The main chain of U.S. television has made an exclusive interview with Bashar al-Assad. Syrian President spent three hours answering journalist Barbara Walters who had in the past spent a flattering portrait of his wife. However, the channel did not broadcast the whole interview, but extracts a total of ten minutes. The responses of the head of state were cut not to challenge U.S. diplomacy. Worse, some sentences have been cut and blended to give him an abstract image, far from reality. We reproduce the full script of the interview, with back passages selected by ABC. This layout does not transcribe sentences blended pasting fragments scattered. For these operations, refer to this video.
Barbara Walters: Mr President, you have invited us to Damascus and you have not given an interview to the American media since this crisis began. What is it you want us to know?
Bashar al-Assad: I would like to reiterate what I used to say after 11th of September to every American delegation I met. First of all, I think the American people should know more about what’s happening beyond the ocean. Second, I would like American media to tell only the truth about what’s happening in the world. I would like to say to the American administration, do not look for puppets in the world
Barbara Walters: Don’t look for puppets?!
Bashar al-Assad: Do not look for puppets, but only deal with people that can tell we know about the truth, because what’s happening in the world now is taking the world toward chaos. What we need now is to deal with the reality. So the message now is about the reality.
Barbara Walters: Tell me what the reality here in your country is, what is the reality?
Bashar al-Assad: It’s too complicated, it takes hours to talk about... so let’s be specific.
Barbara Walters: Not long ago you were widely seen as a fresh pragmatic leader, a doctor whose life was in healing people, now sir, much of the world regards you as a dictator and a tyrant. What do you say to that?
Bashar al-Assad: What’s important is how the Syrian people look at you, not how you look at yourself. So I don’t have to look at myself
, this is first. Second, it’s about the system, you have a dictator and you have dictatorship, there’s a big difference between the two; dictatorship is about the system. We never said we are a democratic country, but we are not the same, we are moving forward in reforms, especially during the last nine month. So, I think we are moving forward; it takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be full fledge democratic country, but we are moving in that direction. For me as a person, whatever I do should be based on the will of the people because you need popular legitimacy and this is against dictatorship for person.
Barbara Walters: But you talk about the support of your people. You did have the support of your people, and then began these demonstrations which I will discuss in more detail and crack-downs, and you have people now who don’t want you to lead, you don’t have the support of all of your people.
Bashar al-Assad: You always have people that don’t want you to be in that position, that is self-evident, that is normal. You cannot say that having the support of the people, all the people support you means something absolute, it is not, you always have people to support, I am talking about the majority, and people are against you, they’re not majority yet. When they are majority you don’t have to stay in that position.
Barbara Walters: But you have people who are against you, who are protesting every day; it started as a simple but not so simple, I mean it started with people marching with olive branches and with their children asking for more freedom, for freedom of press, for freedom of expression and much of the country now, sir, is not supporting you, that’s what your crisis is about.
Bashar al-Assad: That’s why we had the reform started quickly, after the very beginning that you described as simple, so we didn’t take the role, we didn’t play the role of stubborn government, they say they need more freedom, we, right away, had new party laws, new media law, new election law, new local administration law, and we are revising our constitution now. In the next few months we want to have a new constitution. So, showing your opinion whether you like somebody or doesn’t like government or president or whoever, should be through the election, the ballot box, this is the only way. So, that is how you need to reform; to see if the people who want you are the majority or the minority and vice versa.
Barbara Walters: if you have new election, and they are soon, will you have elections for president? Will you have opposition parties, and if somebody else wins, would you step down?
Bashar al-Assad: If somebody else wins, what sorry?
Barbara Walters: Well, if you have elections, will they be elections for president?
Bashar al-Assad: No, now we are going to have first of all the local administration election this month...
Barbara Walters: Local administration, but what about the president?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, but after that we are going to have the parliamentarian election, which is the most important.
Barbara Walters: Okay, Next Parliament.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes. Now, we are talking about presidential election. It is going to be in 2014…
Barbara Walters: People don’t want to wait that long, till 2014.
Bashar al-Assad: Which people?
Barbara Walters: The people who are protesting.
Bashar al-Assad: How, how many, are they majority or not? That’s why you need to wait first of all for the parliamentarian election. These elections will tell you whether you are going to have majority or minority, then you can think about presidential election, but not before. Before that you don’t have any indication, any clear indication.
Barbara Walters: In 2014 when there are presidential elections, will you allow opposition parties?
