President Bashar Assad has told a Spanish newspaper that he believes
that Turkey actively support ISIS and allow the terrorist regime to
train potential recruits in their country.
spoke to newspaper El Pais, and the Syrian
the entire text of the interview below:
1: You have recently allowed humanitarian aid to go into seven
besieged areas. Some claim there are at least 486,000 people living
in those areas, some for even more than three years. Why did this
happen so late in the conflict?
Assad: Actually, it hasn’t happened recently; it’s been there
since the beginning of the crisis. We never make embargo on any
region in Syria. There’s a difference between embargo and the army
surrounding a certain area because of the militants, and that’s
natural in such a security case or military case. But the problem
with those areas is that the militants themselves took the food and
the basic needs of those people, the people there, and gave it to
their militants or sell it to the people with very high prices. As a
government, we never prevent any area from having assistance,
including the areas under the control of ISIS, like al-Raqqa in the
north that’s been under their control, and before that al-Nusra for
nearly three years now. We’ve been sending them all the salaries
for the retired people, all the salaries for the employees today, and
we send them vaccines for the children.
2: So, food and salaries still go into even al-Raqqa and Islamic
Assad: Exactly. So, if we send it to al-Raqqa, which is under
the control of ISIS, because we think as a government that we are
responsible of every Syrian people, how can we not do it in other
areas? That’s not realistic, that’s contradiction. So, that’s
why I said it’s not recently; we never stopped allowing the
assistance, or, what do you call it, food.
3: It will continue to happen?
4: A truce was announced by Russia and the United States. Is the
Syrian government willing to respect the cessation of military
operations in Syria?
Assad: Definitely, and we announced that we’re ready, but it’s
not only about announcing, because maybe the other party will
announce the same. It’s about what are you going to do on the
ground. Ceasefire is about – if you want to say ceasefire, it’s
not the correct word, because ceasefire is between two armies or two
countries – it’s cessation of hostility, or, let’s say,
stopping the operation, if you want to call it like this. It’s
about, first of all, to stop the fire, but it’s about the other
complimentary and more important factors, preventing the terrorists
from using the ceasefire or the cessation of hostility in order to
improve their position. It’s about preventing other countries,
especially Turkey, from sending more recruits, more terrorists, more
armaments, or any kind of logistical support to those terrorists, and
you know there’s a United Nations resolution, or Security Council
resolution, regarding this point that’s not implemented. If we
don’t provide all these requirements for the ceasefire, it will be
against, let’s say, the stability; it’s going to make more chaos
in Syria, it may lead to de facto division of the country. That’s
why if we want to use the ceasefire, it is positive providing these
5: So, there will be still some fighting even though there’s this
ceasefire, at least against some of the armed groups?
Assad: Yes, of course, like ISIS, like al-Nusra, and other
organizations or terrorist groups that belong to Al Qaeda. Now, Syria
and Russia announced four names: Ahrar al-Cham and Jaish al-Islam and
al-Nusra and ISIS.
6: Your forces have surrounded Aleppo. It’s one of the big
strongholds of the opposition. When do you expect to fully regain
control of that city?
Assad: Actually, we are in the middle of the city, so, yes, a
large part of the city is under the control of the government, and
most of the inhabitants of the other parts emigrated from the
militants-controlled area to the government-controlled area, so it’s
not about recapturing the city. Actually, it’s about closing the
roads between Turkey and between the terrorist groups. That is the
aim of the battles in Aleppo now, and we succeeded recently, we could
close the main roads. Of course, it’s not a complete seal, let’s
say, between Aleppo and Turkey, but it makes the relation between
Turkey and theterrorists much more difficult. That’s why Turkey is
shelling the Kurds recently, for that reason.
7: What comes after Aleppo? Is the Syrian Army willing to go even
into al-Raqqa, the so-called capital of the Islamic State?
