Going Underground’s World Exclusive Interview with Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad

Transcript by Rawan Mahmasa

I’m  Afshin Rattansi, We’re at the presidential palace in Damascus. Welcome to an RT International World exclusive. I’m With the President of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, Mr. President. Thanks for granting us an interview. I’ve got to ask to start off with why granted interview now, when you haven’t done for a year and a half?

Al Assad: You’re most welcome in Syria. the events in the world in general, in the region and in Syria after the Turkish invasion has brought Syria front and center once again. This is one reason, the second one, I think the public opinion in the world and especially in the west, has been shifting during the last few years. They know that their official has has told them so many lies about what’s going on in the region, in the Middle East, in Syria, in Yemen, they know there’s a lie, but they know what the truth.

So I think it’s time to talk about this truth.

Third, I made so many interviews with the Western media outlets. They don’t try to get the information, they try to get a scoop, they don’t try to be objective to bring their audience what’s happening in the world. And that’s why I stopped doing interviews for years.

Afshin: Well, well, the journey from Damascus airport, we saw reconstruction, but how many civilians, how many soldiers have been killed, wounded or displaced from your country in the past since 2011?

Al Assad:  The stability that you saw during the last 24 hours in Damascus since you arrived to Damascus is the result of the sacrifice of more than 100,000 Syrian soldiers who are martyred, wounded, and so many lives, of course, let alone the thousand or maybe tens of thousands of civilians or innocence were being killed by mortars, by executions, by being kidnapped and killed later or disappeared. Their family is still waiting till now. So there was a lot of sacrifice in the face of those terrorists. That’s why you see this stability and reconstruction.

Afshin:  countries that have supported you include Iran, of course, Russia.I mean, I want to get on in a bit to the British and American to factor backing for ISIS Daesh and Al Qaeda in your country. But how would you what would you say to a Russian family that had lost a Russian soldier who had risked and sacrificed their life for a dictator, for a Middle East dictator? What would you say to them as to why Vladimir Putin should be sending in soldiers to help your government?

Al Assad: You mentioned very important point. Even in Syria, no one would die for a person. People would die, especially in one mass, for cause. And this cause is defending their country, defending their existence, their future later on. Somebody coming from another country to die for a person, whether he’s a dictator or whatever we want to call him. So this is not realistic. This is, again, the logic that somebody will come from because the President Putin and him to die for another person, or even President Putin to put all the interests of his country for one person, this is against the logic, actually, Russia, according to what they said, the officials, I mean, President Putin Lavrov and the others. They are defending their interest in different ways. One aspect, if they defend or if they fight terrorism in another country, whether it’s Syria or any other country in the region that we defend the Russian people, because terrorism and its ideology has no borders, they don’t see political borders. It’s one. Let’s say one arena. The whole world is one arena for the terrorism. Second, they implement and they adopt the international law according to the point of view, this international, if it’s implemented it’s in correlation with the interest with the national interest. So implementing the international law a around the world will help the interest of the Russian people. So what they’ve been doing is in accordance with the national interest, with the global stability and with the Syrian interest in Syrians stability.

Afshin: Now, you know that in media, in NATO countries, this country, your government, you personally synonymous with chemical weapons attacks. Let’s just go back to one in 21 August 2013 in Gotha, did your government drop chemical weapons on GUTA on that date? 21st August 2013.

Al Assad: The funny thing about that date is the same date where the first delegation that wants to investigate the international delegation that came to Syria to investigate the incident arrived to Damascus, which is only a few kilometers from this place. And logically, the Syrian Army. If if we supposed that he has chemical weapon, he wants to use it, he wouldn’t use it at that day. This second, they talked about 200 civilian killed. If you use chemical weapons what weapons? You may kill tens of thousands in such area where people living very close to each other. I mean, it’s crowded area. Third, that incident only existed in the mind of the Western official. It’s the narrative that was the pretext to attack Syria. That’s what happened. They didn’t offer any tangible evidence to prove that there was such attacks. And there were many reports that show that refute that has refuted that report or those allegations. So it was only allegation never, ever the Syrian Army used chemical weapons before he handed over all his arsenals to the international committee.

Afshin: Of course, the decision then to invite the OPCW to remove chemical weapons or to…

Al Assad: Actually, when there was such allegations about ….

