President Bashar al-Assad's interview with CNN
Syria-Regional-USA, Politics, 10/13/2005
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday morning gave a comprehensive interview to CNN on regional issues. The following is the full interview with CNN Journalist Christiane Amanpour.
Amanpour: Welcome to Damascus, Syria where President Bashar al-Assad is joining us in his first major television interview; certainly his first US television interview. And it comes at a time of increased heightened tension between the US and Syria and potentially more tension between Syria and its regional neighbors with the impending publication of the UN investigation into the murder of Rafik al Hariri, the Former Lebanese Prime Minister. Joining us to talk about all this is President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Assad: You are most welcome in Syria.
Amanpour: The United States is extremely angry with you and your government and accuses you of facilitating, providing safehaven and now actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq. What are you going to do to stop doing all that, to stop allowing the insurgents into Iraq ?
Al-Assad: I wouldn't say this is true. It's completely wrong. You have many aspects of the problem. The first aspect is that no country can control its borders completely. An example is the border between the United States and Mexico; and many American officials told me that they cannot control the borders with Mexico but they end up saying you should control your borders with Iraq. This is impossible; and I told Mr. Powell the first time we met after the war that it is impossible to control the border and we asked for some technical support. But, anyway, we have taken many steps to control our border, as I said not completely, but we have taken many steps, and we would like to invite any international delegation or from the United States to come and see our borders, to see the steps we have taken and to look to the other side to see nothing. There is nobody on the other side, neither Americans nor Iraqis.
Amanpour: And yet, everybody I talked to on the ground in Iraq say that the bulk of the foreign insurgents or Iraqi insurgents are coming from Syria. Why cannot your forces go house to house? Why cannot you actively stop this, close it down?
Al-Assad: I said it's impossible for any country to stop it, and many officials said that the number is between 1000 and 3000 insurgents or, as they call them, terrorist. The chaos in Iraq is the reason for the trouble not the border. We should be very frank about this. The problem is a political problem, not the border with Syria. When there is chaos, it is fertile soil for terrorist. This is the problem.
Amanpour: Can I just get your view on the insurgency? Do you agree it's a bad thing? Would you like to see the insurgency stop?
Al-Assad: Regardless of what the United States wants, our interest as Syria is to have a stable Iraq and when you have insurgency or terrorism or any thing like there will be more chaos, there will be a fragmented Iraq. That means affecting Syria directly. This is contagious. So, from our point of view we should help the Iraqis be stable, we should differentiate between the insurgency and the Iraqis who fight the American and British troops. This is something different. I am talking about the people who kill the Iraqis, those whom we call terrorists. We are against them completely.
Amanpour: The US, I believe it was Deputy Secretary of State Armitage, about a year ago, came and gave you a list of names of people they suspect as being leaders of the Iraqi insurgency here in Syria. Why did you not round them up?
Al-Assad: We only found one; and we told them we found one; and he left Syria and went to Iraq and was captured in Iraq by the Iraqi forces. So we only found one. Actually they don't have accurate information.
Amanpour: And was that the half brother of Saddam Hussein?
Al-Assad: Yes, he was that only one found in Syria and nobody else.
Amanpour: Why have you stopped, according to your Ambassador in Washington, intelligence cooperation with the United States ?
Al-Assad: You cannot have intelligence cooperation while having adverse political results and more attacks against Syria on the part of the American Administration. Second, as a result of the lack of knowledge and analysis on the part of American intelligence services, in many cases this intelligence cooperation made a negative impact on Syria's interests and we lost confidence as intelligence services so we stopped cooperation. But there have been attempts to resume cooperation recently through Arab and foreign mediators. We said we don't have any objection provided that there is a third party. These Arab and non-Arab mediators asked the Americans about what they want from Syria and so far we haven't received an answer.
Amanpour: What is your condition for helping the United States, and are you prepared to help the United States ?
Al-Assad: You mean in Iraq ?
Al-Assad: Definitely. We don't have any problem, and we said that publicly. They talk about a stable Iraq and we have a direct interest in a stable Iraq. They talk about a unified Iraq, we have a direct interest in a unified Iraq. They talk about supporting the political process, we have an interest in that because that will help build stability. So there are no differences. We don't know what they want. I think they don't know what they want.
Amanpour: Well, what they want is for the insurgency to be closed down. Can I ask you: there is a lot of talk about potentially the United State bombing safehavens and insurgent strongholds inside Syria. Has that happened?
Amanpour: If it does happen, would you consider that a hostile act and would you retaliate?
