In a rare interview with Russian media, including RT, Syrian President Bashar Assad opened up about terrorism, the refugee crisis, and Western propaganda. He went back in history, saying the US invasion of Iraq had set the scene for Syria’s unrest.
On the cause of the Syrian civil war
The Syrian president said it might come as a surprise if he mentioned the “crucial juncture” in what happened in Syria, saying it is “something that many people wouldn’t even think of.”
“It was the Iraq war in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. We were strongly opposed to that invasion, because we knew that things were moving in the direction of dividing societies and creating unrest. And we are Iraq’s neighbors. At that time, we saw that the war would turn Iraq into a sectarian country; into a society divided against itself. To the west of Syria there is another sectarian country – Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we would be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds.”
He went on to mention that the West “officially” adopted terrorism in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, calling the terrorists“freedom fighters,” and that it didn’t fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) when it appeared in Iraq under American sponsorship in 2006.
“All these things together created the conditions for the unrest with Western support and Gulf money, particularly from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and with Turkish logistic support, particularly since President Erdogan belongs intellectually to the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, he believes that, if the situation changed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, it means the creation of a new sultanate; not an Ottoman sultanate this time, but a sultanate for the Brotherhood extending from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and ruled by Erdogan.”
“All these factors together brought things to what we have today. Once again, I say that there were mistakes, and mistakes always create gaps and weak points, but they are not sufficient to cause that alone, and they do not justify what happened. And if these gaps and weak points are the cause, why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf States – particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy? The answer is self-evident, I believe.”
On ISIS and terrorism
Assad said that Syria is “at war” with terrorism which is supported by foreign powers, and that political forces should unite around what Syrians want – which is security and safety for everyone.
“That means we should first unite against terrorism. That is logical and self-evident,” Assad said.
He stated: “There are forces fighting terrorism now alongside the Syrian state, which had previously fought against the Syrian state. We have made progress in this regard, but I would like to take this opportunity to call on all forces to unite against terrorism, because it is the way to achieve the political objectives which we, as Syrians, want through dialogue and political action.”
When asked about making the border area with Turkey an area free of Islamic State, Assad said that notion implies that terrorism is allowed in other regions. “That is unacceptable,” he said.
“Terrorism should be eradicated everywhere; and we have been calling for three decades for an international coalition to fight terrorism.”
On the refugee crisis
Referring to the refugee crisis currently underway in Europe, the Syrian president said the West is “crying for the refugees with one eye and aiming at them with a machinegun with the second one.”
Elaborating on that statement, Assad added: “If you are worried about [refugees], stop supporting terrorists. That’s what we think regarding the crisis. This is the core of the whole issue of refugees.”
He added that Western propaganda is reporting that the refugees are fleeing the Syrian government – which media outlets call a “regime” – even though they are actually fleeing terrorists.
That “propaganda” will only lead to more refugees for the West, the Syrian president said.
“…Now [the West says] there is terrorism like Al-Nusra and ISIS, but because of the Syrian state or the Syrian regime or the Syrian president. So, as long as they follow this propaganda, they will have more refugees.”
On Western propaganda blaming Assad for the civil war
Assad accused Western propaganda of oversimplifying the Syrian crisis and reporting that “the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual.” He added the consequence of that rhetoric is for people to say “let that individual go and things will be alright.”
He also said the West will continue to support terrorism as long as he is in power “because the Western principle followed now in Syria and Russia and other countries is changing presidents, changing states, or what they call bringing regimes down. Why? Because they do not accept partners and do not accept independent states.”
He said that in Syria, the president comes into power through the people and through elections – and if he goes, he goes through the people. He stressed that a leader doesn’t go “as a result of an American decision, a Security Council decision, the Geneva conference, or the Geneva communiqué.”
“If the people want [a leader] to stay, he should stay; and if the people reject him, he should leave immediately. This is the principle according to which I look at this issue.”
On a political solution to the Syrian crisis
Assad said that Damascus needs to continue dialogue between “Syrian entities” and “political entities or political currents,”while simultaneously fighting terrorism, in order to reach a consensus about the country’s future.
“We have to continue dialogue in order to reach consensus as I said, but if you want to implement anything real, it’s impossible to do anything while you have people being killed, bloodletting hasn’t stopped, people feel insecure. Let’s say we sit together as Syrian political parties or powers and achieve a consensus regarding something in politics, in economy, in education, in health, in everything. How can we implement it if the priority of every single Syrian citizen is to be secure? So, we can achieve consensus, but we cannot implement unless we defeat the terrorism in Syria. We have to defeat terrorism, not only ISIS.”
On cooperation with Russia & Iran
The Syrian president said Damascus would be prepared to cooperate with “friendly countries” in its fight against terrorism, particularly Russia and Iran.
Calling the relationship between Syria and Iran an “old one,” Assad said the alliance is “based on a great deal of trust.”
“Iran supports Syria and the Syrian people. It stands with the Syrian state politically, economically and militarily,” he said, adding that Iranian support has been essential for Syria during “this difficult and ferocious war.”
However, he laid to rest claims by Western media that Tehran has sent an army or armed forces to Syria.
“That is not true. It sends us military equipment, and of course there is an exchange of military experts between Syria and Iran. This has always been the case, and it is natural for this cooperation to grow between the two countries in a state of war,”Assad said.
As for Russia, Assad said “there is a good, strong and historical relation between Moscow and Damascus.”
But Assad also said that Syria has “no veto” on any country, “provided that it has the will to fight terrorism and not as they are doing in what is called the ‘international coalition’ led by the United States.”
“Countries like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Western countries which provide cover for terrorism like France, the United States, or others, cannot fight terrorism. You cannot be with and against terrorism at the same time. But if these countries decide to change their policies and realize that terrorism is like a scorpion, if you put it in your pocket, it will sting you. If that happens, we have no objection to cooperating with all these countries, provided it is a real and not a fake coalition to fight terrorism.”
However, he stressed the Kurds “are not allies at this stage, as some suggest.”
“There are many fallen Kurdish soldiers who fought with the army, which means they are an integral part of society. But there are parties which had certain demands, and we addressed some at the beginning of the crisis. There are other demands which have nothing to do with the state, and which the state cannot address. There are things which would relate to the entire population, to the constitution, and the people should endorse these demands before a decision can be taken by the state. In any case, anything proposed should be in the national framework. That’s why I say that we are with the Kurds, and with other components, all of us in alliance to fight terrorism.”
He added that once the terrorists are defeated in Syria, Kurdish demands “expressed by certain parties” can be discussed nationally.