Damascus, SANA_ President Bashar al-Assad has stressed that nobody believes that Turkey will repatriate 3 million Syrian refugees to the northeast of the country and this is a deceptive humanitarian slogan raised by Turkish regime to create an ethnic conflict in this area and to bring the terrorists and their families into this region in order to create a new extremist community in line with the vision sought by President of the Turkish regime, Erdogan.
In an interview given to RUSSIA 24 and ROSSIYA SEVODNYA, President al-Assad clarified that most of the Kurds are patriots who support their state and the Syrian people, but there are groups, some of these groups are Kurds, some are Arabs, working under American command and there is currently a dialogue with them, since the return of the Syrian Army to north, to convince them that stability is achieved when all of us are committed to the Syrian constitution.
He said: “ After nine years of war, I think that most people understand the importance of embracing the state regardless of political differences.”
President al-Assad emphasized that every war will result in a lot of changes in society but it doesn’t mean dividing the country, moving towards separation; throwing out the constitution or weakening the state, confirming that the war should be an experience from which we come out with a stronger, not weaker homeland.
He pointed out that the American presence in Syria will generate a military resistance which will exact losses among the Americans, and consequently force them to leave. “However, America cannot believe that it will live comfortably in any area it occupies. We remind them of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Syria will not be an exception.”
President al-Assad indicated that the immediate and most effective solution is to unite as Syrians and as patriots and this would cause the Americans to leave the Syrian territory.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Question 1: Mr. President, first of all I’m grateful to you for finding the time to answer our questions despite the difficult circumstances.
The world’s attention is now focused on the situation in the northeast of the Syrian Arab Republic. What is your personal assessment of the Russian-Turkish agreement on Syria?
President Assad: Our assessment is certainly positive, not because we trust Turkey, which hasn’t been honest in meeting all the commitments it made previously, whether in Astana or elsewhere. Our assessment is positive becasue there is no doubt that Russia’s involvement has positive aspects, because otherwise we would have been faced with three options. The first was the Turkish plan or agenda, with its Muslim Brotherhood and Ottoman dimensions. The second option was the American plan, which is connected with the Turkish one, and was meant for the Turkish incursion to complicate the situation in Syria, and consequently push us away from the solution we all felt we were approaching. The third option was the German proposal, i.e. internationalizing the region, and consequently imposing international protection. All these plans are ultimately designed by the American leadership. Here is the significance of the positive Russian role, which outmaneuvered these plans and neutralized the Kurdish pretext, in order to prepare the ground for Turkey’s withdrawal.
Question 2: Why is Russia helping Syria, in general?
President Assad: We cannot answer this question without talking about the Russian role; Russia is a superpower and has international duties and responsibilities. These responsibilities serve the world and also, Russia and the Russian people. Russia has the choice of either playing the role of a superpower, or withdrawing into itself and becoming a very ordinary state, which would not be good for the world. In this context, the military presence in Syria is part of the framework of the global balance of power, because the world today is not governed by legal criteria, but rather by the criteria of power. Therefore, the Russian power, from a military perspective, is necessary for balance in the world.
A second aspect is fighting terrorism which has two sides: the first is moral and the second is legal, i.e. international law, because terrorism is supported by well-known states. There is a third aspect, which is protecting Russian interests. This terrorism has no borders, no political borders. Today, it might be in Syria, but also in the farthest point in Asia. It might also exist in Europe, like the terrorist operations which happened in the past years; and it might also be in Russia, and you recall what happened over ten years ago, when terrorists kidnapped and killed innocent people in schools and theatres. You have known and lived through terrorism in the Chechen Republic and other places, and you still do. You cannot fight terrorism only where it exists. It must be fought all over the world.
Moreover, Russia, through the role it’s playing, has the exact opposite vision of the West, which believes that international law is at odds with its interests; Russia believes that international law serves its own interests and also its joint interests with other countries. For all these reasons, Russia is helping Syria.
Question 3: Going back to Turkey, what do you think of Ankara’s intention of repatriating the Syrian refugees to the areas under the control of the Turkish army and the militants which support it in the northeast of the country, taking into account that these refugees might number about 3 million people?
