PRESIDENT AL-ASSAD GIVES INTERVIEW TO THE GERMAN FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG NEWSPAPER

http://sana.sy/eng/21/2013/06/17/487994.htm
Jun 17, 2013

Damascus, (SANA)_President Bashar al-Assad gave the following interview
to the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper:

Interviewer: Mr President, how do you view the situation in your
country? The Syrian Army has lost control over large parts of Syria,
in other words those areas are outside the control of central
government. What's your take on the situation?

President Assad: Your question requires us to put things into their
proper context: this is not a conventional war with two armies fighting
to control or liberate particular areas or parts of land.

What we are in fact dealing with is a form of guerrilla warfare.

As for the Syrian Army, there has not been any instance where our
Armed Forces have planned to enter a particular location and have not
succeeded. Having said this, the Army is not present - and should not
be present - in every corner of Syria. What is more significant than
controlling areas of land, is striking terrorists. We are confident
that we can successfully fight terrorism in Syria, but the bigger issue
is the ensuing damage and its cost. The crisis has already had a heavy
toll but our biggest challenges will come once the crisis is over.

Interviewer: In your recent interview with Al-Manar it appeared as
though you were preparing the Syrian public for a protracted struggle.

Was that your intention?

President Assad: No, this was not specific to Al-Manar. From the early
days of the crisis, whenever I was asked, I have stated that this
crisis is likely to be prolonged due to foreign interference. Any
internal crisis can go in one of two ways: either it is resolved or
it escalates into a civil war. Neither has been the case for Syria
because of the foreign component, which seeks to extend the duration
of the crisis both politically and militarily; I think its fair to
say that my predictions were right.

Interview: Mr President, how do you expect to overcome the large-scale
destruction that has been inflicted in Syria?

President Assad: In the same way you, in Germany, overcame the
devastation after World War II, and in the same way many other nations
have progressed and been rebuilt after their wars. I am confident
Syria will follow the same path. As long as we have resilient people,
we can rebuild the country. We have done this before and we can do
it again, learning from all we have been through.

In terms of funding, we have been a self-sufficient country for a very
long time. Of course we will need to be more productive than before as
a result of the situation. Friendly countries have helped us in the
past and continue to offer their support, maybe in the form of loans
in the future. It may take a long time, but with our determination,
our strength and our solidarity, we can rebuild the country.

However, the more arduous challenge lies in rebuilding, socially and
psychologically, those who have been affected by the crisis. It will
not be easy to eliminate the social effects of the crisis, especially
extremist ideologies. Real reconstruction is about developing minds,
ideologies and values. Infrastructure is valuable, but not as valuable
as human beings; reconstruction is about perpetuating both.

Interviewer: Mr President, during the crisis some areas of the country
have become either more self-reliant or more reliant on external
support. Do you think this could potentially lead to the re-drawing
of borders?

President Assad: Do you mean within Syria or the region in general?

Interviewer: The region - one hundred years after the Sykes-Picot
Agreement.

President Assad: One hundred years after Sykes-Picot, when we talk
about re-drawing the borders in our region, we can use an analogy from
architecture. Syria is like the keystone in the old architectural
arches; by removing or tampering with the keystone, the arch will
collapse. If we apply this to the region, to the world, - any tampering
with the borders of this region will result in re-drawing the maps of
distant regions because this will have a domino effect which nobody can
control. One of the superpowers may be able to initiate the process,
but nobody - including that superpower, will be able to stop it;
particularly since there are new social borders in the Middle East
today that didn't exist during Sykes-Picot. These new sectarian, ethnic
and political borders make the situation much more complicated. Nobody
can know what the Middle East will look like should there be an
attempt to re-draw the map of the region. However, most likely that
map will be one of multiple wars, which would transcend the Middle
East spanning the Atlantic to the Pacific, which nobody can stop.

Interviewer: Mr President, in your opinion what will the region look
like in the future?

President Assad: If we rule out the destructive scenario of division
in your last question, I can envisage a completely different and
more positive future, but it will depend on how we act as nations
and societies. This scenario involves a number of challenges, first
of which is restoring security and stability; our second challenge
is the rebuilding process. However, our biggest and most important
challenge lies in facing extremism.