Afshin: You authorized OPCW monitors.

Al Assad: We invited them to come. We invited them to come because we told them you should come and should investigate, because we are sure 100% sure that these are allegations. But of course, the delegation not always unbiased, as you know, they are mostly biased.

Afshin: Well, I mean, the President OPCW had Fernando Orias he may have his own problems with whistleblowing. Now, there is no doubt, though, that Ahmet Uzunku he was the director general of the OPCW who monitored the destruction here. He said there were gaps of certainties discrepancies in your OPCW monitor destruction of chemical weapons here in this country.

Al Assad: Why don’t they show it now? It’s been since 2013. We’ve been here in the same allegations. Couldn’t they prove it after six years? And every time they say Syria has used chemical weapons, is it possible to to be under this precise? Let’s say supervision by the whole Western world, and we’re going to use it again and again. This is not rational. I mean the whole story. We don’t need it. We are advancing. I mean, every time they talk about using the chemical weapons, it was when we advance.

Not when we lose. I mean, even militarily you may use if you want to use such weapons. I’m not talking about the Syrian Army because we don’t have it anymore. But logically, you can use it when you are losing ground not when you’re advancing.

Afshin: So you deny the usage in Jobar, Sheikh Masud Saraqep in the area of Aleppo. You presumably deny Kan Sheikun 4 April 2017 all of these you deny the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army.

Al Assad: every story worth nothing more than alligation the one who said there was use of chemical weapons. He is the one who should approve his story. He’s the one who should offer evidences.

Afshin: when the OPCW did lead  Britain and the United States and France to believe they needed to bomb your country on the basis of their report.

Al Assad: to believe,  believe is one thing and bringing evidence is another thing so we are talking about evidence. What’s the evidence that they have to prove their story? Nothing. They have nothing.

Afshin: Any truth in the rumors, arguably, on your side, saying video evidence has been manipulated in that rebels were using chemical weapons via the Saudi Arabian government and chemical weapons were indeed used. But by the so called rebels.

Al Assad: Yes, it’s on the YouTube. You can see it. I mean, they staged play, full play where somebody plays the role of a victim in many incidents, not only with the chemical weapons, even with the bombardment, they stage play that somebody has been the victim. Then at the end of the shooting, his normal person, he’ll stand up and go move normally, you can see it on YouTube. It’s very clear we can offer you this evidence.

Afshin: But there’s no other evidence beyond that. Because the white helmet, supported by the British Foreign Office government, recently been given extra funding by the Trump administration. They claim their videos are absolutely true and that, in fact, the people who are making those videos saved 150,000 lives in your country up to 2018.

Al Assad: Again, it’s very simple to see the same faces of those Angels. The white helmets, the same face of the same one in the white helmets, was a fighter with Al Qaeda. You can see the images are very clear. The same one who has been behaving or cutting head and one of them was being eating the heart of a soldier. I mean, this is very common to see on the Internet. I mean, no one in this region believe the stunt, the PR stunt of the white helmets. They are offshoot of Al Nusra Well.

Afshin: The UK state mandated BBC, Amnesty International. They’re alleging your government killed 11,000 people using so called barrel bombs from 2012. That would be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2139. And indeed, Human Rights Watch is pointing to satellite imagery. You’re talking about YouTube videos saying they’re fake videos. These are some of NATO nations biggest NGOs and broadcasters.

Al Assad: No war is a good war. This is a self evident truth. You always have victims in any war, but to talk about an army or a state to go and kill civilians and its own people. This is not realistic for simple reason. The war in Syria was about capturing the hearts of the people and you cannot capture the heart of the people by bombarding them. The Syrian Army was fighting the terrorists, whether there’s a side fire that affected some civilian that could have happened and you can have investigations. But how could the Syrian people support their state and their President and their army if they are killing them?

Afshin: Was the only way to regain Eastern Aleppo, did your commanders or you personally authorized the only way to get rid of AlQaeda ISIS Daesh, arguably backed by Britain in the United States. The only way to get rid of them was aerial bombardment?

Al Assad: Definitely.

And we succeeded in some areas. We captured the area without war. We made negotiations with those groups and they left that area and then we entered.