Bashar al-Assad: That’s why we are changing the constitution.
Barbara Walters: OK. And if somebody else wins, will you step down in 2014?
Bashar al-Assad: If he wins he’s going to be in my position; I don’t have to step down, he’s going to be president. So you don’t step down, he will win the election, he will be president. So, step down means you leave, while if you win the election, he’s going normally to be in that position instead of me.
Barbara Walters: Mr President, you once had positive things to say about President Obama, now President Obama says, and I quote ’President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule, he should step down.’ What do you say to President Obama?
Bashar al-Assad: I’m not a political commentator. I comment more on action rather than word. At the same time if I want to care about something like this I would care about what the Syrian people wants. Nobody else outside Syria is part of our political map. So, whatever they say: we support, we don’t, he’s legitimate, or he’s not, it’s the same for me. For me, what the Syrian people want is the popular legitimacy that put me in that position, and this is the only thought that can make me outside. So anyone could have his own opinion, whether president, official or any citizen, it is the same for me, outside our border.
Barbara Walters: Public opinion doesn’t matter?
Bashar al-Assad: Outside Syria?
Barbara Walters: Outside Syria.
Bashar al-Assad: No. It’s Syrian issue.
Barbara Walters: But Syria is almost completely isolated. The Prime Minister of Turkey who was your ally has aid, and I quote: ’no regime can survive by killing or jailing’. Jordan says you should step down, the Arab League, Syria was a founding member, have said that they have suspended you; you’ve lost all the support of your neighbours and friends. Does that matter to you?
Bashar al-Assad: That depends how do you describe, or how do you define isolation and support. How did they support, how did they support me and how did they isolate me? Isolation is not by visitors or by supporting by words; it’s about your role, your position, nobody can isolate Syria because of our position. That happened in 2005 and they couldn’t; Bush tried to isolate Syria, Chirac, Blair... everybody, they couldn’t. We have a role to play; we are related to different problems. If they isolate Syria, Syria will collapse and it’s going to be a domino effect and everybody will suffer. So they don’t have interest to isolate Syria, we’re not isolated.
Barbara Walters: Sir, they are isolating you, they have economic sanctions against you, they may have further sanctions, and all of these neighbours, so-called friends, have now abandoned you. So you are isolated.
Bashar al-Assad: We’ve been under embargo for the last 30 to 35 years, it’s not something new, but it’s fluctuating, up and down depending on the situation. Those countries that you’re talking about, they have little influence on the situation in Syria.
Barbara Walters: Your neighbours have no influence?
Bashar al-Assad: No, no, we still have good relation with them, we’re not isolated; you have people coming and going, you have trade, you have everything. That’s why I said, how do you define isolation? If you don’t define it, it’s just a term. In reality, we’re not isolated yet.
Barbara Walters: They have sanctions against you.
Bashar al-Assad: What kind of sanctions, nothing?
Barbara Walters: Economic sanctions against you.
Bashar al-Assad: It’s not implemented. They’re going to suffer; the countries around Syria are going to suffer. What about the transit, what about many other things? They have common interests with us, they would not implement it, or they cannot, or they’re going to suffer. That depends on the option that they are going to take. That’s why I said, isolating Syria is not something easy, it’s not only a decision they may implement; it’s not easy. So it’s not about the economy, it’s about the whole role in the political arena in the Middle East; it’s not only about the economy.
Barbara Walters: You know sir that many leaders in the region have been overthrown. You have seen certain pictures of Egypt’s President Mubarak in jail, pictures of Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi are killed, are you afraid that you might be next?
Bashar al-Assad: No, I am afraid that the Syrian people won’t support me.
Barbara Walters: That they won’t support you.
Bashar al-Assad: But they support me, I mean the only thing that you could be afraid of as President is to lose the support of your people. That is the only thing that you should be afraid of not to be in jail or things like this.
Barbara Walters: Do you feel now that you still have the support of your people?
Bashar al-Assad: If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position. This is Syria. It’s not easy; it’s a very difficult country to govern if you don’t have the public support.
Barbara Walters: But Mr. President you have people an hour and a half away from here protesting. You have people who have been killed and people who have been tortured and still they’re protesting and you say you have the support of your people?
Bashar al-Assad: No, you are mixing between the protestors and the killing; it’s something different. Now we are having terrorists in many places killing people.
Barbara Walters: Now?