It has become extremely clear that there has been a shift in the
societies of our region away from moderation, especially religious
moderation. The question is: can we restore these societies to their
natural order? Can our diverse societies still coexist together
as one natural whole? On this point allow me to clarify certain
terms. The words tolerance and coexistence are often used to define
our societies. However, the more precise and appropriate definition, of
how our societies used to be - and how they should be, is harmonious.

Contrary to perception, the issue is neither about tolerance -
since there will come a day when you are not tolerant, nor is the
issue about coexistence - since you co-exist with your adversaries,
but rather it is about harmony. What used to characterize us in the
region was our harmony. You cannot say that your hand will coexist
with or tolerate your foot because one compliments the other and both
are a part of a harmonious whole.

Another challenge is political reform and the question of which
political system would keep our society coherent: be it presidential,
semi-presidential or parliamentary, as well as deciding the most
appropriate legislation to govern political parties. In Germany, for
example, you have the Christian Democratic Party. In Syria we could
not have religious parties, neither Christian nor Muslim, because for
us religion is for preaching and not for political practice. There
are many other details, but the essence is in accepting others. If
we cannot accept each other we cannot be democratic, even with the
best constitution or the best legislations.

Interviewer: Mr President, where do you see secularism in the midst
of the rising Islamic current in the region?

President Assad: This is a very important question; many in the region
do not understand this relationship. The Middle East is a hub of
different ideologies. Arab society is primarily based on two pillars:
Pan-Arabism and Islam. Other ideologies do exist, such as communism,
liberalism, Syrian nationalism, but these are not nearly as popular.

Many people understand secularism as synonymous with communism in
the past, in that it is against religion. In fact it is the complete
opposite; for us in Syria secularism is about the freedom of confession
including Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and the multiple diverse
sects within these religions. Secularism is crucial to our national
unity and sense of belonging. Therefore we have no choice but to
strengthen secularism because religion is already strong in our region,
and I stress here that this is very healthy. What is not healthy is
extremism because it ultimately leads to terrorism; not every extremist
is a terrorist, but every terrorist is definitely an extremist.

So in response to your question, we are a secular state that
essentially treats its citizens equally, irrespective of religion, sect
or ethnicity. All our citizens enjoy equal opportunities regardless
of religious belief.

Interviewer: Mr President, how do you view the two-and-a-half years
since the so-called 'Arab Spring?'

This is a misconception. Spring does not include bloodshed, killing,
extremism, destroying schools or preventing children from going to
their schools, or preventing women from choosing what to wear and what
is appropriate for them. Spring is the most beautiful season whilst
we are going through the direst circumstances; it is definitely not
Spring. Is Spring compatible with what is happening in Syria - the
killing, the slaughtering, the beheading, the cannibalism, I leave
it to you to decide.

Interviewer: What are the issues that the so-called "Arab Spring"
is supposed to resolve?

President Assad: The solution doesn't lie in the 'Spring' or in
anything else, the solution lies in us. We are the ones who should
provide the solutions, by being proactive instead of reactive. When
we address our problems proactively we ensure that we get the right
solutions. Solutions imposed reactively by the 'Spring' will only
lead to deformed results.

Like many countries in the Middle East, we have numerous problems that
we are aware of and view objectively. This is how these problems should
be solved, in that the solutions are internally manufactured and not
externally administered, as the latter would produce a distorted or
stillborn solution. It is for this very reason that when we call for
dialogue or solutions, they need to be home-grown in order to ensure
that they lead to the Syria we aspire to.

Interviewer: Mr President, you have rejected any form of foreign
intervention and have warned that this would extend the battle to
wider areas, have you reached this?

President Assad: Let's be clear about this, there are two types of
foreign intervention: indirect through proxies or agents, and direct
intervention through a conventional war. We are experiencing the
former. At the beginning of the crisis I warned that intervention in
Syria - even indirectly, is similar to tampering with a fault line,
it would lead to shockwaves throughout the region. At the time, many
people - especially in the media, understood this as President Assad
threatening to extend the crisis beyond Syria's borders. Clearly they
did not understand what I meant at the time, but this is exactly what
is happening now.

If we look at the reality in front of us, we can see clearly that what
is happening in Iraq now, and in Lebanon previously, are repercussions
of the situation in Syria, and this will only extend further and
further. We are seeing these ramifications and the intervention is
still indirect, so imagine the consequences of military intervention?