Afshin: But you’ve seen the pictures and you presumably say those pictures are true of the destruction in Eastern Aleppo. Was that really the only way to defeat Al Qaeda ISIS-like groups?

AL Assad: Those groups in Eastern Aleppo used to bombard the civilians on a daily basis and killed hundreds of thousands of people in Aleppo. So the mission of the army and the mission of the state is to protect those civilians from those terrorists. How can we do that without attacking the terrorists?

Afshin: Well, that’s not sure. Nonmedia in NATO Nations, I should have in your defense. But what about the use of doubletaps strikes by the Syrian and the Russian air force where you bomb a part of East Aleppo and then emergency workers come and you bomb again.

Al Assad: There are a lot of misleading narrative in the west just to show that the Syrian Army is intentionally killing the civilians without no reason and to show that those that they call them like white helmets or any other hospital, which is headquartered for the terrorists. They say that the Syrian Army is only attacking the humanitarian facilities in order for the civilians to suffer. Actually, what happened is the opposite, that those civilians fled those areas and came to the government side in every place, not only in Eastern Aleppo, those people. Now, if you go to Eastern Aleppo, they still live in those areas under the supervision of the government. Why didn’t we kill them? Why didn’t they fled to Turkey? This has in itself refute the Western narrative.

Afshin: But as I said, Raed Saleh, the head of the British backed white helmet, spoke on my program. It said they are just a humanitarian organization. They are not terrorists at all, despite what you and the Russian government alleged.

Al Assad: But you have pictures, you have videos, you have proof. So we don’t have any allegations. How did we know through their images? We can offer you all these evidence. We have evidence. It’s very clear.

Afshin: I mean, going back a little to the first demonstrations in Daria in Damascus, there was a famous, again, BBC state mandated British media program in which they interviewed of all people Walle Jumlatt of the Druze in Beirut, who said to camera that you authorized the killing of the 13 year old Hamza Al Katib. Is that true? And that they then interviewed a succession of people saying the mistakes you made led to what happened. It wasn’t the British and American backing of AlQaeda and ISIS Daesh in your country?

At the very beginning. During the demonstrations during the first few days, we lost five policemen by shooting by bullets. How could we talk about peaceful demonstrations while you have policemen killed by but

AFshin: how could you authorize the killing of a 13 year old?

AL Assad: Yeah, I’m just starting from the very beginning. So from the very beginning, the word peaceful demonstrations wasn’t correct. There was shooting. And you cannot tell who is shooting at the police and who the one who’s shooting at the civilians. Because in most of the incidents that time, the police didn’t have even machine gun or ..

Afshin: except this child was tortured.

Al Assad: No, that’s not true. It’s not. We never had a cigarette burn on his body. He was killed. No, he was killed. He was killed. And there was an allegation that he was tortured. He wasn’t tortured. He was killed and was taken to the hospital. And I met with his parents. They know the real story. This is only in the Western outlets in the Western media outlets, not the story in Syria. So that’s why I’m surprised about those stories that are completely disconnected from our reality. He’s somebody who died. How did he die? Who shot? Nobody knows. It was chaos. When you have chaotic demonstrations, anyone could infiltrate that demonstration and start shooting in different directions and killed policeman in order to retaliate or vice versa.

Afshin: Have you heard of Anwar Raslan and Eyad El Ghareeb? They’ve been arrested in Germany. The Germans are alleging something called Branch 251, one of your torture units to torture demonstrators.

Al Assad: We don’t have torture units. We don’t have torture policy in Syria. Why do you use the torture for that’s the question. Why is it psychological situation? You just want to torture people this kind of Sadism. Why to torture? You need information. The majority of the ceiling people supported the government. That’s why we’ve been here for nine years in spite all of this aggression by the west and by the Petrodollar in the Arab region. That’s why this is the only reason. So why do you torture the people?

That’s the question. It’s not policy. If you talk about individual incidents, this is only individual incident that could happen by anyone for event, for any other reason. That could happen anywhere in the world. But we don’t have such policy. We never believe in that torture could make your situation better as a state. Very simple. So we don’t use it now.

Afshin: What did you make of it? When the British government sent the Royal Navy to intercept an Iranian vessel, they said the Iranian government said it was with heating oil for Syria. Are the sanctions from the European Union going to hit the poorest people in Syria this winter?