President Assad: Nobody believes that Turkey will repatriate 3 million Syrian refugees to this area; this is a deceptive humanitarian slogan. Even if they wanted to, this is not possible because it would create a conflict between the owners of the land, the cities, the villages, the homes, the farms, and the fields on the one hand, and these newcomers, on the other; those who own these places will never renounce their rights in these areas, so this would create an ethnic conflict.
However, the real reason behind Turkey bringing the militants and terrorists who fought and were defeated in Syria, is to move them and their families into this region in order to create a new extremist community in line with the vision sought by the President of the Turkish regime, Erdogan. This is the real goal. In either case, both are dangerous and aim at destabilizing Syria. Therefore, we certainly reject it.
Question 4: The Sochi agreement contributed to normalizing the situation in northeastern Syria and prepared the ground for the return of the legitimate control of the Syrian government east of Euphrates and some areas in the northeast of the country. But the population in those areas has been cut off from the state’s central authority as a result of ISIS’s behavior. What are the steps you intend to take in order to engage the local authorities of the Kurdish autonomous administration? This is because fighting ISIS was carried out by both the government forces in that area and by the YPG.
President Assad: I want to separate the two cases, because ISIS was created by American will and carried out its activities under an American cover. We are convinced, and we have information, that America has used ISIS as a military tool to strike at the Syrian Army and to distract the military forces fighting terrorism, at the forefront of which is Syria.
With regards to the Kurdish forces, we need to correct certain concepts. The term is being misused and it is being promoted by the West to give the impression that the forces operating there are Kurdish and that the region is Kurdish. First, I would like to make it clear that this region in the north and northeast of Syria is an Arab-majority region; over 70% of its population are Arabs, not the other way around. The groups fighting there are a mixture of Kurds and others; the Americans support the Kurdish groups and installed them in a leadership role in order to give the impression that it is a Kurdish region and to create a conflict between the Kurds and the other groups in Syria. We remained in contact throughout the war with these groups, despite our knowledge that some were being used and directed by the Americans; they were armed and funded by the Americans and their public statements were dictated by them. This does not mean that the Kurds are not patriots; I stress that most of the Kurds are patriots who support their state and the Syrian people like any other segment of Syrian society, but some of these groups are Kurds, some are Arabs, and there might be others working under American command. These are the groups we have continued to engage.
Since the return of the Syrian Army to these areas, there is currently a dialogue to convince them that stability is achieved when all of us are committed to the Syrian constitution, because this constitution reflects the will of the people. And when the Syrian Arab Army returns, it does so together with other state institutions, which are also an expression of the Syrian constitution and people.
Some progress has been achieved recently after the Turkish invasion in this area. Russia plays an important role in this issue based on the same principles that I just mentioned. Sometimes we move forward, other times we move backward partly because of the American pressure on the armed groups in Syria not to respond to the Syrian state; this is expected. Now we are more optimistic that things are moving in right direction, because after nine years of war, I think that most people understand the importance of embracing the state regardless of political differences, or differences with the government or the ruling party. The state in every part of the world embraces everybody; I believe that we are moving in this direction.
Question 5: Have I understood you correctly, that the status quo in the northeast of the country is as it is because of outside interference? I mean, the views that there are problems with the Kurds that can never be solved.
President Assad: The problems are with some of the Kurds; I stress once again that most of the Kurds have been in Syria for decades and there are no problems with them. There are however, extremist groups, extremist in the political sense, which are making propositions closer to separation. Some of these propositions are related to federalism and Kurdish self-rule. As I mentioned earlier, this is an Arab region, and if anyone is to talk about federalism, it shall be the Arabs, because they are the majority; this is self-evident. Unlike, the situation in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey, there is no Kurdish majority in this region of Syria.