Bashar al-Assad: No, not only now but from the very beginning, no not now. Now, it is recognized in the media; that is the difference, but from the very first few weeks we had those terrorists who are getting more and more aggressive; they have been killing people. We have over one thousand one hundred soldier and policeman killed. Who killed them? Peaceful demonstrations! This is not logical, this is unpalatable.
Barbara Walters: Okay, but let us go back a little bit, let me ask the question again, do you feel now even with people who have been protesting that you have the support of your people?
Bashar al-Assad: The majority or the minority because you are talking about the protestors.
Barbara Walters: The majority, the majority of the people you feel still support you?
Bashar al-Assad: The majority of the Syrian people are always in the middle and then you have people who support you and you have people who are against you. So the majority is always in the middle. That majority is not against you. If they are against, you cannot have stability in most of the cities not Syria let’s say as you see; you’ve been here for two days now.
Barbara Walters: You feel the majority of the people in this country support you?
Bashar al-Assad: I say the majority is in the middle and the majority is not against - to be precise.
Barbara Walters: Okay, the majority that is in the middle support you.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Okay. The protest really began with after the detention and torture of children who were writing graffiti calling for your downfall; I’ve seen awful pictures of what happened, why was there such a brutal crackdown?
Bashar al-Assad: What happened?
Barbara Walters: Well, I will give you some examples and you can tell me if you’ve seen these. These are some of the images and stories and some of the images that I saw: a thirteen year old boy who was arrested in April, a month later his body was returned to his family bearing scars of torture. A famous cartoonist whom you know who was critical of you badly beaten, his arms are broken. A singer, famous singer who wrote a popular song calling for your oust he was found with his throat cut, you have seen these pictures, have you not?
Bashar al-Assad: No, but I…
Barbara Walters: Is this new to you?
Bashar al-Assad: No, it’s not new. I met with his father, the father of that child, and he said that he wasn’t tortured
and he appeared on the media. We have to see things with a stereoscopic vision with two eyes, not with one eye to be frank.
Barbara Walters: Okay,
what about the cartoonist who was critical of you I have seen his pictures, his hands were broken, he was beaten.
Bashar al-Assad: Many people criticized me; did they kill all of them, who killed who? Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government not the vice versa.
Barbara Walters: What about the singer with his throat cut?
Bashar al-Assad: I don’t know about him, I don’t know about every single case.
Barbara Walters: He was a famous singer, a famous song you don’t know about it?
Bashar al-Assad: No I don’t think he’s famous I don’t know about him.
Barbara Walters: You don’t know about him, well I saw those pictures.
Bashar al-Assad: He is famous in the United States but not in Syria! Do you know about him, this is editing…I don’t know.
Barbara Walters: You don’t know.
Bashar al-Assad: No. I didn’t hear this story, it’s the first time. For the child, I met with his father and there was special investigation committee to see if there was torture, but there was no torture. But they kept him for a long time in the fridge and that what happened. His father is the one who is responsible and you can meet him any time. This is only false allegations to be frank with you. That’s what I said at the very beginning that my message for the media is to tell the truth not to listen to rumours.
Barbara Walters: Well, in the beginning of these protests, the women were marching with children carrying olive branches nobody at that point was asking for you to step down. It has escalated; do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?
Bashar al-Assad: They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.
Barbara Walters: OK but you are the government.
Bashar al-Assad: I don’t own them I am president I don’t own the country so they are not my forces.
Barbara Walters: No but you have to give the order?
Bashar al-Assad: No, no,
we have in the constitution and in the law that the mission of the institution is to protect the people, to stand against any chaos or any terrorists; this is their job according to the constitution and the law of the institution.
Barbara Walters: The crackdown was without your permission?
Bashar al-Assad: What do you mean by crack down?
Barbara Walters: The reaction to the people, there are some of the murders, some of the things that happened?
Bashar al-Assad: No, there is a difference between having policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials, there is a big difference. For example, when you talk about policy it’s like what happened in Guantanamo when you have policy of torture for example, we don’t have such a policy to crack down or to torture people. You have a mistake committed by some people, or we heard, we have some allegations about mistakes and that is why we have a special committee to investigate what happened and then we can tell according to the evidences if we have a mistake or not. But as a policy, no we do not have.
Barbara Walters: Have there been mistakes made in this crack down? Yes?
Bashar al-Assad: Self-evidently yes for one reason because when you don’t prepare yourself for new situation you are going to make mistakes.
