, and the American agenda has always been divisive in any country.
They don’t work to unite the people; they work to make division between the different kinds of people. Sometimes they choose a sectarian group, sometimes they choose an ethnic group in order to support them against other ethnicities or to push them in a way that takes them far from the rest of the society.
This is their agenda. So, it is very clear that this American support is not related to ISIS, it is not related to al-Nusra, it is not related to fighting terrorism, because since the beginning of the American intervention, ISIS was expanding, not shrinking. It has only started to shrink when the Russian support to the Syrian Army took place last September.
Q: Mr. President, what is your opinion about the recent coup d’état in Turkey, and its impact on the current situation in that country, and on the international level, and on the Syrian conflict also?
A: Such a coup d’état, we have to look at it as a reflection of instability and disturbances within Turkey, mainly on the social level. It could be political, it could be whatever, but at the end, society is the main issue when you have instability. Regardless of who is going to govern Turkey, who is going to be the president, who is going to be the leader of Turkey; this is an internal issue. We don’t interfere, we don’t make the mistake to say that Erdogan should go or should stay. This is a Turkish issue, and the Turkish people have to decide.
But what is more important than the coup d’état itself, we have to look at the procedures and the steps that are being taken by Erdogan and his coterie recently during the last few days, when they started attacking the judges; they removed more than 2,700 judges from their positions, more than 1,500 professors in the universities, more than 15,000 employees in the education sector.
What do the universities and the judges and that civil society have to do with the coup d’état? So, that reflects the bad intentions of Erdogan and his misconduct and his real intentions toward what happened, because the investigation hasn’t been finalised yet. How did they take the decision to remove all those? So, he used the coup d’état in order to implement his own extremist agenda, Muslim Brotherhood agenda, within Turkey, and that is dangerous for Turkey and for the neighbouring countries, including Syria.
Q: Mr. President, how do you evaluate the insistence of the US and its allies that you leave power in addition to the campaign to distort the image of your government?
A: Regarding their wish for me to leave power, they have been talking about this for the last five years, and we never responded even with a statement. We never cared about them. Actually, this is a Syrian issue; only the Syrian people can say who should come and go, who should stay in his position, who should leave, and the West knows our position very well regarding this. So, we don’t care and don’t have to waste our time with their rhetoric. I am here because of the support of the Syrian people. Without that, I wouldn’t be here. That is very simple.
About how they defame, or try to demonise certain presidents, this is the American way, at least since the second World War, since they substituted British colonisation in this region, and maybe in the world, the American administrations and the American politicians haven’t said a single honest word regarding anything. They always lie. And as time goes by, they are becoming more inveterate liars, so this is part of their politics.
So, to demonise me is like how they tried to demonise President Putin during the last two years and they did the same with the leader Castro during the last five and six decades. This is their way. So, we have to know that this is the American way. We don’t have to worry about it. The most important thing is to have good reputation among your own people. That is what we have to worry about.
Q: Mr. President, one final question: what message would you send using this interview with Prensa Latina to the governments and people of Latin America, the Caribbean, and also why not the American people, about the importance of supporting Syria against terrorism?
A: Latin America is a very good and important example to the world about how the people and their governments regain their independence. They are the backyard of the United States as the US sees, but this backyard was used by the US to play its own games, to implement its own agenda and the people in Latin America sacrificed a lot in order to regain their independence and everybody knows that.
After regaining their independence, those countries moved from being developing countries, or sometimes under-developed countries, to be developed countries. So, independence is a very important thing and it is very dear for every Latin American citizen. We think they have to keep this independence because the United States will not stop trying to topple every independent government, every government that reflects the vast majority of the people in every country in Latin America.
And again, Cuba knows this, knows what I am talking about more than any other one in the world; you suffered more than anyone from the American attempts and you succeeded in withstanding all these attempts during the last sixty years or more just because the government reflected the Cuban people.
So, holding strongly to this independence, I think, is the crucial thing, the most important thing for the future of Latin America. Regarding Syria, we can say that Syria is paying the price of its independence because we never worked against the United States; we never worked against France or the UK. We always try to have good relations with the West.
But their problem is that they do not accept any independent country and I think this is same for Cuba. You never tried to do any harm to the American people but they do not accept you as an independent country. The same is true for other countries in Latin America and that’s why you always have coup d’états mainly between the sixties and the seventies.
So, I think preserving the independence of a certain country is not only an isolated case; if I want to be independent, I have to support the independence in the rest of the world. So, the independence anywhere in the world, including Latin America, will support my independence. If I am alone, I will be weak. Supporting Syria will be mainly in the international arena.