As to cultural and other rights, I always give the example of the Armenians because they are the latest comers to Syria – about a hundred years ago. They have their schools, churches, and full cultural rights. Why would we give cultural rights to one segment of Syrian society and not to others? Simply, this group has made separatist propositions which we shall never accept, not today, not tomorrow, not as a state, not as a people. This is the problem. Today, all these American-supported groups claim that the situation has changed after the war – of course the situation has changed. It is normal that every war will result in a lot of changes in society. However, war doesn’t mean dividing the country, or moving towards separation; it doesn’t mean throwing out the constitution or weakening the state. The war should be an experience from which we come out with a stronger, not weaker homeland. We shall never accept any separatist propositions under any circumstances.
Question 6: Mr. President, despite all this, how do you evaluate the role played by the YPG in the fight against ISIS? Because according to their figures, thousands of their fighters were killed defending their towns and villages inside Syria.
President Assad: A large number of Syrians have been killed defending their villages in all regions, not only in that region. It is not fair to talk about one segment of Syrians, because all Syrians defended their homeland, and all of them have defended their towns and villages. When people sense an existential threat, they must defend themselves, this is self-evident. But I wouldn’t put this defense in a political framework because that would mean giving America a certificate of good conduct and implying that all American-supported forces have been fighting ISIS, and consequently America has been fighting terrorism. We all know and we have all stated – in Syria, Russia, and other countries, that America has supported ISIS.
We must distinguish between the citizens who achieved real results defending their villages and killing or eliminating a large number of terrorists, on the one hand, and the political agenda which is linked to America, on the other; we need to be accurate.
Question 7: In October, the deadline for the withdrawal of YPG 30 kilometers from the Turkish borders expired, and Ankara claimed that YPG has not withdrawn. Where are the YPG units now? Where are they located? The equally important question is: how would these units be integrated with the Syrian Armed Forces, particularly since there was an announcement and a proposal in this regard?
President Assad: The Russian-Turkish agreement regarding the withdrawal of these armed groups must be implemented. As I said previously, they are a mixture of Kurds and Arabs, but their leadership is Kurdish. They need to withdraw because they provided the Turks with the pretext to implement their plan, which they have been dreaming of since the beginning of the war; they need to withdraw 30 kilometers.
As to implementation, they announced that they would implement and this has happened in some areas, but it hasn’t been implemented fully and this is to be expected. These types of measures do not happen overnight or quickly; there isn’t necessarily a central control over all the groups fighting in a particular area. Militias often fight and take their decisions in a chaotic manner and that’s why things are implemented in a particular place and not in another. We are cooperating with Russia in order to fully implement this agreement, after which we should tell the Turks to start withdrawing.
As for integrating these groups into the Syrian Army, we have followed a principle since the beginning of reconciliations in 2013 that all those who hand in their weapons get full amnesty and return to normal civilian life like any other citizen, and they may join the Syrian Arab Army. This has happened in many places; some of those who had fought with the terrorists later joined the Syrian Arab Army and fought within its ranks and were even martyred.
After the Russian-Turkish agreement, the Syrian Ministry of Defense announced that it was prepared to integrate all those fighters into the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army using various means appropriate to that region. The official response we received was that they were not prepared to join the Syrian Arab Army and that they insist on keeping their weapons in those areas. Also, within the framework of Syrian-Russian cooperation, we are trying to convince these fighters to join the Syrian Arab Army and fight against the Turkish invaders, which is the correct and proper way to restore the lands whose loss they have caused in northern Syria. We have to keep trying and we’ll see how things progress in the next few weeks.
Question 8: Mr. President, in fact, the war has ended in the largest part of Syria. People are returning to their homes in their villages. What is the Syrian leadership doing in order to provide the necessary requirements for their life there? Are there statistics about the number of restored houses or schools in those areas? And what are the main difficulties faced in preparing for the restoration of normal lives for these citizens?