The situation will, of course, be much worse and then we will witness
the domino effect of widespread extremism, chaos and fragmentation.

Interviewer: You criticise countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar,
Turkey and Britain for their interference in the Syria crisis, isn't
it true that Russia and Iran are also involved?

President Assad: There is a significant difference between the
co-cooperation of states as opposed to the destabilisation of a
certain country and interference in its internal affairs. Cooperation
between countries is conceived on the concept of mutual will, in a
way that preserves their sovereignty, independence, stability and
self-determination. Our relationship with Russia, Iran and other
countries that support Syria are cooperative relations certified
under international law.

The countries you mentioned, have adopted policies that meddle
in Syria's internal affairs, which is a flagrant violation of
international law and our national sovereignty. The difference
therefore, is that cooperation between countries is intended to
preserve stability and perpetuate the prosperity of these nations,
whilst foreign interference seeks to destabilise countries, spread
chaos and perpetuate ignorance.

Interviewer: Sir, you have discussed the repercussions of the Syrian
crisis on Iraq and Lebanon whose societies are based on what one
might call a sectarian system. Do you think that such a system with
Sunni and Shiite pillars could be established in Syria?

President Assad: Undoubtedly, sectarian systems in neighbouring
countries, sectarian unrest or civil wars - as in Lebanon 30 years ago,
will inevitably affect Syria. That is why Syria intervened in Lebanon
in 1976 - to protect itself and to safeguard Lebanon. It is for this
reason that we are observing carefully the unfolding events in Iraq
- they will affect us directly. This was also for this reason that
we adamantly opposed the war on Iraq, despite a mixture of American
temptations and threats at the time. We rejected losing our stability
in return for appeasing the Americans. Sectarian systems are dangerous
and that is why we insist on the secular model where all citizens
are equal regardless of religion.

Interviewer: Mr President, you are fighting "Jabhat Al-Nusra." Can
you tell us about it, what is this organization, who supports them,
who supplies them with money and weapons?

President Assad: Jabhat Al-Nusra is an Al-Qaeda affiliated group with
an identical ideology whose members live in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon
and Jordan as well as other Arab and Muslim countries; they are
very well financed and have plenty of arms. It is difficult to trace
their sources due to the fact that their support resides in a covert
manner through wealthy individuals and organisations that adopt the
same ideology.

Their primary aim is to establish an Islamic State in accordance to
their interpretation of Islam. Central to their political thought is
the Wahhabi doctrine - comparable to Al-Qaeda's in Afghanistan. This
ideology is administered wherever they are present, especially on
women. They claim to be applying Sharia Law and the Islamic Religion;
however, in reality their actions are a complete distortion of the
real religion of Islam. We have seen examples of their brutality on
our satellite channels taken from footage they publish on purpose on
YouTube in order to spread their ideology; a recent example was the
beheading of an innocent man, which was aired on Belgian TV.

Interviewer: What is the motivation for Saudi Arabia and Qatar
to assist and arm the terrorists against you, what do they seek
to achieve?

President Assad: Firstly, I believe that this is a question they should
be answering. I will respond by raising a few questions. Do they
support the armed gangs because of their vehement belief in freedom
and democracy as they claim in their media outlets? Do they harbour any
form of democracy in their own countries, in order to properly support
democracy in Syria. Do they have elected parliaments or constitutions
voted on by their people? Have their populations decided at any time
during the previous decades on what type of governing system they
want - be it monarchy, presidency, principality or any other form? So,
things are clear: they should first pay attention to their own nations
and then answer your question.

Interviewer: In this quagmire, why do Britain and France delegate
leadership to Saudi Arabia and Qatar? What do they hope to achieve?

President Assad: I also cannot answer on behalf of Britain or France,
but I can give you the general impression here. I believe that France
and Britain have an issue with the 'annoying' Syrian role in the
region - as they see it. These countries, like the United States,
are looking for puppets and dummies to do their bidding and serve
their interests without question. We have consistently rejected this;
we will always be independent and free. It seems as though France
and Britain have not forgotten their colonial history and persist in
attempting to manipulate the region albeit through proxies. Indeed,
Britain and France can direct Saudi Arabia and Qatar on what they
should do, but we must also not forget that the policies and economies
of France and Britain are also dependent on petrodollars.