Al-Assad: We will deal with each case when it happens. We cannot say now how we are going to deal with every case. It is difficult for me to answer a hypothetical question now. But they will not find such a stronghold in Syria to bomb. We don't have any camps and we have been fighting such terrorism since the 1970s, and recently we had incidents, clashes between security forces and these terrorists in Syria. This is a general situation caused by the chaos in Iraq.
Amanpour: Al-Assad:, you know the rhetoric of regime change is headed towards you from the United States. They are actively looking for a new Syrian leader. They are granting visas and visits to Syrian opposition politicians. They are talking about isolating you diplomatically and perhaps a coup de tat, your regime crumpling. What are you thinking about that?
Al-Assad: I feel very confident for one reason: I was made in Syria and wasn't made in the United States. So I am not worried. This is a Syrian decision and should be taken by the Syrian people and nobody else in this world. So we don't discuss in Syria. I wouldn't care about any other opinion, and wouldn't put any other opinion ahead of the Syrian people's opinion regarding this issue.
Amanpour: What would happen, do you think, if there was an alternative to you, and who is the alternative to you?
Al-Assad: It could be any patriotic Syrian, and we have a lot. I am not the only person who is eligible to be President. I don't have any problem with that. But no Syrian would be allowed to be President if he is made outside our borders. This is a Syrian principle.
Amanpour: The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said if not regime change then behavior change. They want you to change the behavior of the Syrian government. One of these issues is the Iraq insurgency and she wondered whether the Syrian government is smart enough to take that course.
Al-Assad: They didn't say in what direction should we change our behavior, to do what? They only talk about the border which is not true. Can you sum the behavior of a country in a border issue which is trivial, which is not the real problem. The real problem is: what about the peace process in our region? This is the problem. We are interested in making peace and they are not interested. This administration is not interested in making peace. We are interested in a more stable Iraq. They only talk about a stable Iraq but the mistakes they make everyday give the opposite result. This is the difference between Syria and the United States. So should we support more mistakes? This is the question. They should be more specific.
Amanpour: We are going to take a short break and when we return will talk more about the increasing isolation of Syria.
Amanpour: Welcome back as we continue our conversation with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Al-Assad: it is not just with the United States that you are having trouble right now. It is potentially with the whole world. As you know in two weeks the UN investigation into the assassination of Rafik al Hariri will be published and there are well informed US sources who say Syria will be implicated. Are you prepared for the isolation and the pressure that will be put on Syria if that report says that either officials or very high ranking officials here are responsible?
Al-Assad: You said if. So, we are not isolated so far. We have very good relations with the whole of the world and I think most countries know that Syria is not involved in that crime for two reasons. The first reason is that it goes against our principles. The second reason is that it goes against our interests. And from another perspective, Rafik al-Hariri was supportive of the Syrian role in Lebanon. He was never against Syria. So there is no logic in involving Syria or putting Syria's name to this crime. So far we are very confident. We received the investigation committee two weeks ago. We were very cooperative and we are more confident after those interviews they made in Syria that we are completely innocent, that Syria has nothing to do with this crime
Amanpour: And yet you obviously heard the informed speculation that Syria could be implicated. If it is implicated and if the names of high level or any Syrian officials are provided as suspects, will you hand them over to an international trial?
Al-Assad: In this respect if there is a Syrian person implicated, under Syrian law this person is a traitor and should be punished by the maximum penalty. This is treason, and it's natural for us to try him or for him to be tried anywhere else in the world. But this is a different issue. I am talking about our confidence that Syria is not implicated and at the same time so far there is no evidence that Syria is implicated. We are satisfied with this. There is no material evidence.
Amanpour: So let me get it straight; again if Syrians are implicated, you will hand them over for international trial?
Al-Assad: If they are implicated they should be punished internationally, in Syria or whatever. If they are not punished internationally they will be punished in Syria.
Amanpour: Al-Assad:, as I said, people believe that Syria is responsible. I want to know whether you could have ordered this assassination?
Al-Assad: This is against our principles and my principles, and I would never do such a thing in my life. What do we achieve? I think what happened targeted Syria, targeted our reputation, our relations with the Lebanese, our relations with many countries in the world. It is impossible.
Amanpour: If a Syrian or many Syrians are implicated, is it possible that such a crime could have taken place by Syrian officials without your knowledge?
Al-Assad: I don't think so. If that happened it would be treason.
Amanpour: How did you first hear about the assassination?
Al-Assad: From the news. I was in my office.
Amanpour: As you know, because you have read it, and we have read it, there are witnesses who have said that during one of Mr Hariri's last visits to Damascus he was threatened by you unless he supported the extension of the current President Emile Lahoud who is friendly to Syria. Did you threaten him Sir?