Barbara Walters: Okay, have the people who made the mistakes been found accountable, have they been punished?
Bashar al-Assad: Some of them yes according to the evidences, but you cannot punish anyone according to rumors or allegations. So, this is an independent judicial committee, its job is to detain people if they are guilty and to send them to the court for prosecution.
Barbara Walters: So, some people have been found accountable?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes according to my knowledge from the very beginning.
Barbara Walters: Last week an independent United Nations Commission
who interviewed more than two hundred and twenty five people
issued a report which said that your government committed crimes against humanity and they went on torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against protestors including against children, what do you say to them?
I mean what I am saying again and again, is that protestors were beaten; things happened to them,
do you acknowledge that, do you acknowledge what the UN said?
Bashar al-Assad: Very simply, I would say send us the documents and the concrete evidences that you have and we will see if that is true or not, you have a lot of allegations now.
Barbara Walters: Did the UN not send you these documents?
Bashar al-Assad: Nothing at all.
They didn’t say. They don’t have even the names, who are the raped people or who are the tortured people, who are they? We don’t have any names, they didn’t send anything.
Barbara Walters: Mr. President they have issued this report. They have accused you and your regime.
Bashar al-Assad: According to what?
Barbara Walters: Well according to what they said; there are two hundred and twenty five people witnesses, including men, women, children whom they interviewed and identified and that’s when they called it crimes against humanity.
Bashar al-Assad: We are a government, we have government, we have institutions, and
they should send us the documents. As long as we don’t see the documents and the evidences we cannot say yes, that’s normal. We cannot say just because the United Nations… first of all, who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?
Who said so? We know that you have the double standard in the world, in the United States policy and in the United Nations that is controlled by the United States. So, it has no credibility. It is about evidences and documents and whenever they have these documents, we can discuss this issue. But to discuss a report that we don’t see as related to reality is just a waste of time.
Barbara Walters: You do not think that the United Nations is a credible organization?
Bashar al-Assad: No,
for one reason; they never implemented any of the resolutions that are related to the Arab world for example, to the Palestinians and to the Syrian land. Why don’t they do this? If they talk about human rights, what about the Palestinians suffering in the occupied territory, what about my land and my people who left their land because it’s occupied by Israel? Of course it is not credible for every citizen not for me as President; I am telling you about the perception in the whole region.
Barbara Walters: You do not think the United Nations is credible?
Bashar al-Assad: No. it has never been credible, it’s not something before my generation; it’s something we inherited as a concept and as a belief.
Barbara Walters: You have an ambassador to the United Nations.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, it’s a game we play; but doesn’t mean you believe in it. (Laughing)
Barbara Walters: I see. Even some of your armed forces are not remaining loyal, some of them have defected and some of them are fighting now against you, what do you say to that?
Bashar al-Assad: What do you mean by defected?
Barbara Walters: Well, some of your armed forces have left the military.
Bashar al-Assad: But every year in the normal situation you have thousands of solider that fled from the army, you have it normal. When you have this situation you have a little bit more, you have higher percentage and then you have some few officers that leave the army to be against you. If you talk about deflection in the army, it’s different from having few people deflecting, so we cannot generalize.
Barbara Walters: You don’t think that they are a great many, you think it’s just a few?
Bashar al-Assad: No, otherwise you will have a different situation. You are in Syria now; you see most of the things are stable. If you have defection in the army, you cannot have stable country or stable major cities like Damascus, Aleppo, and the majority of Syria is stable.
Barbara Walters: You describe your country now as a stable country?
Bashar al-Assad: In most of the areas, yes. We have trouble, we have turbulence but not to the extent that you have a divided army. If you have a divided army you are going to have real war. You don’t have war; you have instability which is different from war. We have terrorists killing people.
Barbara Walters: You do not feel now that you are at the brink of a civil war?
Bashar al-Assad: No, not because of our policy but because of the history of this society. We don’t think that we are on the brink of civil war because the people are aware of the need to live together, that’s why.
Barbara Walters: I want to make this clear, you say that the country in general is stable, certainly we see here in Damascus since we’ve been here, it is business as usual, but there are areas of this country an hour, an hour and a half away in which there is still fighting, in which there is still protest…
Bashar al-Assad: That’s true.
Barbara Walters: Do you see that as something important, people fighting for their freedom or do you see it as a little something here and a little something there?