What happened in Syria was an opportunity for all these countries to
get rid of Syria - this insubordinate state, and replace the president
with a "yes man." This will never happen neither now nor in the future.

Interviewer: The European Union has not renewed the arms embargo
imposed on Syria and yet it has not approved arming the opposition.

What is your assessment of this step?

President Assad: Clearly there is a split within the European Union on
this issue. I cannot state that the EU is supportive of the Syrian
government; there are countries, especially Britain and France,
who are particularly hostile to Syria. On the other hand, there are
countries - Germany in particular, which are raising logical questions
about the future consequences of arming the terrorists. Well firstly,
that would perpetuate the destruction in Syria, forcing the Syrian
people to pay an even heavier price. Secondly, by supplying arms,
they are effectively arming terrorists, and the Europeans are well
informed that these are terrorists groups. Some are repeating the
American rhetoric of "good fighters and bad fighters," exactly as
they did a few years ago with the "good Taliban and bad Taliban,
good Al-Qaeda and bad Al-Qaeda." Today there is a new term of "good
terrorists and bad terrorists" being promoted. Is this logical?

They are aware that weapons sent to the region will end up in
the hands of terrorists, which will have two consequences. First,
Europe's back garden will become a hub for terrorism and chaos,
which leads to deprivation and poverty; Europe will pay the price and
forfeit an important market. Second, terrorism will not stop here -
it will spread to your countries. It will export itself through
illegal immigration or through the same terrorists who returned
to their original countries after being indoctrinated and trained
more potently. These pressing issues in my opinion are creating a
considerable split or disagreement within the European Union; they
may not like it, but they have no other choice than to cooperate with
the Syrian government, even if they disagree with it.

Interviewer: Your Excellency has stated that if European countries
were to send weapons to Syria, they would effectively be arming
terrorists. Do you consider all armed militants as terrorists?

President Assad: As a European or German citizen I will pose the
following question: does your country allow you to carry arms,
intimidate or kill innocent people, vandalise and loot? Any individual
or group excluding the army and police who carries arms, kills people,
threatens and intimidates public safety are by definition terrorists,
this is a norm in every country. Regardless of their background, be
it extremists, criminals or convicted felons, those who are carrying
weapons in Syria are essentially committing these acts. Therefore, they
are terrorists. We differentiate between terrorists and conventional
opposition groups, since the latter is a political entity and has a
political agenda. Killing and slaughtering is terrorism and plunges
the country back years into regression.

Interviewer: So Mr President, you see the future as being against
terrorism?

President Assad: This is the logical conclusion; however in Europe you
have many illogical, unrealistic and irresponsible politicians who are
applying their negative sentiments instead of their reason. Politics
should not be fuelled by love or hatred, but by interests. As a
German citizen, you should ask yourself what do you stand to gain
from what is happening in our region? Basically, what is happening
now is against your national interests, your genuine interest lies
in fighting terrorism.

Interviewer: Some view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization; we know
that it has fought alongside Syrian troops in al-Quseir. We have also
heard that there are fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
fighting with you. Do you really need these forces?

President Assad: The media is trying to portray Hezbollah as the main
fighting force on the ground and the Syrian Army as weak and unable
to achieve victory. In reality, over the last months we have achieved
significant victories on the ground in different parts of Syria;
in all of these victories, some of which were more important than
al-Quseir, the Syrian army fought alone. None of this is highlighted
in the media. One of the reasons for these victories is the National
Defence Forces - local citizens fighting alongside the army to defend
their communities and regions. Al-Quseir received more international
attention because of statements by western officials projecting it
as a strategic town, to the extent that even some United Nation's
officials claim to understand the situation in al-Quseir! There was a
lot of exaggeration, but there were also a large number of arms and
militants. These terrorists started attacking the bordering towns
loyal to Hezbollah, which warranted their intervention alongside the
Syrian army in order to restore stability.

The Syrian Army is a large army capable of accomplishing its missions
across Syria, with the support of the local communities. If we were in
need of such assistance, why not use these forces in the rural parts
of Damascus, close to the capital? Damascus is certainly more important
than al-Quseir, as is Aleppo and all the other major cities; it doesn't
make any sense. But as I said at the beginning, the aim of this frenzy
is to reflect an image of Hezbollah as the main fighting force and
to provoke Western and International public opinion against Hezbollah.