Al Assad: Exactly. First of all, this is piracy. This is piracy by the United Kingdom regime. And this is the core meaning of the word regime, because regime and piracy in gang is something similar. Second, yes, they wanted to affect the people in Syria. Why? Because those people expected to rose against their government during the different stages of the war, but they didn’t. They were supposed to be supporting the terrorists, the moderate rebels, the Angels of white helmets. But the people didn’t. They stood with the government, so they have to suffer.

They have to pay the price. First of all, they have to learn the lesson that you should have stood with their agenda. Second, this is maybe the last teach attempt in order to push them to be against the government. But they tried it last winter. They tried it before and they didn’t work because the people knew the whole story and they knew where the enter slice.

Afshin:  people in the global south.

You and your government ministers may think it’s natural to accuse NATO governments of supporting AlQaeda or ISIS. But viewers watching this interview in those NATO countries may think this is ridiculous. Why would the British government say or the Obama government? Because I suppose Donald Trump arguably has suddenly realized what may have been going on. Why do you think they wanted to support AlQaeda in ISIS Daesh?

Al Assad: Why? Because of the fact this fact started with the fact that the American officials before anyone else said verbally with the tongue, like John Kerry, like Hillary Clinton and many others when they talked about their role in supporting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in order to be a tool against the Soviet Union. That time, they said, this is their modest operandi. It’s not something we invented.

Afshin:  before 911 Why would they make the same mistake again?

Al Assad: Because the American policy in general depends on trials and errors. They invaded Afghanistan, they got nothing. They invaded Iraq, they got nothing. And they started to invade other countries. But in different way, they change the way. The problem, the United States. Now they fight a survival war from their point of view, because they are losing their hegemony. So they wanted to fight the Russians, the Iranian, the Syrian, whoever said no, even their allies. They said no. Like the Western government, they will fight with them. They need tools.

They notice that in Iraq, it didn’t work by sending the army. They lost a lot and they pay the price, even inside the United States. So it’s much easier for them to send the proxy. So Al Qaeda is a proxy against the Syrian government against the Russian government and the Iranian government. That’s why they’ve been using this. But you have evidence. How did ISIS rose suddenly in 2014, out of nowhere, out of nothing in Iraq and Syria at the same time with American armaments, it’s very clear.

How could they smuggle millions of barrels of oil to Turkey under the supervision of the American aircraft? How could the Americans wanted to use them against the Syrian Army? So it’s not something we said. The Americans said that and the facts said the same story.

Afshin: But while all this has been going on, you have been talking with international bodies and different interlocutors. What do you make of the UN envoy, Stefan de Mistura saying in quotations in the past few days, having really fought against what happened in Aleppo Idlib in Daria, I could not be the one that is shaking Assad’s hand and saying, Malesh, these are the people you are talking to as neutral observers. Looking back on it, were any of these people neutral?

Al Assad: He cannot be in that position if he is neutral, because the United States will only accept puppets. This is their behavior.

Afshin: But you did shake hands with them.

Al Assad: And he asked later to meet with me and I said no. So he wanted to shake my hand. He wanted to. He was biased. That’s why he failed. He was implementing the American agenda, maybe in a little bit smarter way, but it didn’t work because he was biased. That’s why.

Afshin: And what is this Geneva process? There have been some reports that Syrian delegation was backed by your government, but not representing the Syrian government. What exactly is this Geneva process postconflict? I’m not even sure it’s called that.

Al Assad: t’s American glory. It’s about gaining in politics. What you couldn’t get through the demonstration first and through the terrorist later, so you can get it through political process. That’s why, again, it didn’t work. That’s why you never failed because it was about topping the government through interim body. Let’s say it doesn’t matter. What is it then? It changed the government peacefully and controlled Syria like they did in many other countries. That’s why Geneva failed. And that’s why we went to Sochi with the Russian. That’s why Sochi is working.

We had this delegation last month and they started last week negotiating the Constitution.