President Assad: In Syria, the biggest concerns facing any citizen on a daily basis are the economic conditions and the ability to meet basic needs, as well as providing education to their children and healthcare. In every area we enter, we immediately start to restore the schools and provide the necessary requirements, including teachers and other resources; we also ensure that hospitals are functioning. Similarly, we pay attention to the living conditions. However, living conditions in Syria are subject, in one way or another, to a number of external factors, particularly the Western sanctions against Syria which affect the provision of heating oil, fuel, and consequently electricity. The embargo imposed on Syria prevents foreign investment into the country, in addition to other forms of embargo. We are able to provide the basic needs, albeit at a minimum; sometimes we are unable to provide them in a sufficient manner. All of this is a result of the embargo. We are looking for other methods; and our friends, Russia, Iran, and sometimes China, are providing some humanitarian assistance. These are the priorities and the needs of our citizens that we are trying to meet, albeit at a bare minimum.
Question 9: The more important question is: in order to ensure the return of normal life to the country, and the return of refugees, it is necessary to provide job opportunities. Is there a process of rebuilding destroyed facilities? And is the process of rebuilding them difficult under these tough sanctions?
President Assad: Yes, it is difficult, but not impossible. Away from any delusional or imaginary scenarios, practically speaking, there are a number of industries – the pharmaceutical industry for example, where the number of factories has risen significantly since the beginning of the war, this is also the case in other sectors. Of course, the pace is not as it should be, or as we want it to be, in order to provide for the return of refugees who are also looking for job opportunities. However, the mere fact that we are able to create new industries, a few of which are heavy industries, is at odds with the existing economic conditions for a country in a state of war, which usually can only create small or perhaps medium-sized industries. We need to now look for better ways to encourage investment because of the sanctions. We are currently studying our old investment law – which has been amended several times, to encourage the inflow of capital or at least the investment of capital already within the country which is not subject to foreign sanctions. Despite all this and despite the Western and American embargo, there are a few limited foreign investments.
Question 10: Going back to the question of the political solution, militants continue to hand in their weapons; and we know that the Syrian government, and you personally, are doing a lot in order to reintegrate these people in society. What are your next plans in terms of providing assistance to the militants and their families whose legal status have been settled?
President Assad: This is an important point, and a critical challenge. There are various aspects that need to be addressed. First, we have children, because you correctly referred to families and not just militants in the abstract case. These militants have a family and they are part of a community, albeit small, but an extremist community. Their children have lived for a long period, sometimes their formative years, outside of the law and away from national curricula, as such they have learned wrong concepts. We announced a few weeks ago that schools would integrate these pupils within their programs and according to their age, so that they could adjust into the national curriculum within a few years and assimilate to patriotic concepts.
A second aspect is the religious extremism which has been promoted for years, and has become entrenched in the minds of entire communities in the areas governed by Al Qaeda and Wahabi ideology under the names of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Tahrir al-Cham, Jaish al-Islam, and others, it doesn’t matter who, because they all belong to one ideology and one doctrine. In Syria, the religious establishment plays a very important role in this regard; you cannot talk to those extremists in the beginning about national and humanitarian issues. They must first understand that the religious concepts they have learned are wrong and distorted, and in contradiction with religion. We are working extensively in order to flush out these wrong concepts.
The third aspect is that these communities have lived outside the law; they don’t know the meaning of the state, of laws, courts of law, traffic police, and other instruments used by society to organize itself. This is the more difficult aspect. The challenge here is how to reintroduce the state in the best possible way to these towns and villages, in order to restore concepts of law and order. These are the areas we are constantly working on, through various institutions, in order to reintegrate this community into Syrian society and ensuring they have a strong sense of patriotism.
Question 11: Mr. President, I have an important question also about the humanitarian situation, which has to do with the Kurdish population. During the war, Kurdish children used the Kurdish language in their education and have not received official certificates or government documents proving the educational stage they reached. This is a big problem now, because they cannot continue studying and learning, and they cannot work in an official and a professional manner. Is there a plan to solve this problem? Is such a plan ready, or is it still under preparation?
President Assad: This issue is linked to the previous question; the implementation of this point was announced by the Ministry of Education immediately after the Turkish invasion, two or three weeks ago. The Ministry stated it welcomes the integration of students who studied the Kurdish curriculum into our national education system in the post-primary stage. This is a practical solution and the normal course of action; otherwise how can we ask these students or young people to reintegrate into our homeland if they are isolated or unaccepted in the national education system.