Bashar al-Assad: You have different components, not everybody is fighting for freedom. You have people who want freedom, and that is why we have reform because we recognize those people and most of the people who need freedom did not demonstrate. Not everybody in the street was demonstrating for freedom. You have different components, you have extremists, religious extremists, you have outlaws people who have been convicted in the courts and they have been escaping for years now. You have drugs smugglers and you have likeminded people of Al Qaeda and others. So, there are different components; you have money coming from outside just for the media propaganda, they give money to people they demonstrate for fifteen minutes or for half an hour and thus you see demonstration in the media. So you have different components, you have everything, you have real demonstrations, you have peaceful demonstrations, you have militants, you have terrorists and you have everything in the same place sometimes.
Barbara Walters: So, here you have what seems to be much of the world condemning you, so what’s the biggest misconception? Why is there this misconception in the USA while the country is stable? We have some factions, what’s the misconception?
Bashar al-Assad: First of all, who is most of the world, most of the west you mean?
Barbara Walters: Not just the west, Turkey, Jordan…
Bashar al-Assad: Turkey is not most of the world.
Barbara Walters: That’s not just the west and members of the Arab league; they are imposing sanctions, some of them are telling you to step down, these are your neighbors.
Bashar al-Assad: There’s and agenda for those countries. It is a political game; it’s not because they care about the killing or they care about democracy. Most of these countries have an agenda, and I am not going to talk about it now, I am not going to talk about their agenda because we have information and when we have the evidence, we will announce it. But this is not because they care about the Syrian people.
Barbara Walters: Right.
Bashar al-Assad: If we talk about Turkey and the Arab league.
Barbara Walters: Yeah.
Bashar al-Assad: but going back to the condemnation, we still have good relation with most of the world, not vice versa; even with the neighboring countries, we still have normal relation.
Barbara Walters: With whom?
Bashar al-Assad: With our neighbors.
Barbara Walters: Not Jordan.
Bashar al-Assad: With Lebanon, we have trade we have normal.
Barbara Walters: Well, Lebanon.
Bashar al-Assad: Also with Iraq.
Barbara Walters: But what is the agenda for example of Turkey or Jordan or the Arab league?
Bashar al-Assad: I’d rather ask them. I wouldn’t answer on their behalf. They will tell you if they have agenda.
Barbara Walters: Do they want to destroy you?
Bashar al-Assad: You should ask them. I cannot talk about their will. I don’t know about their will, to be frank.
Barbara Walters: One of the things that the Arab league has asked for consistently is to have monitors, to have objective people come and visit these areas where there is discontent. Will you allow monitors?
Bashar al-Assad: Let me tell you that we asked the Arab League to send monitors; they did not ask. We send them and asked them three months ago when I received the Secretary General of the Arab League. I told him why don’t you send a delegation to see what is happening on the ground to tell the truth.
Barbara Walters: Okay.
Bashar al-Assad: We asked and we wanted them to come, and we allowed the Red Cross to come and see.
Barbara Walters: Wait, this is very important; let me ask this again: will you now allow monitors to come into this country?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course.
Barbara Walters: Of course?
Bashar al-Assad: We want that, but in line with our sovereignty.
Barbara Walters: What does that mean?
Bashar al-Assad: What does it mean?!
Barbara Walters: Yeah.
Bashar al-Assad: To do everything in cooperation with the Syrian government; you have state here.
Barbara Walters: Yeah but if…
Bashar al-Assad: They cannot just come and do whatever they want.
Barbara Walters: But if you had monitors, they have to be free to look around, they can’t be…
Bashar al-Assad: Of course they are free.
Barbara Walters: They can’t, but they are saying they have to be free with your people accompanying them. They’re not independent.
Bashar al-Assad: NO, they ask for protection, so they need our people. They are asking for protection; how can they go to conflicts and being killed! If they want, then this is their responsibility.
Barbara Walters: I am going to ask this again because I want it very clear, this is important. Will you allow monitors, outside monitors, to come into your country and look around to go to these other cities, to Homs for example, will you allow them to come, yes or no?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes as a principle, of course we said yes.
Barbara Walters: Under what circumstances?
Bashar al-Assad: To be in line with our sovereignty and to do everything in cooperation with the Syrian government. They cannot say that we’re going to send, fifteen thousand for example. There must be dialogue. When you have a protocol, it is two sides, it is a contract; you don’t make contract from one side. It is a technical issue; you have technicalities I don’t know everything about these technicalities. How to move, how to prepare, how to protect them, what their job and what is our job? We are a party, you cannot have protocol - just to explain to you very clearly - you cannot accept a protocol that is made there and we don’t have anything to discuss, very simply.