Assad: In principle, we should go everywhere, but now we are
fighting on more than ten fronts in Syria. Recently, we advanced
towards al-Raqqa, but we’re still far from it. So, as a principle,
yes we are moving to al-Raqqa and other areas, but the timing depends
on the results of different battles now, so we cannot tell the timing
8: Russia has started an aggressive campaign of aerial bombings here
in key opposition strongholds. This has been a turning point in the
conflict. Some claim that you have the upper hand now. Do you think
you could have made it without foreign help?
Assad: Definitely the Russian and the Iranian support were
essential for our army to make this advancement. To say that we
couldn’t, this is, let’s say, a hypothetical question, because, I
mean, it’s “if” so nobody knows the real answer of the “if,”
but definitely we need that help for a simple reason; because more
than 80 countries supported those terrorists in different ways, some
of them directly with money, with logistical support, with armaments,
with recruitments. Some other countries supported them politically,
in different international forums. So, of course, Syria is a small
country. We could fight, but at the end, there’s unlimited support
and recruitments to those terrorists. You need definitely
international support. But, again, this is a hypothetical question I
9: Regarding these Russian aerial bombings, are you concerned about
civilian casualties? Like on Monday, there was a bombing in a
hospital, 50 people were killed. The United States has claimed that
the Russians caused it. Is it something that concerns you?
Assad: Some other officials in the United States said they don’t
know who did it, that’s what they said later. These contradicting
statements are common things in the United States, but no one has any
proof about who did it and how it happened. But regarding the
casualties, of course this is a problem with every war. Of course I
feel very sad for every innocent civilian who dies in our conflict,
but this is war. Every war is bad, you don’t have good war, because
you always have civilians, and you have innocent people that are
going to pay the price.
10: So, how do you explain to your people, to the Syrians, that maybe
a foreign army that is having operations here, can cause civilian
Assad: No, no. We don’t have any evidence that the Russians
attacked any civilian targets. They are very precise in their
targets, they always everyday attack the bases or the targets of the
terrorists. Actually, it’s the Americans who did this, who killed
many civilians in the northeastern part of Syria, not the Russians. I
mean, not a single incident happened regarding the civilians so far,
because they don’t attack in the cities; they attack actually
mainly in the rural areas.
11: Talking about foreign armies, how would you react if Turkey and
Saudi Arabia follow through with their statements that they plan on
sending troops here to allegedly fight the Islamic State?
Assad: As you said, allegedly. But if it happens, we’re going
to deal with them like we deal with the terrorists. We’re going to
defend our country. This is aggression. They don’t have any right
to interfere, politically or militarily, in Syria. This is breach of
international law, and as Syrian citizens, the only option we have is
to fight and defend.
12: Turkey has started bombing from their territory into Syria.
Assad: Exactly, and before that bombing, Turkey was sending the
terrorists, it’s the same, the same goal, the same effect, in
different ways. So, Turkey has been involved in Syria since the very
13: Saudi Arabia tried to unify the opposition in a conference in
Riyadh. Some people linked to Al Qaeda were present in those
meetings. Do you recognize any of the rebel groups as a legitimate
party with whom you can negotiate in the whole opposition?
Assad: You mean the rebels who are fighting on the ground?
Assad: No. Legally and constitutionally, everyone who can hold
machineguns against the people and against the government is a
terrorist, in your country, in my country, in every country in the
world. You cannot say they are legitimate. They could be legitimate
when they give up their armaments and join the political process.
This is the only way in every country to rebuild your country or to
change whatever you want to change, whether the constitution or the
laws or the government, everything, you can, but through political
process, not through armaments.
15: So, all those who are fighting, you deem them terrorists?
Assad: Unless they announce that they are ready to join the
political process. We don’t have any problem with them.
16: So those people who have been fighting, take away their ideals or
their intentions, if they lay down arms can they come back?
Assad: We’ll give them amnesty, and that happened, it happened
during the last two years, and it’s accelerating recently. Many of
them give up their arms and some of them have joined the Syrian Army
now and they are fighting ISIS with the Syrian Army, and they get the
support of the Syrian Army and the Russian airplanes.