Intervention: But there are children and young people who have completed their education, but they don’t have official government documents to certify that. How can this problem be solved?
President Assad: There is no other option but to accept these certificates. Young people are not only integrated through school, but also through higher institutes, universities, and other educational institutions. If we want them to properly integrate into society and become productive individuals who contribute to building their country, we must find the appropriate procedural solutions in order to integrate them into the educational system. The first solution I referred to, was announced two weeks ago because it was the easiest and the quickest; other solutions are in the pipeline and will also be announced in the coming weeks.
Question 12: Mr. President, according to the media, Trump announced an expansion of American presence in Syria, particularly in the northeast of the country, under the pretext of protecting the oil fields. Is there a military solution to this problem? And when would such a military operation start?
President Assad: I have always said that an occupier cannot occupy a piece of land without having agents in that country, because it would be difficult for them to live in a completely hostile environment. Therefore, the immediate and most effective solution is for us to unite as Syrians and as patriots. This would cause the Americans to leave, and they would not be able to stay, neither for oil nor for anything else.
However, with time, when the occupier remains – the Iraq experience is still fresh in the minds of Americans and the result, for them, was unexpected; for us however, it was clear and I did say in one of my interviews after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that occupation will generate military resistance. Similarly, the American presence in Syria will generate a military resistance which will exact losses among the Americans, and consequently force them to leave. Of course, we are not contemplating a Russian-American confrontation, this is self-evident, and it doesn’t serve neither our interests, nor the Russians nor international stability; it is dangerous. However, America cannot believe that it will live comfortably in any area it occupies. We remind them of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Syria will not be an exception.
Question 13: Concerning the American behavior here, particularly in relation to Syrian oil, don’t you believe that this behavior is that of a government gang? And what are the losses to Syria as a result of Washington’s behavior?
President Assad: You are absolutely correct, not only because they are looting oil, but because America is structured as a political system of gangs. The American president does not represent a state – he is the company CEO, and behind this CEO there is a board of directors which represent the big companies in America – the real owners of the state – oil and arms companies, banks, and other lobbies. So, in reference to Syrian oil, this is the expected result of the American regime, which is led by companies acting for their own interests.
Having said this, I would like to remind you of something more significant than merely describing them as a gang. One of the most important factors, which led to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II, was oil; some even say that it was the only factor and there was no other reason for him to invade. Today, America is doing the same thing; it is imitating the Nazis. So, we can very simply liken American policy today with Nazi policy: expansion, invasion, undermining the interests of other nations, trampling on international law, international conventions, human principles, and others – all for the sake of oil. What’s the difference between this policy and Nazi policy? Can anybody from the American regime give us an answer to this question? I don’t think so.
Question 14: Would Syria lodge a complaint at the United Nations about the United States looting Syrian oil? And does Damascus have specific plans to demand compensation for the looted oil from Washington?
President Assad: Of course, this is to be expected. However, you and I, and many others in the world know that there is no United Nations because there is no international law; and so, all complaints lodged at the United Nations remain in drawers. As I mentioned earlier, there is a quasi-state, governed by gangs and based on the principle of power. These gangs are thieves and the conflict between them is over profits, gains, and losses. It is not a conflict over ideologies or political parties; the conflicts between Trump and others in America are conflicts over spoils and gains.
That’s why today we live in a world similar to a jungle, closer to the period before World War II, rather than after it. We will send a complaint, but it will remain in the drawers.
Question 15: In Istanbul, one of the founders of the White Helmets died a few days ago, the organization whose involvement in producing fake videos on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria was uncovered several times. And now there are hypotheses that this founder of the White Helmets in Syria did not die, but was rather killed. What do you think of that? What happened in Istanbul?
President Assad: In order not to look at this as an isolated case, we must look at it in the broader context of similar incidents. The American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was killed weeks ago; they said that he had committed suicide in prison. He was killed because he had many important details and secrets about prominent figures in the American and British regimes, and possibly other countries as well.
