A translation from Russian of the interview that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave to Russian newspaper Izvestia, published on Monday.
The interview was conducted hours before the Syrian regime agreed to let United Nations inspectors visit the sites of Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack.
Q: Mr. President, the most pressing issue today – what is the situation in Syria? What territories are under the control of the rebels?
Assad: The issue is not territories that are under terrorist control, and territories under army control. It is not that there is some enemy who has occupied our land. We are dealing with terrorists who are infiltrating into villages and the outskirts of cities. These are criminals who kill innocent people, destroy infrastructure….
The army, security forces and the police are striving to kick them out of populated areas and destroy them. Those who manage to survive, move on to other areas and join other gangs. Thus, the essence of our business is destroying terrorists.
The main reason for the continuation of hostilities is the huge numbers of terrorists who are constantly arriving in Syria from overseas. Every month, they arrive to Syria in their tens of thousands. In addition, there is continued funding of terrorists from abroad and supplying them weapons.
But I assure you that there is not a single place where the government army cannot enter — and it is destroying the terrorists wherever it encounters them.
Q: Today, the Western press often claims that the terrorists run about 40% or 70% of the territory of Syria. In reality, how much of its territory does the Syrian government control?
Assad: No army, no country in the world could be at full military readiness throughout the whole of its country’s territory. Terrorists take advantage of this by trying to penetrate everywhere, where there is no military presence. We cleansed each province, where there were terrorists. Therefore, I repeat, the problem isn’t about the areas where there are terrorists, but it changes from day to day and hour to hour. The problem is the large numbers of fighters coming from abroad.
Can the Syrian Arab Army to enter any area occupied by the terrorists and destroy them? I will tell you with certainty, “Yes!”
And the army continues to do so that. It takes a lot of time, because this war that was imposed on us, does not end immediately. It takes a relatively long time. And we are paying a heavy price for that war, for destroying of all the terrorists in Syria.
Q: These terrorists that you talk about, do they consist of some kinds of separate and distinct groups of radicals or is they part of a huge force, whose aim is to destabilize the situation in the Middle East, including in Syria?
Assad: We are dealing with individual groups, and with entire terrorist armies. But they are very similar. First, ideologically. Secondly, they get money from the same sources.
Their ideology is one of radicalism, they can’t bear the existence of any other religious beliefs, except those professed by the terrorists. They have common ideological leaders such as Al-Zawahiri, but each group has its own guide.
Their sponsors, as I have said, are the same, it is often entire states, such as Saudi Arabia.
Despite the disunity of the groups, their sponsors and ideological leaders are able to manipulate each of them via radical messages. For example, they can say to them: “Muslims are obliged to carry out jihad in Syria.” As a result, thousands of militants are sent here to fight.
The sponsors also control groups of bandits, supplying arms and funds for specific acts of terrorism.
In addition, the same Saudi Arabia combines the functions of both ideologist and sponsor: it circulate Wahhabi ideology among the rebels and supports them with money….
Q: On Wednesday, the Syrian government faced accusations by the rebels that it used chemical weapons. This accusation was immediately picked up by several Western leaders. What is your response to that? Will you allow the UN Special Commission to investigate this case?
Assad: The statements made by politicians in the U.S., the West and in other countries are an insult to common sense and disregard the opinion of the people.
This is nonsense: to blame first, and only then collect evidence.
And this is done by a powerful country – the United States. So, on Wednesday we were accused, and only two days later the U.S. government announced the start of evidence-gathering. And how do they intend to collect the evidence, from afar?
We stand accused that our army used chemical weapons in an area that is under the control of militants. In fact, in this area there is no clear front line between the army and militants.
And how can the government use chemical weapons — or any other weapons of mass destruction — in a place where its troops are concentrated? This is contrary to basic logic. Therefore, such accusations are political, and the reason for making them was a series of victories by government forces over the terrorists.
As for the investigation of war crimes in Syria, we are the first to have demanded an international commission.
When terrorists fired a rocket with poison gas in Aleppo, soon after numerous statements that were made in the West about the preparedness of government forces to use chemical weapons, we requested a visit by foreign experts.
We agreed this position with Russia, we would have liked to see the U.S., France, Britain also convinced that it was not us, but our opponents who are using chemical weapons. Convinced because of specific facts, and not because of unsubstantiated allegations.
In recent weeks, we have been negotiating with the UN on the work of the commission, at last, the experts came to us (Izvestia note — a few hours after the interview, it became known that Syria and the UN commission agreed on a procedure for joint action to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons]. The results of their work will be presented at the UN.
But you know that any results can be interpreted in favor of particular countries. Therefore, we expect that Russia will not be permitted to interpret the documents, in the interests of the U.S. and Western policies in general.
Q: Judging from the statements of the U.S. leadership and a number of other Western countries over the last few days, the Americans have not ruled out military action in Syria. Is it your understanding that the United States will act in the same manner it did in Iraq, trying to find a pretext for an invasion?
ASSAD: This is not the first time that the question of military intervention in Syria has been raised. From the very beginning of the crisis the United States, France and Britain were trying for a military intervention, but to their misfortune, things took a different turn. They tried to convince Russia and China to change their position in the UN Security Council, but they did not succeed.
They were unable to convince their people and the world that the politics they have undertaken in the Middle East are wise and useful. It also turned out that the situation here is different from the situation in Egypt and Tunisia.
The exact same scenario of “the Arab Spring” has ceased to be convincing. They can start any war, but can’t know how long it will last and over how much territory it will spread. They realized that their script was out of control.