Interviewer: How strong and large are the Hezbollah brigades currently
in Syria?

President Assad: There are no brigades. They have sent fighters
who have aided the Syrian army in cleaning areas on the Lebanese
borders that were infiltrated by terrorists. They did not deploy
forces into Syria. As you are aware, Hezbollah forces are positioned
towards Israel and cannot depart Southern Lebanon. Additionally,
if Hezbollah wanted to send fighters into Syria, how many could
they send? A few hundred? The Syrian Army has deployed hundreds of
thousands of troops across the country. Several hundred would make
a difference in one area, but it would not conceivably constitute
enough to tip the balance across all of Syria.

Interviewer: Mr President, Britain and France claim to have clear
evidence that chemical weapons have been used. The White House has
stated that it possess information to ascertain this claim, which
consequently led to the death of 100 to 150 people in one year,
in addition to that you have denied the UN investigators access to
areas in Syria except for Aleppo. How do you explain the situation?

President Assad: Let's begin with the statement from the White
House regarding the 150 casualties. Militarily speaking, it is a
well-understood notion that during wars, conventional weapons can
cause these number of deaths, or even higher, in a single day, not in
a year. Weapons of mass destruction generally kill thousands of people
at one given time; this high death toll is a primary reason for its
use. It is counterintuitive to use chemical weapons to create a death
toll that you could potentially reach by using conventional weapons.

America, France, Britain and some European officials claimed that
we have used chemical weapons in a number of areas. Regardless of
whether such weapons exist or not, we have never confirmed or denied
the possession of these weapons.

Had they obtained a single strand of evidence that we had used chemical
weapons, do you not think they would have made a song and dance about
it to the whole world?, then where is the chain of custody that led
them to a such result?

These allegations are ludicrous. The terrorist groups used chemical
weapons in Aleppo; subsequently we sent an official letter to the
United Nations requesting a formal investigation into the incident.

Britain and France blocked this investigation because it would have
proven the chemical attacks were carried out by terrorist groups and
hence provided conclusive evidence that they (Britain and France)
were lying. We invited them to investigate the incident, but instead
they wanted the inspectors to have unconditional access to locations
across Syria, parallel to what inspectors did in Iraq and delved into
other unrelated issues. We are a sovereign state; we have an army and
all matters considered classified will never be accessible neither
to the UN, nor Britain, nor France. They will only be allowed access
to investigate the incident that occurred in Aleppo.

Therefore, all the claims relating to the use of chemical weapons
is an extension of the continuous American and Western fabrication
of the actual situation in Syria. Its sole aim is to justify their
policies to their public opinion and use the claim as a pretext for
more military intervention and bloodshed in Syria.

Interviewer: The protests started in Syria peacefully before they
turned into an armed struggle. Your critics claim that you could have
dealt with the protests through political reforms, which makes you
partly responsible for the destruction in Syria. What is your take
on this?

President Assad: We started the reforms from the first days of the
crisis and, perhaps even to your surprise, they were initiated years
before the crisis. We issued a number of new legislations, lifted the
emergency law and even changed the constitution through a referendum.

This is a well-known fact to the West; yet what the West refuses to
see is that from the first weeks of the protests we had policemen
killed, so how could such protests have been peaceful? How could those
who claim that the protests were peaceful explain the death of these
policemen in the first week? Could the chants of protesters actually
kill a policeman?

>From the beginning of the crisis, we have always reiterated that
there were armed militants infiltrating protesters and shooting
at the police. On other occasions, these armed militants were in
areas close to the protests and shot at both protesters and police
forces to lead each side into-believing that they were shot at by
the other. This was proven through investigations and confessions,
which were publicised on a large scale in the media.

Interviewer: Mr President, it is reported that the Syrian Army has
bombarded certain areas. Was there no other option?

President Assad: We are pursuing terrorists who repeatedly infiltrate
populated areas. If we take Al-Qseir as an example, there was a
western media frenzy claiming that there were 50,000 civilians,
which is more than the town's original population. In fact, when the
terrorists entered the area, the inhabitants consequently fled; when
we entered we did not find civilians. Usually wherever the terrorists
infiltrate, civilians flee and battles occur afterwards. The evidence
clearly shows that most of the casualties in Syria are from the armed
forces. Civilians mostly die in suicide bombings. They also die when
terrorists enter an area, proceed to carry out executions and use them
as human shields. The rest of the causalities are either foreign or
Syrian terrorists.