Al-Assad: This is another illegal presumption. It is not my nature to threaten anybody. I am a very quiet person, I am very frank, but I wouldn't threaten anyone. Second, you said I threatened him for the extension and they say I threatened him then the Syrians killed him. So why kill him if he did what Syria wanted. He didn't do anything against Syria. If we wanted the extension, he helped Syria achieve the extension. So why harm him or kill him. There is no logic. But anyway I didn't do it and would never do it.
Amanpour: You know, Mr. Hariri's son Saad led a victorious democratic coalition to victory in the last elections in Lebanon, and yet he is now living in Paris; and he said he fears an assassination plot against him. Does Mr. Saad al-Hariri or any people, even those who speak out against Syria in Lebanon, journalists and others, do they have anything to fear from you?
Al-Assad: No, definitely not from Syria. Never. We don't have this history of assassination in Syria. So, they don't have to worry. The question is what information they had and who passed this information to them, that they are under threat. This is the question. That is what happened with Mr Hariri two days before he was killed, we read in the newspapers, that more than one western official told him be careful they are planning to kill you. So what plan? We should know. Maybe someone passed the same information to this person.
Amanpour: There are some people Sir who say that you are the President but maybe you are not fully in charge of those aspects. Maybe you are not in the loop. Is that possible?
Al-Assad: But at the same time they say I am a dictator. So they should chose. You cannot be a dictator and not be in control. So if you are a dictator you are in full control, and if you are not in control you cannot be a dictator. Actually I am not the first one and I am not the second one. I have my authority by the Syrian constitution, but at the same time it is not enough to have authority. It is very important to have dialogue with the widest circle of people you can to take your decision; and this is the way I work.
Amanpour: What would you envision for two week from now. This report is going to come out. If the worst case scenario for Syria is in that report, in other words, Syria is to blame, what is going to happen to this country? There will be sanctions. Your country will be increasingly isolated. How will the country survive?
Al-Assad: That depends on the evidence. If there is any evidence we will support any action. This is for sure. If it is just a political game and there is no evidence and they are looking for a reason to isolate Syria, what would they achieve if they isolate Syria ? Nothing. What can they do about many issues in the Middle East that Syria is essential to solving. Nothing. We are essential. They cannot isolate Syria. Isolating Syria is isolating themselves from many issues in the Middle East. So we are not worried about that. We are worried about a political game or politicizing the report. We are very confident that if the report is professional it will say that Syria is not involved. Otherwise we think there must be political pressure on the report to give a different result and accuse Syria without any evidence. That is what we are worried about.
Amanpour: We are going to take another short break and when we come back we are going to talk about the regional issues, Syria and Israel and the possibility of peace there and reform here at home after the break.
Amanpour: Welcome back. Jointing us again is Bashar al-Assad President of Syria. You have talked about regional issues. Back in 2000 there was a window of opportunity for potential peace between Syria and Israel. The window closed and for five and a half long years there doesn't seem to be another opportunity. What does it take to make peace between you and Israel ?
Al-Assad: Let me start from the memories of President Clinton who mentioned the round in Shepherd's Town, and said that Syria was ready to make peace and it was forthcoming towards peace but Barrack couldn't deliver. So we were ready in 2000, were ready in 1991 when the peace process was launched in Madrid and we are still ready. So we haven't changed as Syria. What changed are two things: the administration in the United States has changed and the government in Israel has changed. The administration in the United States as I heard from them, maybe from Mr. Powell, and as many Arab and European officials heard from the American administration and some of them heard from President Bush that the peace process is not their priority. At the same time we don't think this government in Israel is serious about the peace process. So in the near future we don't see any hope but in the long term there must be peace. There is no other option.
Amanpour: Every time this issue comes up we need to ask about the Palestinian rejectionists, the so-called radical Palestinians who don't believe in the peace process and who have been blamed for terrorism, and who have bases here. Are you going to close them down?
Al-Assad: In Syria we have half a million Palestinians and they have 8 political organizations. They have been here for decades, and we have another two who were expelled from the Palestinian territories and came to Syria. They are not allowed to go back to their territories. The normal thing is that they should go back to their country. In Syria all these organizations can work on a political basis. They cannot do anything else. They meet with the Palestinian people in Syria, they express their political position. Regarding the two organizations, they don't have members in Syria. The don't have an organization. They don't have offices. There are a few leaders who were expelled from their territories and they came to Syria. So they don't have offices. They have houses and they meet with people. So, when they ask us to close them down what do we close? Their houses? They will have other houses and meet with people because they live a normal life, but they don't do any action in the Palestinian territories from Syria.