One of the leading members of the White Helmets was killed in a German prison; they also claimed he committed suicide. Now the main founder of the White Helmets is killed. He was actually an officer and worked throughout his career with NATO, in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, and Lebanon, and later he founded the White Helmets in Syria. What is the link between the history of this individual and humanitarian work, which is supposedly the domain of the White Helmets, but you and I both know, that they are part of Al Qaeda. If we take into account the killing of Bin Laden and recently al-Baghdadi, I believe these individuals were killed because they had important secrets and thus had become a burden; and since their role had expired, it was necessary to get rid of them. Therefore, if we look at all these stories as parts of one panoramic picture, we cannot believe that they committed suicide or died a natural death. All these names, and maybe others, were killed because their role had ended and it was necessary to bury their secrets with them. Why were al-Baghdadi and Bin Laden killed? Because were they to remain alive, there may have come a time or circumstance where they would have revealed the truth. Maybe the founder of the White Helmets was writing his memoir and this is not acceptable. These are all probabilities, but they are very likely probabilities, because the alternative is not convincing for me.
Intervention: So, you believe that Western intelligence agencies are behind the death of the former MI6 agent?
President Assad: Of course, these are the acts of intelligence agencies, the question is which ones? In general, when we refer to Western intelligence agencies, including the Turkish and some other intelligence agencies in our region, we know that they are not run by independent states. Rather, they are branches of the main intelligence agency, the CIA; this is the reality. They all work under the orders of one master in coordination and in harmony with one another. So, there is a high probability that the Turkish intelligence carried out the hit under instructions from foreign intelligence agencies. Once again, these are probabilities, but this is the nature of relations among Western intelligence agencies or those working with them.
Question 16: Mr. President, the constitutional committee has started its work in Geneva. Do you think that its work will be useful? And does Damascus have red lines if crossed by proposals of this committee that would be unacceptable?
President Assad: There is an attempt to portray that the solution to the war in Syria will come about as a result of the constitutional committee. The war did not start because of a disagreement or a division over the constitution. The war in Syria started because there were acts of terrorism which killed members of the military, the police, and civilians and also destroyed public and other properties. So, the war ends when terrorism ends. There was a parallel political track through which America wanted to propose the idea of a transitional body. This idea was rejected by us in Syria and by all countries that believe in international law. Consequently, the Sochi talks began and created the constitutional committee. The constitutional committee discusses the constitution; and for us, the constitution, like any other text, should be revised and amended in accordance with new developments in Syria; it is not a holy text. We had no problem with this, and so, we continued along with this track.
However, in order not to be over optimistic and make unrealistic propositions, we must explain the structure of this constitutional committee. It has three parties; one representing the viewpoint of the Syrian government, one representing civil society – which has different viewpoints, and the third party is appointed by Turkey. So, imagine that you, as Russians, want to amend the Russian constitution, and you’re told that one of the parties in the committee mandated with this task is appointed by foreign countries. You would not only reject that proposition, but you would also deem it as reckless and at odds with logic and reality. This is what happened in the constitutional committee. We are negotiating with a party appointed by the Turkish government, which of course means America; the front is Turkey, but this is a de facto position.
In order to expect results from this committee, every one of its members should have their allegiance to the Syrian people, they cannot belong to a foreign state and publicly declare their allegiance to it. Will they be allowed to be genuine Syrians? Can anyone who belongs to another state come back and belong to his homeland? I don’t want to give an answer, but I think these are logical questions that everyone watching this interview will have logical answers to.
Question 17: Mr. President, during the war, and a result of the sanctions, the Syrian economy has been greatly affected. And now there is a lot of talk about corruption. What are the reforms and changes to the economy which you intend to make in the near future? And are there mechanisms in place to support the national currency?
President Assad: Strengthening the economy first needs modern and developed investment laws. I referred to this aspect earlier and mentioned that we are in the process of upgrading these laws. You touched on fighting corruption in your question and this is an important aspect, whether it is to strengthen the economy, to enforce the law or to support the Syrian Pound; these are all interrelated. We started fighting corruption many years ago and this is ongoing and at an accelerated pace, especially with the discovery of a number of corruption cases. This is expected, because war creates chaos, and chaos is a very good environment for terrorism, on the one hand, and corruption, on the other. We are moving forward in enforcing the law.