Afshin:  So when Donald Trump announced …

Al Assad: you asked about this Geneva or …

Al Assad: Who’s been supported by the Americans publicly, their armament, their money, they smuggled oil together. They are American agents, to be Frank, most of them, I wouldn’t say I don’t know all of them, but their policy during the last few years is to invite the American to stay, to be angry when the American wants to leave and to say, we don’t want to join the Syrian army recently.

Afshin: Aren’t you saying exactly what Mr. Erdogan would say to me about this?

Al Assad: Yes, about them? Actually, Erdogan has his own agenda, which is two parts, his own agenda as Muslim Brotherhood and the American agenda as a puppet. So it’s two part. But they work in tandem these two agendas. But at the same time, those group of PYD gave him the excuse and the reason to invite Syria. That doesn’t mean his invasion is legal. It’s illegal in every sense of the word. But they gave him the pretext because he’s been announcing for a year that he wanted to invade the Northern part of Syria, and he wanted to clean that area from the terrorists.

And he mean the PYD. They kept give him this excuse. That’s what happened. That’s why they were to be blamed. But Erdogan is invader.

Afshin: Okay, but don’t you see how NATO some people in NATO powers may think? The one thing we do not want is peace between Ankara and Damascus, of course. And you are participating in that dividend rule system that will have been designed in Western capitals. No chance of any meetings with Mr. Erdogan.

Al Assad: With him. It’s not raced to meet with him. And I don’t think while somebody is occupying your land will be the preferred one to meet with. We had some few meetings.

Afshin: You negotiate with your enemies, not your friends.

Al.Assad: Yeah, we are. But not with Erdogan, not me with him. No, it’s on the security levels. It happened through the Russians. It was a tripartite meeting. It happened two or three times. It led nowhere. So we’re not against the principle to negotiate with the enemies, especially when we don’t consider the Turks as enemies. The Turks people are our neighbors and we have a common history. We cannot make them enemies. The enemy is Erdogan and his policy and his coterie to be against those groups in Turkey and in Syria.

That doesn’t mean that we see eye to eye in other aspects, especially after he invaded Syria publicly and formally.

Afshin: You see countries that have taken policy decisions like Syria. And I mentioned the Palestinians. I mentioned historic support for what are seen as liberation movements in the global south. They tend not to take up neoliberal economics. Last time I was here, all the talk in Damascus amongst your ministers in Damascus, they were talking about privatization. They were talking about elites in Syrian society, educated in business schools, in Harvard, in the west. Is that not the start of the Syrian conflict? When you started to implement neoliberal privatization plans, destroying the fabric of this society.

Al Assad: Yeah, actually, there was a debate about privatization and as a government and as a state in general, we refused it. Even the unions in Syria, the majority refused the neoliberal policies because we know that it’s going to destroy the poor. That was before.

Afshin:  everyone was talking about it here 20 0 9

Al Assad: We moved the steps toward liberation. But we still have public sector till this moment, actually, who protected the economy in Syria and the services is the public sector. Without the public sector, we wouldn’t have survived. This was the role of the public sector because we are socialist government anyway. No, actually, we still have public sector and we still support the poor. We still have subsidies, of bread, of oil, of schools, nearly free education is free in Syria. So we haven’t changed that policy. But we opened the doors more for the private sector.

So you cannot call it liberalization. You cannot call it…

Afshin:  coincidence that the conflict here at that time just after you were opening up the markets.

Al.Assad: No, it wasn’t ..

Afshin: arguing to corruption, more corruption.

Al Assad: No. There was an explanation for the reason of the conflict. It doesn’t have anything to do with this. It doesn’t have anything they said because there was four years of a drought and the people become poor.

Afshin: Climate change.

Al Assad: No, it’s not the reason. This is not correct. These are explanations, just theoretical. In reality, the problem started when the money of Qatar came to Syria and we had contact with many of the neighbors and told them, Why don’t you come to workshop? And they said in 1 hour we take as we take in one week. It was very simple. They paid them $50 at the very beginning, then later $100 a week, which has enough for him to live without work. So it was much easier for him to join the demonstration.

After that, it was much easier for them to take them toward having armaments and shooting. And before that, we had very important.

Afshin: I’m sure the Qatari government would deny that.

Al Assad: Of course, definitely.