Barbara Walters: Are you now negotiating with the Arab league?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course that’s what we are doing; we send them a letter yesterday evening.
Barbara Walters: But yesterday evening there was a deadline with certain conditions that they wanted and the deadline passed, are you now negotiating with the Arab League to send monitors here?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, of course, we are still negotiating.
Barbara Walters: So you think that monitors will be allowed to come soon?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, as I said we asked for this before.
Barbara Walters: You asked for monitors?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes before they have this initiative.
Barbara Walters: Can they travel wherever they want?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course. But according to certain rules but how to discuss these rules? When you make contract you discuss it. At the very beginning they didn’t want to discuss it with us. We said no, if we don’t discuss it we cannot sign it, it should be discussed in details.
Barbara Walters: Are you now discussing with the Arab league allowing monitors to come?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Can outside foreign reporters come, they have not been allowed?
Bashar al-Assad: No they were allowed and you are here.
Barbara Walters: I am here and I have a correspondent here…
Bashar al-Assad: But you’ve been here for two days now, did anyone tell you where to go or where not to go nobody? Nobody did and you are free to go wherever you want.
Barbara Walters: I am appreciative that I have been allowed here and that you’ve granted an interview, can other foreign correspondents, American and others, come into this country now?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes exactly.
Barbara Walters: We have not heard this, you will say yes?
Bashar al-Assad: You have to look for the truth...
Barbara Walters: Well, I’m asking you now.
Bashar al-Assad: But that doesn’t mean they can come without a visa, we are a country where they have to take visa. We give visa to some people and we may not do so with other people. We are like any other country. Again it is about our sovereignty.
Barbara Walters: Okay, but in...
Bashar al-Assad: That doesn’t mean anyone can come any time and do whatever they do.
Barbara Walters: I grant you but as soon as you say visa it means this one cannot come, that, in general now can foreign correspondents come to this country
Bashar al-Assad: Of course. Yes and we have been receiving delegations from Europe, from the United States and from the rest of the world.
Barbara Walters: No sir you have not been receiving delegations.
Bashar al-Assad: I met with them, I met with them.
Barbara Walters: Foreign correspondents?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, of course foreign, they can give you the article they made interviews with me.
Barbara Walters: But now.
Bashar al-Assad: I met with two British and a French recently; we meet with them and others.
Barbara Walters: Let me ask you once more time so we are clear, in general can foreign correspondents if they are accredited come to this country?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course they can come.
Barbara Walters: They can.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes of course.
Barbara Walters: Well, that is new to us. You said that if there is any outside attempt to bring you down, it would mean an earthquake, what do you mean by that?
Bashar al-Assad: No I did not say that. I said messing with Syria. Syria is the fault line in the Middle East. You know the Middle East is generally very diverse in ethnicities, in sects and in religions, but Syria is the most diverse and this is the fault line where all these diversity meet. So, it is like the fault line of the earth and when you play with it, you will have earthquake that is going to affect the whole region. So, playing does not mean to over throw me or to deal with me; it’s not about me, it’s about the fabric of the society in this region, that what I meant.
Barbara Walters: I understand.
Bashar al-Assad: I did not say whoever plays with me; I am not an earthquake, I am not a fault line… (Laughing)
Barbara Walters: You know your father led this country for thirty years until his death; you have now led the country for more than a decade.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: If the Arab Spring means anything, it seems to be that the era of one family rule is over.
Bashar al-Assad: I never supported being a dynasty.
Barbara Walters: You are not raising your son to succeed you.
Bashar al-Assad: No, no and my father never spoke with me in politics, you don’t believe this! He never tried to prepare me or always wanted me to be a president against what you hear in the media that he asked me to come from London; he wanted me to go back to London to continue and I refused.
Barbara Walters: But your older brother was supposed to take your father’s place when he was killed.
Bashar al-Assad: No, he had no…
Barbara Walters: Your father asked you to come back?
Bashar al-Assad: My brother had no position when my father was there and I had no position. I wasn’t, I was nothing in the party, I was only, and I was in the military since I was a doctor, nothing else.
Barbara Walters: But your father did not expect his sons to take his place?
Bashar al-Assad: Never, he never spoke about this.