Amanpour: I will ask about reform here in Syria. When you became President tragically because of the death of your brother, you became almost the accidental President of Syria. And people had huge hope because you were young, you were a new face, there was a moment when there was a Damascus Spring flowering, reform, a little bit of democratic progress, and all came to a grinding halt. Now you started a little bit again after the party congress in the summer. And yet people say it is still not enough. We cannot go in slow motion now because the pressures on us are so intense. What is your plan for this?
Al-Assad: Let met comment on the accidental president term. I cannot accept it because it means that we ignore the opinion of the Syrian people who made me president. So it wasn't accidental, it was through their will. Second, when you ask about my plan you should ask me first do I have all the requirements? No, we don't have. Because we have many factors, internal and external. Internal factors are your will, your history, your tradition, your goals and many other factors. The external factors are the peace process, stability in the region, the support that you get from developed countries in reforming your country. When you say reform it is not only political reform, it is political, economic, technical and all the other aspects of reform. So we don't control all these aspects. That is why we have a lot of obstacles to go forward. When we talk about the speed regarding this plan, it is the matter of what car you have. You cannot go very fast in an old car. You need a new car. What pillars do you have? We should put pillars when we have reform. These pillars constitute the base when you have a building up in the space, if it is not strong enough it will fall. So these pillars are related to our history and the other factors that I mentioned.
Amanpour: But are you committed to it?
Al-Assad: Definitely. We are not perfect, nobody is perfect. We are going steadily and consistently. Maybe not very fast but we are consistent. We are committed, not only the government, but the majority of the people support this process. But we still have a long way to go. That doesn't mean that we haven't done anything. We have done a lot. We have recently started studying a modern multi- party law. We had a number of political parties but we are looking for a more open law. We had private universities during the past few years, we had private media, private schools, private banking. We have done many things during the past few years. For me I don't think it's slow. It is fast. But you always want to be faster and this is normal and we want to achieve more. This is normal ambition.
Amanpour: I will ask one last question. Sitting here feeling we are about to enter quite a tough period between Syria and the rest of the world. Do you feel that too?
Al-Assad: No, not with the rest of the world, because the United States and some other countries are not the rest of the world. They represent themselves. We have good relations with all countries of the world. We have very good dialogue. They understand our position very well. They know our point of view about different issues and we don't have any problem now.
Amanpour: And yet there is some tension between you and Saudi Arabia, there is some tension between you and Egypt, quite a lot of regional tension. Iran is about your only real friend right now.
Al-Assad: No. I was in Egypt two weeks ago and I have a very good relationship with president Mubarak and they support Syria. I also have a very good relationship with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and he supports Syria. Sometimes we don't see each other that much but that does not mean we have bad relations.
Amanpour: Your father made a strategic decision in 1990-1991 to support the first President Bush in the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. Why did you not do the same this time?
Al-Assad: No! President Hafez al-Assad did not support President Bush, he supported the liberation of Kuwait. And this is the difference. So it's completely different. If I am going to support this administration, I would be supporting the occupation of Iraq. And we are against the war generally. We think that wars create tension and create adverse effects that will affect Syria directly and the other countries not only Iraq. So we are against the war in principle and in terms of interest. That is why we didn't support the war.
Amanpour: Are you now afraid of civil war there though?
Al-Assad: Yes. When you have chaos it is a fertile soil for civil war.
Amanpour: Would that not propel you to try to support what the US is doing in Iraq ?
Al-Assad: That is what I said a few moments ago, that we are ready to support the political process. We cannot achieve stability and prevent Iraq from civil war or fragmentation without a political process. You need that political process. We support the political process and we support the government. We support Iraq, and that is different from supporting the United States.
Lebanese deputy speaker: Kanaan suicide due to pain from Syrian-Lebanese development
Al-Assad: any Syrian involved in Hariri assassination is traitor
Syrian minister of interiorĘcommits suicide
Al-Assad exclusive interview on CNN
Syrian-Lebanese relations are historical: Lebanese speaker
Al-Hariri meets Sfeir: the kill will pay the price
Omani daily criticize American pressures on Syria
Syrian humanitarian aid to Iraq
Graduation of new batch of air force cadres
Arab solidarity committees condemn pressures on Syria
No change in US policy on Golan, Fernandez says
OIC backs Syria
Al-Thawra: Syria refutes Zibari and U.S. accusations as baseless
Sufferings of Iraqis on Syrian border continues, Baghdad is silent
Please add a link on your webiste pointing to ArabicNews.com and bookmark ArabicNews.com & subscribe to our daily email news bulletin.
| Advertise on ArabicNews.com. MyFlowers.com sold more than $2700 of flowers in one month advertising on ArabicNews.com! Make your company, and products a success. Special rate for new and small business. Inquire!Advertising Info