Interviewer: After the momentum you have achieved in Al-Qseir,
do you feel it is now time to extend a hand to the opposition and
consider reconciliation?

President Assad: From day one we have extended a hand to all those who
believe in dialogue; this position has not changed. At the start of the
crisis, we held a national dialogue conference whilst simultaneously
fighting terrorists. But when we talk about the opposition, we should
not put them all into one basket; it is imperative to differentiate
between terrorists and politicians. In Germany, you have an opposition
but they are not armed. Opposition is a political act, and so when
we refer to the opposition, we mean the politicians to whom we are
always committed to dialogue, regardless of what happened in Al-Qseir.

As to national reconciliation, I do not think that it can be accurately
applied to Syria. It implies a scenario of civil war, as was the
case in Lebanon, or the conflict between black and white in South
Africa. In our case it is about a national dialogue to determine
a way out of the crisis and for the terrorists to put down their
weapons. In any case, we are awaiting the Geneva conference, which
essentially aims at the same political solution. However there are
external impediments; Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain,
continue to exert all their efforts at sabotaging dialogue in order
to prolong the Syrian crisis and prevent a political resolution.

Interviewer: How would you define the legitimate political opposition?

President Assad: Essentially, any opposition party that does not
support terrorism, does not carry weapons, and has a clear political
agenda. But opposition groups are also linked to elections; their clout
will depend on how well they fare in local administration elections
and more importantly, in parliamentary elections. We are dealing with
many groups who call themselves opposition, their success will be
determined by two important questions: what is their popular base? And
what is their political manifesto? We will then act accordingly.

Interviewer: Segments of the opposition claim that you have not taken
steps to form a united front with them against foreign intervention.

Is this true Mr President?

President Assad: On the contrary, in the national dialogue conference
in 2011, there was an open invitation to all those who considered
themselves in the opposition to come forward. Some chose to participate
whilst others chose to boycott and blame us for not taking steps
towards a solution. But we must ask ourselves, what do they mean by
making advances towards them? What should we be offering?

Ministerial positions in the government? The opposition in the current
government has won hard-fought seats in parliament. When an opposition,
made up of hundreds, does not have any seats in parliament how does
one ascertain who deserves to be part of the government? We need
clear criteria; it should not be haphazard.

To put it another way, the government is not owned by the President for
him to bestow gifts upon others in the form of ministries. It requires
national dialogue and a political process through which the electorate
can choose among other things their government and the constitution.

Interviewer: What are your set criteria for dialogue between you and
the opposition, could this include foreign-based opposition?

President Assad: We have no issues with autonomous opposition groups
who serve a national agenda. With regards to the foreign-based
opposition, we need to be very clear; its members live abroad and
report to western foreign ministries and intelligence agencies. They
are based outside their country and are in essence manipulated
by the states that provide their flow of finance. They are best
described as a "proxy opposition." As far was we are concerned,
genuine Syrian opposition means representing the Syrian people -
not foreign countries, it means being based in Syria and sharing the
burdens and concerns of the Syrian people. Such an opposition would
inevitably be part of any political process.

Interviewer: Fighting terrorism has become the priority now. In
reference to your recent interview most probably on Al-Manar
television, you stated that if you were to engage in a dialogue, you
would rather do so with the master than the slave. To what extent are
you prepared for dialogue with these entities in the future once you
have effectively fought terrorism?

President Assad: It is for this precise reason that we will attend the
Geneva conference. I used the notion of the master and the slave to
explain what we know will happen in reality. Negotiating with those who
have no autonomy over their own decisions essentially means that you
are in fact negotiating with the decision makers who dictate to them
how to act, what to accept and what to reject. You will have seen on
television recently footage of the French Ambassador to Syria giving
the external opposition orders and insulting them, or the American
Ambassador to Syria shouting and insulting them. Therefore in reality,
we are negotiating with the United States, Britain, France and their
regional instruments, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Those groups
who call themselves external opposition are mere employees; hence
the masters and the slaves.