Barbara Walters: Really?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Then, with all due respect, you’re a doctor, you’re an ophthalmologist, how did you become the leader of this country?
Bashar al-Assad: I was a military doctor and according to our laws that military law you can move from one sector to sector within the army.
Barbara Walters: Okay.
Bashar al-Assad: So, I was a military doctor even when I was in London; the army sent me to London not the ministry of higher education for example or university. I was in the army since 1985 since I was a student at the medicine school; few people knew that. I wasn’t civil doctor. So anyway when I became a president, I became president through the party after president Assad died. When he was alive, I was not there, I didn’t have any position.
Barbara Walters: But when your father died, the son became the leader.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: So, there were not free elections to make you the leader.
Bashar al-Assad: No anyway, we don’t have free election, we have a referendum. This is our constitution.
Barbara Walters: So your constitution said we want the son?
Bashar al-Assad: No, not the constitution but the party.
Barbara Walters: The party said.
Bashar al-Assad: And the people demonstrating and they surrounded the parliament, they said we need a president. So, many people who didn’t want the president in the government, they accepted this new president and I nominated myself; before that I never thought about it.
Barbara Walters: So, when you have elections which you say is in 2014, you will have opposition parties?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Yes?
Bashar al-Assad: We have them already now.
Barbara Walters: Okay and if they want somebody else and not you, you say Okay and step down?
Bashar al-Assad: The people will say Okay. When the people say Okay, of course you have to leave, that is self-evident, and you don’t have to discuss it. To be a president while the people don’t want you, how can you succeed?
Barbara Walters: You are not training your eldest son who is now eight?
Bashar al-Assad: He’s eight. No.
Barbara Walters: To take your place?
Bashar al-Assad: No, I was never trained to be in this place.
Barbara Walters: Do you sometimes wish that you were still an ophthalmologist?
Bashar al-Assad: No, because I was in the public sector anyway; as son of President I couldn’t have my own clinic and get money from the people. So, I was in public sector. Now, I am in a wider public sector in the same place. So, you still have kind of, let’s say, emotional feeling toward that job and I still have friends and I am still in touch with the new innovations in that field. But you cannot look back to see yourself as a doctor, now we have more important position.
Barbara Walters: You have said often that you don’t see yourself doing this job for life. You’ve said you’re doing it for your country. With all the turmoil in your country, is it, perhaps, better for Syria that you no longer remain its leader?
Bashar al-Assad: I don’t have problem. For me,
Syria is as a project, a project of success, if you don’t succeed, you don’t have to stay in that position and that success again depends on the public support; without public support you cannot, whether you are elected or not. It is not about the election now,
it’s about public support,
and this is the most important thing.
So, when I feel that the public support declined, I won’t be here even if they say, if they ask or not I shouldn’t be here if there is no public support.
Barbara Walters: Okay.
Bashar al-Assad: That’s conclusive.
Barbara Walters: So, you are still having protests and now your military is involved and there are armed people on the other side there is turmoil in your country, but you are saying that in general you have the support of your people?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, but let’s wait for the elections to be clear.
Barbara Walters: This is 2011 and we’re talking now; this cannot go on for two years.
Bashar al-Assad: No, I am talking now about these next elections. Now we are going to have the parliamentary elections.
Barbara Walters: And.
Bashar al-Assad: I belong to Bath Party, we will see what the position of our party because this is an indication, it’s important. It’s not only the person; you are part of another party of another identity.
Barbara Walters: Yes, but your party is not going to want to give up power?
Bashar al-Assad: To give up?! Why to give up? It is a party and has the right like any other party to compete and win the elections. But to see through the election, do we still have the support as a party? If yes, well this is an option, and if not, they have another option.
Barbara Walters: And your parliamentary elections which are when in two months?
Bashar al-Assad: In two to three months.
Barbara Walters: And they will be open enough so that people can vote against it?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, anyone.
Barbara Walters: And that would be the end of the Bath Party and you as terms of leadership?
Bashar al-Assad: If the people said no to the Bath Party, if they lost, you can say this is the end. If they win the elections, how can you say this is the end? It is election!
Barbara Walters: Is there an opposition that they can go to?
Bashar al-Assad: We have opposition, but the party law is still new and it takes time to have strong opposition; you have so many figures now and if they unify themselves and go to the election, you can have one strong election. That depends on the tactic that they are going to adopt I cannot tell you they are going to be strong or not I don’t know. And I don’t know about how much support they have among the people, I cannot tell you.