17: So, if you, as you just stated, those who have taken arms against
the government here, are all terrorists, with whom are you exactly
negotiating in Geneva?
Assad: I’m talking about the recent Geneva, Geneva 3 that
failed. It was supposed to be a mixture of the people who are formed
in Saudi Arabia, a mixture of terrorists and extremists or their
supporters, and some of them Al Qaeda, and the other, let’s say,
independent or other opposition who live outside or inside Syria. So,
we can make negotiations with those, let’s say, Syrians, let’s
say patriotic Syrians that are related to their country, but we
cannot make negotiations with the terrorists, that’s why it failed.
18: What about those opposition activist leaders that are imprisoned
from before the conflict in 2011?
Assad:All of them left the prison a long time ago, and most of them
are in the opposition.
19: All of them?
Assad: All of them. We don’t have any of them. Before 2010,
all of them left. Including some of them were terrorists, but they
were sentenced for a few years, let’s say five or whatever, and
when the crisis started, they joined again the terrorist groups.
20: You have proof of that?
Assad: Yeah, of course. One of them was the one who was killed, Zahran Alloush; he was imprisoned for several years, because he was
Al Qaeda-affiliated. When the crisis started, he formed his own
terrorist group, and this group is one of those four that I mentioned
that we consider them as terrorist groups.
21: Some claim that there are 35,000 foreign jihadists. 4,000 came
from Europe. The Spanish government has stated that there are some
300 that hold a Spanish passport. What will happen to these people if
the Syrian Army captures them?
Assad: The Spanish?
22: In general, the foreign jihadists.
Assad: First of all, we are dealing with them like any other
terrorist. When you deal with them as terrorists on legal basis,
there’s no distinguishing between the nationalities, but if you
want to talk about, let’s say, if you want to send him to his
country, or to extradite them to their government, it should be
through relations between the institutions in the two countries.
23: Regarding this, what do you think attracts so many foreigners
into Syria right now?
Assad: Mainly the support. They’ve been sent. It’s active,
not passive, it’s actually active from the outside. Saudi Arabia is
the main financer of those terrorists. They put them in airplanes,
send them to Turkey, and through Turkey to Syria. The other
attractive factor is the chaos; when you have chaos, this is very
fertile soil for the terrorists. The third factor, the ideology,
because they belong to Al Qaeda, this area, in our religious culture,
in the Islamic culture, has a special place after Mecca and the other
holy places and Jerusalem, they think that this is where they can
come and create their own state. Of course, they’re going to expand
later to other places, but the thought is that they can come and
fight and die for God and for Islam. For them, this is jihad.
24: Regarding what would happen if the Syrian government claimed
control of all the territory. Would you start a political process?
Would you be willing to go to elections again? What would you be
willing to do?
Assad: The natural thing, first of all, is to form a government, a
national unity government where every political party can join if
they have the will. This government should prepare for the new
constitution, because if you want to talk about the future of Syria,
because if you want to discuss with different parties how to solve
the problem, the internal problem – now I’m excluding the
external support of terrorists – you need to discuss the
constitution; you want to change it, you want to keep it, you want to
change the whole political system, that depends on the constitution.
Of course, the Syrian people should vote for that constitution.
the constitution, according to the new constitution, you should have
early elections, I mean parliamentary elections. Some mention
presidential elections. If the Syrian people or the different parties
want to have elections, it will happen. Ultimately, solving the
political aspect of the problem has nothing to do with my personal
25: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Assad: The most important thing is how to see my country,
because I’m part of my country. So, in ten years, if I can save
Syria, as president – but it doesn’t mean I’m going to be there
in ten years, I’m just talking about my vision to the ten years –
Syria is safe and sound, and I’m the one who saved his country,
that’s my job now, that’s my duty. So that’s how I see myself
regarding the position, I’m talking about myself as a Syrian
26: Would you still like to be in power in ten years?
Assad: That’s not my aim. I don’t care about being in power.
For me, if the Syrian people want me to be in power, I will be. If
they don’t want me, I can do nothing, I mean, I cannot help my
country, so I have to leave right away.