Interviewer: What are your expectations from the conference? Will it
be followed by progress or a continued stalemate?

President Assad: We hope that the Geneva conference will push forward
the dialogue process in Syria especially since, earlier this year
we presented a vision for a political solution based on the Geneva I
communique. However, even though we will attend the conference with
this understanding, we should be clear on the facts. First, the same
countries I mentioned earlier that are supporting the terrorists
in Syria have a vested interest in the talks failing. The logical
question is: what is the relationship between the Geneva conference and
terrorism on the ground? Simply, if the Geneva conference is successful
- as is our hope, in preventing the smuggling of weapons and terrorists
- there are over 29 different nationalities documented to be in Syria,
then this would be a catalyst for resolving the Syrian crisis.

However if the smuggling of weapons and terrorists continues, there is
no value for any political solution. We hope that the Geneva conference
will make this its starting point; it is the single most important
element in the Geneva talks, which would ultimately determine its
success or failure.

Interviewer: If Geneva II fails, what are the consequences?

President Assad: The countries I mentioned previously would continue
to support the terrorists. Failing to solve the Syrian crisis will
make it spread to other countries and things will only get worse.

Logically speaking therefore, all parties have a vested interest in
its success. As to the external opposition, if Geneva succeeds they
will lose their funding; if you don't have money and you don't have
popular support, you end up with nothing.

Interviewer: Could Geneva II propose a government from different
political entities?

President Assad: This is what we have suggested in our political
initiative. We proposed the formation of an extended government from
diverse political entities that would prepare for parliamentary
elections; the winners of these elections would have a role in
the future. This is an approach that we have been open to from the
beginning.

Interviewer: Mr President, some of your critics claim that much blood
has been shed in Syria; they blame the leadership and see it as an
obstacle standing in the way of Syria's future. Would you consider
stepping down in order to bring about a new Syria?

President Assad: The president has a mandate in accordance with
the constitution; my current term ends in 2014. When the country
is in a crisis, the president is expected to shoulder the burden of
responsibility and resolve the situation, not abandon his duties and
leave. I often use the analogy of a captain navigating a ship hit by
a storm; just imagine the captain jumping ship and escaping in the
lifeboat! If I decide to leave now, I would be committing treason. If
on the other hand, the public decided I should step down, that would
be another issue. And this can only be determined through elections
or a referendum. As an example, in the previous referendum on the
constitution, there was a 58% turnout - which is pretty good in the
circumstances, and the constitution was approved by 89.4%.

The issue was never about the president, however they tried to
project it as such in order to force the president to sell out to
those countries backing the opposition, in order to install a puppet
president.

Interviewer: Mr President, you live with your family in Damascus. How
much public support do you and your family enjoy?

President Assad: When numerous neighbouring and regional countries as
well as the West are all opposing you, you couldn't possibly continue
without popular public support. The Syrian people are highly aware
of what is happening and have understood the dynamics of the crisis
early on; hence their support for their government and their army.

Interviewer: Next year there will be presidential elections, how do
you see these elections playing out?

President Assad: They will follow the new constitution, in other
words multi-candidate elections. It will be a new experience, which
we cannot predict at this point.

Interviewer: Mr President, what is your vision for Syria in the next
five years?

President Assad: I reiterate that our biggest challenge is extremism.

If we can fight it, with better education, new ideas and culture, then
we can move towards a healthy democratic state. Democracy, as we see
it in Syria, is not an objective in itself, but rather a means to an
end - to stability and to prosperity. Legislations and constitutions
are also only tools, necessary tools to develop and advance societies.

However, for democracy to thrive, it needs to become a way of life -
a part of our culture, and this cannot happen when so many social
taboos are imposed by extremist ideologies.

In addition to this, there is of course the reconstruction process,
reinvigorating our national industries and restoring and opening up
our economy. We will continue to be open in Syria, continue to learn
and benefit from the lessons of this crisis. One of these lessons is
that ignorance is the worst enemy of societies and forms the basis
for extremism; we hope that Europe has also learned from these lessons.

Interviewer: Mr President, thank you very much. I have been greatly
influenced by your personality and your vision; I hope Europe and
the West will benefit from this interview and look at you and your
country differently.

President Assad: Thank you very much and welcome again to Syria.