Afshin: I mean because it was presented at the time somewhat bizarrely from anyone, arguably, who knows about the Arab world is a continuation of the Arab Spring, from the selfimulation of Bu Azizi in Tunisia that is connected to this conflict, the Arab Spring, or is that of course.

Al Assad: There’s interaction in this region, the same culture, the same background, the same circumstances, somehow, not completely. Some of the demonstration at the very beginning were peaceful, to be frank, not every demonstration were infiltrated by militants? No, that’s not true in some areas. Yes, some people wanted to go because they wanted to improve their situation. Some people, they have their own ideas about improving, let’s say the political system, more freedom or different slogans they used in those demonstrations. So that was mainly by the influence of what happened in other countries, like in Ukraine.

But that’s not what it continues. That’s why the same people that I’m talking about. They stopped participating in the demonstration when the shooting started and the extremists started infiltrating, especially the Muslim brother who started leading their demonstrations. Why with Allahu Akbar using religious slogans in order to give this religious and sometimes sectarian mantle to put this mantle on the demonstration?

Afshin: Something like that could be happening in Lebanon.

Al Assad: Lebanon is a sectarian country. We all know that because they have sectarian Constitution in Syria, we don’t have sectarian Constitution. So it didn’t work.

Afshin: But I’m in the outside influences.

Al Assad: Of course, no one will leave spontaneous demonstration to be spontaneous. But where will it go? That depends on the awareness of the people.

Afshin: I’ve got to ask about reconstruction. Some people saying you’re going to be too dependent on China and Iran. The estimate is about $230,000,000,000. I don’t know how they calculate these things. You expect now the diaspora to return and there’s going to be massive reconstruction. Is that what’s going to happen now?

Al Assad: Not very soon because there’s embargo on Syria. And the Americans tried hard during the last two years to not allow any individual, not only companies who wants to invest in Syria to come. They said you’re under embargo right away. So many capitals fear coming to Syria because of that embargo. But it’s not the biggest problem for the human resources. We have human resources enough to build our country. We don’t need any human resources. We can build it gradually. So I wouldn’t worry about this embargo definitely friendly country like China, Russia and Iran will have priority in this rebuilding.

Afshin: not European Union countries.

Al Assad: Every country who stood against Syria will not have a chance to be part of this because….

Afshin: no British trade deal.

Al Assad:  Definitely not.

Afahin: Do you think, actually, and it has been raised that the return of terrorists, as you call them, mass immigration that occurred after the Libya war, after the Syria war. They affected Brexit because of immigration to Europe.

Al Assad: Of course, the far right has been influenced by this to his into his own interest. Of course, I’m talking about the far right. The most important thing, not the political aspect of it, the change in the society, how much Europe is ready or can or able to integrate those immigrants in their society even before that mass immigration during the last ten years to Europe, they had a problem in integrating the immigrants in their society. Now you have this problem and you have the terrorism that inflicted France and UK and other countries that will be effective because part of those immigrants are the extremists and the terrorists and the people who doesn’t want to integrate.

They want to go there just because they want to leave this region for different reasons. Security, economy.

Afshin: There will be no security collaboration to help these countries.

Al Assad: No, we’re not ready. And we said very clearly that we’re not going to help any country and security while they work against Syria in every aspect, economy, security and their politics.

Afshin: The boss of MI Six on his opening speech, Alex Younger, he said, You Putin, you make a desert and call it peace. The human tragedy is heartbreaking.

Al Assad: Any British officials has in no position to talk about the humanitarian aspect anywhere in the world. They’ve been part of the invasion in Iraq. They’ve been partner in killing more than 100 and a half million Iraqis. They’ve been partnered in attacking Syria with the emissaries and the embargo on Syria and killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians. And at the end, they are American puppets. They are not independent. So they are in no position to talk about the humanitarian issues anywhere in the world. Let’s learn their history in India in the past.

Forget about that colonial era. I’m talking about their current and modern history. They’re not in a position.

Afshin: Well, just finally, then what about the election here? Is there going to be a general election in 2021 in Syria?

Al Assad: Definitely.

Afshin: And will there be more than one person on the ballot?

Al Assad: Last time we were three and this time, of course, we are going to have as much as they want to nominate. They’re going to be numerous nominees.

Afshin: Mr. President, thank you.

Al Assad: Thanks for you.