Another obstacle to military intervention – and this is what everyone understands about what is happening in Syria – is that it is not a people’s revolution and a demand for reforms. This is terrorism. In this situation, Western leaders can not tell their citizens: “We are going to Syria to support terrorism.”
QUESTION: Mr President, what will the United States face if they do dare to strike Syria or even invade the country?
ASSAD: The U.S. can expect to fail, just like in all previous wars it has waged, from Vietnam to the present day. America has taken part in numerous wars, but has never been able to achieve the political objectives for which it began these wars. America was not able to convince its multi-ethnic people of the righteousness of these wars, neither did it manage to inculcate its ideology in other countries. Yes, indeed, great powers can start wars, but can they win?
QUESTION: Are there any negotiations with Russia over the supply of fuel, goods and weapons? I especially want to ask about the contract to supply S-300 systems – have they been delivered?
ASSAD: Of course, no country is able to say that it has this or that weapon or that it has signed a contract for their supply – this is part of state and military secrecy.
But I want to say that all the contracts concluded with Russia are have been fulfilled. And neither the crisis, nor pressure from the U.S., Europe and the Gulf states have prevented their implementation. Russia supplies Syria what what it requires for its defense, and for the defense of its people.
QUESTION: What kind of help does Syria expect from Russia: economic or military? Does Syria have plans to ask Russia for a line of credit?
ASSAD: When national security is weakened, this results in a weakening of the economic position. And it goes without saying that the fact that Russia supplies Syria’s military contracts will lead to an improvement of the economic situation in Syria.
Russia’s support for our right to assert our own independence right from the start has helped our economy. Several states who oppose the Syrian people have inflicted serious damage upon our economy, primarily due to the economic blockade, because of which we now suffer. Russia acted quite differently.
Russia’s political support, and also the accurate fulfillment of military contracts despite U.S. pressure significantly improved our economic situation.
And specifically addressing the economy – any line of credit from a friendly country such as Russia, is beneficial for both sides. For Russia that may mean expanding markets and new opportunities for Russian companies, while for Syria it is an opportunity to raise funds to develop its own economy.
This is aside from contracts already signed with various Russian companies to supply a variety of products.
Once again, I would argue that Russia’s political position and its support for Syria’s positive effect on the stability and prosperity of the Syrian citizens.
QUESTION: Can you specify details of existing agreements? Do they relate to fuel or food?
ASSAD: The current economic sanctions are preventing Syrian citizens from receiving food, medicine and fuel. These are basic products needed for living. And, accordingly, what the Syrian government is doing now by signing agreements with Russia and other friendly countries allows us to establish guarantees for these products.
QUESTION: Returning to the Syrian issue, we know that you have several times declared an amnesty. What have been the results? Is there anyone among those rebels who have been amnestied who are now fighting with the government forces?
ASSAD: Yes, it’s true – and the amnesty is producing positive results. Especially when the picture of what is happening in Syria became clear to everyone.
Many of the rebels laid down their arms and returned to normal life. Many of them defected to the side of the government.
These groups can be divided into two segments – the first was deceived by the media, the second consists of those who were forced under duress to fight for the rebels because of terrorist threats.
Therefore, we always believe that we should leave the door open for those who have decided to go along the path of that opposing their country. While many in Syria were opposed to the amnesty, it has paid off and was able to reduce tensions in society.
QUESTION: Mr President, whom you can call your main allies, and who are your opponents? Recently, Syria’s relations with some countries has collapsed – Qatar and Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Who is to blame for that?
ASSAD: The countries who stand with us — on the world stage — are Russia and China, while on the regional level there is Iran. But I can say that in the world there is a positive change — some countries that were radically opposed to us have started to change their positions, while others have already restored relations with Syria. And there are countries that do not directly support us.
There are a number of states which have openly supported terrorists in Syria — they are Qatar and Turkey.
Qatar is a sponsor of terrorism, and Turkey trains and provides corridors for [the terrorists]. Now Saudi Arabia has replaced Qatar as a sponsor. Saudi Arabia is a state that only has money, and those who only have money cannot create a civilized society and maintain peace.
If Saudi Arabia takes on the role of the main sponsor, Turkey has a different position. It is unfortunate that a state like Turkey can be controlled by a few dollars. Unfortunately, a huge country with a strategic position and a progressive society is being controlled by a Gulf state. And for all this, the prime minister of Turkey answers. The Turkish people, with whom we share many customs and much heritage, is not at fault.
[The remaining two questions deal with the relations between the Russian and Syrian peoples and Assad’s expectations from Geneva-2]
Earlier in the interview, Assad was asked about Israel:
QUESTION: The Syrian government talks about the close relationship between Israel and the terrorists. But the mere mention of Israel makes the radical Islamists have hysterics. How it is possible that there can be cooperation between the two?
ASSAD: Why does Israel open fire at our troops when we drive the terrorists to the border? Is that not to hinder us? And why does Israel allow those terrorists, blocked at the border, to escape our troops into its territory, and even then it attacks Syrian forces on the other side [of the border]? Why has Israel several times in recent months attacked parts of the Syrian Arab army?
But the main evidence of cooperation comes from Israel itself.
Israel has said several times that its hospitals had treated tens of terrorists. If these groups hate Israel so much, so that a single utterance of [Israel’s] name drives them to hysteria and causes them to hate, why is it that these radical groups that are right now fighting against Egypt and Syria, never carried out any operations against Israel throughout its entire history?
Well, let’s remember who originally created these groups. These terrorists were recruited and supported by the U.S. and the West, Saudi Arabia has funded them since the early 80s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. So how then can these groups that were started by the West and America to strike at Israel?