27: Let me read from a United Nations Human Rights Council report
that was published in February 3rd, and it said “detainees held by
the government were beaten to death or died as a result of injuries
sustained due to torture.” They say war crimes have also been
committed. What do you have to say to this?
Assad: That’s based on what the Qataris made about a year ago
or more, when they forged a report made of unverified pictures of
injured people and unverified sources and sent it to the United
Nations, and this is part of the propaganda against Syria. That’s
the problem with the West and propaganda; they use unverified
information to accuse Syria and to blame it and then to take action
28: The whole world was shocked by the image of little Alan Kurdi,
the Syrian refuge, three years old, who washed ashore dead on a
Turkish beach. How did you feel you saw that?
Assad: This is one of the saddest parts of the Syrian conflict;
to have people leaving their country for different reasons. But
beside the feeling, the question for us as officials that has been
asked by the Syrian people: what are we going to do? What action has
been taken either to allow those refugees to come back to their
country or not to leave at all? You have two reasons here. The first
one that we have to deal with, of course, is the terrorism, because
those terrorists not only threaten people, but those terrorists
deprive the people of the basic needs of their lives. The second
reason is the embargo that has been implemented on Syria by the West,
mainly the United States, of course, that caused more difficulties
for the people to live here, especially in the health sector.
need to deal with these reasons in order to prevent this tragedy from
being dragged on for a long time.
29: You mentioned that some of those refugees run away from ISIS, but
some of them claim also that they are running away from the
government, or like from the campaigns of the government in some
areas in Syria.
Assad: I can give you the contradicting facts that you can see
it while you are in Syria, that the majority of the people who live
in the controlled area by the terrorists have immigrated to the area
under the control of the government. So, if they want to flee from
the government, why do they come to the government? This is not real.
But at the time, whenever there is a battle, shooting, a fight
between the government and the terrorists in a certain area, that is
natural for the majority of the population to leave that area to
another area, but that doesn’t mean they escaped from the
government. Some of the families that emigrated to the
government-controlled areas are the families of the fighters
30: Almost five million refugees fled Syria according to
international counts. One million have crossed to Europe, what
guarantees have those people that they can come back freely without
fear of any reprisal?
Assad: No, of course they can come, I mean, this is their right
to come back, unless somebody who is a terrorist or killer, but
otherwise they did not flee from the government, and some of them,
and I think a good number of them, are government supporters who
didn’t leave because they’re afraid from the government. As I
said, because of the standards of living that have been deteriorated
drastically during the last few years. So, of course they can come
back without any action taken from the government against them. We
want people to come back to Syria.
31: What can the Syrian government do to stop that flow of refugees
that has killed so many people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
What can be done?
Assad: As I said, it is not only about Syria, it’s about the
rest of the world. First of all, Europe should left the embargo on
the Syrian people; they don’t make embargo on the Syrian
government, it is against the Syria people.
Second,Turkey should top
sending terrorists to Syria. Third, as a government, we have to fight
the terrorists, definitely, and we have to keep the living moving
forward by any means in order to allow the Syrians to stay in their
country. This is the only way that could bring those people back or
to convince them to come back to their country. And I’m sure the
majority of them they want to come back to Syria. But, as I said, at
the end you need to have the basic or the minimum requirements for
32: When you came to power, you promised democratic reforms; those
times were come to be known as the spring of Damascus or whatever you
may call it. Some people claim if those reforms have come faster, a
lot of lives would have been spared. Other people claim, mainly the
opposition, or the United States have also said it, that if you had
stepped down a lot of lives would have been saved. What do you have
to say to that?
Assad: The question is: what is the relation between what you
have mentioned and Qatar sending money and then sending armaments and
supporting terrorists directly? What is the relation? What is the
relation between that and the role of Turkey in supporting
terrorists? What is the relation between that and the existence of
ISIS and al-Nusra coming to Syria? So, the link is not correct. If
you want to change the president or the prime minister of any system
in your country, in any other country, you only have the political
process to move through. You cannot use the armaments. It is not an
excuse to have armaments to say that I want to change the system or I
want democracy. Democracy wouldn’t happen through the armaments.