However, fighting corruption and strengthening the economy also need new laws. The gaps that are related to the weakness of the economy, on the one hand, and to widespread corruption, on the other, are due to the weakness inherent in our laws. Almost a year ago, we created a committee of legal experts tasked with developing the laws in order to close the gaps which allow for corruption. This in itself supports the Syrian Pound while at the same time encouraging investment, because they are both interrelated. Our policy is not one of speculation; it is a policy which aims to create a strong economy, which in itself would support the national currency.
Question 18: Mr. President, in the countries neighboring Syria, there are demonstrations against governments, mainly in Lebanon and Iraq, and last August there were demonstrations in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Doesn’t that remind you of the start of the unrest in Syria in 2011? What is your take on that? Who has an interest in what is happening? And what are the initial objectives of this?
President Assad: No, they are not similar to what happened in Syria. What happened in Syria in the beginning was that money was paid – and this is documented – to groups of people to come out and demonstrate. There were a few that demonstrated because they wanted changes in particular areas, but this was not the general situation. The killing started from the early days. There were shootings, which means that the demonstrations were not spontaneous. The money was available, and the weapons ready, so, we cannot liken this situation with those in other countries.
Certainly, if these demonstrations in a number of neighboring countries are spontaneous and genuinely express a national desire to improve political, economic, and other conditions, then to do so, they must remain patriotic. Countries which interfere with everything throughout the world, like America and the West, and particularly Britain and France and others, will certainly take advantage of this situation in order to play a role and push things in a direction that serves their interests. The most important thing is that they [the demonstrations] remain within a national framework. If they do, the results will surely be positive, because they express the will of the people in these countries. But if there is foreign interference, it will certainly be against the interests of the homeland. This is what we have known and experienced clearly in Syria. That’s why I hope that these movements are a genuine driver towards improvement within all sectors and at all levels.
Question 19: Mr. President, the last question, which might be a little personal. We know very well that you like driving cars; and every citizen in your country knows that you prefer to drive your car by yourself. Now, the largest part of Syria has become free from war, and that’s why the roads have become safer. Does your security detail have less work during your movements now? And have you seen, by yourself, the positive changes in the country while driving your car, particularly that not every head of state drives their own car?
President Assad: I have been doing this since my first day in office, I haven’t changed my nature. I would like to stress an important point, which is that my security detail hasn’t changed before or during the war. It has remained the same. We haven’t introduced any additional measures, neither in relation to driving a car nor with regards to the security motorcade. They remain the same, because one of the objectives of the terrorists and those who support them, and the psychological pressure as a consequence, was to create a state of terror in Syria. So, when officials feel afraid, citizens must feel afraid too; this is one aspect.
The other is not related to the war. I drive my car because I don’t like the trappings of the position; this is my nature. I’m self-dependent, I have always driven my car and that hasn’t changed. I prefer to let my personality dictate the position rather than allow the trappings of power to dictate who I am. This has always been my principle: before and during the war, and it will not change. Neither terrorism nor anything else will succeed in changing my nature and my relationship with people.
As to its impact on people, I believe that every citizen in any country in the world likes their officials to be natural and not superficial, to be spontaneous without show and spectacle. I believe that this is one of the strengths of any official who cares about his relationship with people, and who likes to be as close to them as possible. An official cannot exaggerate and claim to live a completely normal life, but at the same time they should not separate themselves from people, otherwise they would lose this relationship. This is one of the many aspects which connect me to the Syrian people.
Journalist: Mr. President, thank you for your candid answers. We wish you all the best. Thank you.
President Assad: Thank you, I am very happy to meet you. I would like, through you, to convey my warm regards to the friendly and brotherly Russian people. Today, we don’t just have shared familial ties, as was the case in previous decades, we have also shed blood in our joint confrontation with terrorism. Thanks again.
Journalist: Thank you.