And the experience of the Unites States in Iraq is still telling. The
same in Yemen. President Saleh left for the same allegations.
happened in Yemen? Is it better? That is not correct. There is no
relation. We can achieve democracy through dialogue, but at the same
time through the upgrading of the society towards the democracy,
because democracy is not only constitution or president or laws and
so on. These are tools or means to achieve it. But the real
democracy, as a base, should be based on the society itself. How can
we accept each other? This is a melting pot area; you have different
ethnicities, different sects, different religions. How can they
accept each other?
When they accept each other, they can accept each
other politically and this is where you can have real democracy. So,
it is not about the president. They tried to personalize the problem
just to show that it is a very simple problem: remove the president
and everything will be fine. No one can accept it.
33: In these five years since the conflict started, do you think now
as you see the country, many heritage sites destroyed, a lot of lives
lost, would you have done anything differently?
Assad: In general, if we want to talk about the principles, from
the very beginning we said that we’re going to fightterrorism and
we’re going to make dialogue. We open dialogue with everyone except
the terrorist groups. And we allowed the terrorists at the same time,
we opened the door for them, if they want to lay down their armaments
to go back to their normal life to be offered with full amnesty. So,
that’s the principle of the whole solution. Now, five years later,
I cannot say that was proved to be wrong, and I do not think that we
are going to change those principles. Implementing the policy is
different sometimes, because it depends on different officials,
different institutions, different people, individuals.
make mistakes, and that would happen. So, if you want to change
something, if you can change those mistakes that have been made in
different places, that’s what I could have done, if I turn back the
So, would you say, from your perspective, from the very beginning
those protests that were in Daraa and Damascus, from the beginning
you labeled that as terrorism, they were infiltrated by foreign
powers. How do you view those first demonstrations against the
Assad: At the very beginning, you had a mixture of
demonstrators. First of all, Qatar paid those demonstrators in order
to put them on al-Jazeera and then to convince the international
public opinion that people are revolting against the president. The
highest number of those were 140,000 demonstrators all over Syria,
which is nothing, as a number, that’s why we weren’t worried. So,
they infiltrated them with militants to shoot at the police and to
shoot at the demonstrators, so you have more revolts. When they
failed, they moved to send the tools to support the terrorists. But,
do we have demonstrators who demonstrated honestly, they wanted
change? Of course we have, of course, but not all of them, you cannot
say all of them, and I cannot say all of them are terrorists.
You visited Spain twice. Both Presidents José María Aznar and José
Luis Rodríguez Zapatero visited Syria while in office. How have been
the relations with Spain ever since?
Assad: Spain is against any adventurist solution in Syria. This
is something we appreciate. They didn’t support any military action
against Syria, they said that’s going to make it more complicated.
They didn’t talk about deposing the president or interfering in our
national affairs. They said everything should happen through
political solution or political process. This is very good.
the same time, Spain is part of the EU, of the European Union. That
makes Spain restrained by the decision of that Union. We expect Spain
to play that role, to convey the same message and its political point
of view regarding our conflict to the EU.
And in Latin America, were have you had the most support in Latin
America, you feel?
Assad: Generally, and that’s strange, and maybe sometimes
unfortunately, that those very far from Syria, very far away
countries from Syria, have a much more realistic about what is
happening in Syria than the European, who are much more closer, we
are considered as the backyard of Europe. I’m talking about the
formal and official level, and about the popular level. They know
much more, and they support Syria politically in every international
forum, and they haven’t changed their position since the beginning
of the crisis.
Brazil has one of the biggest Syrian communities abroad. How has been
the relation with the government of Brazil?
Assad: We have natural relations with them, we have natural
relations with Argentina, with Venezuela, with Cuba, with all those
Latin countries we have normal relations. It hasn’t been affected
by the crisis, and they understand more and more, and they support
Syria more and more. This is contradicting with the European