Barbara Walters: Before I ask other question, I want to go back again to the protesters, do you think that the crackdown in the beginning was too much?
Bashar al-Assad: As I said, it’s about personal mistakes. Not about policy. There was no policy of cracking down.
Barbara Walters: Who made them…?
Bashar al-Assad: There was policy of facing the terrorists. When you have militants, you have to face the militants; you don’t allow in the United States to have militants, and remember what happened in Los Angeles in the nineties when you send the army to the city to face the terrorists. That is the same.
Barbara Walters: Our protest, we don’t kill people. And we press seeing it all.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, but nobody knows yet who killed the people. The same question: who killed the one thousand one hundred soldiers? If you don’t know who killed those, you can’t tell who killed the civilians.
Barbara Walters: The crackdown in the beginning, the brutality, do you think it went too far?
Bashar al-Assad: I cannot tell you this without the evidence. You ask me to tell you according to rumours or to reports? It’s not enough for me as a president. For me, when there is policy, I could say yes, or no. When there are individuals, with concrete evidence, who committed mistake, I will say yes or no.
Barbara Walters: Did you give the order for the crackdown?
Bashar al-Assad: No, we gave the order to implement the constitution and the law. That’s the order and that’s the job of the president.
Barbara Walters: But who gave the order to react against the protests?
Bashar al-Assad: You don’t need order, because this is their job.
Barbara Walters: Well somebody had to say…
Bashar al-Assad: No, no, no
Barbara Walters: You know, use guns, somebody had to say there are arrests…
Bashar al-Assad: No, no. There was even a written order not to use guns. That’s why I said it wasn’t a policy. Their job is to prevent people like any other country, you have their own means; they have plastic stick things. Whenever they used machine guns against civilians, this was a breaching of the law.
Barbara Walters: It happened
Bashar al-Assad: In some cases yes, and they were detained.
Barbara Walters: People went from houses to houses. Children were arrested. I saw those pictures.
Bashar al-Assad: But to be frank with you, Barbara, you don’t live here, how you knew all this. You have to be here to see this. We don’t see this. So, you cannot depend on what you hear in the United States.
Barbara Walters: But I saw reporters who brought back pictures.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, but how did you verify those pictures? That’s why we are talking about false allegations and distortion of reality
in this region. And most of the things that happened in Syria are not reflected in the media, I’m being frank with you. So I cannot answer about fake pretences, I can only talk about reality.
Barbara Walters: Some people say that it’s not the protests that may bring you down, but the economic sanctions now not just for the west, but – as we said - your former allies having imposed economic sanctions on your country. Shell Oil. For example, which is the largest oil production in Syria, has stopped production. How much are the economic sanctions going to hurt Syria?
Bashar al-Assad: How much? It is difficult to tell, but it will hurt us, from one aspect, but from another aspect, it will have positive effects because, of course, this is surprising. Actually, we were under sanctions, strong sanction, in the second half of the eighties, and we built our industry in that period of time. So, you can use sanctions, for example the agreement between Syria and Turkey wasn’t fair. It was against our interest; many industrialists in Syria, many business men and most of the economic sector were against it and they asked our government many times to stop working with this treaty. They sent to Syria, as I think, two folds of export, something like this, I don’t have the numbers now. So, if you are smart enough, if you are creative enough, you know that every cloud has silver lining. And we have a lot of political clouds in this region; we have lot of silver lining, but you have to see the silver lining to know how to have the positive. So, it will affect you badly, from one side, but you can decrease the harm. I wouldn’t say you can win now, let’s not exaggerate, but you can decrease this harm and get some benefits from it now.
Barbara Walters: How can you get benefits from economic sanctions?
Bashar al-Assad: Through depending on yourself. First of all, we are not oil producing country, we are not like Iraq. Iraq was oil dependent. We are not oil dependent; but we export the food, we produce food and can eat our food.
Barbara Walters: So, you were saying that it would take, may be, more creativity, more industry in this country to become independent. … Bashar al-Assad: Exactly, and we can, we don’t have problems. This could be the strong point of Syria. That’s why I said they cannot isolate Syria.
Barbara Walters: They cannot isolate you?
Bashar al-Assad: No.
Barbara Walters: I have seen the markets filled with food, so you are able to keep feeding your people?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, no, we don’t have trouble. We can eat two years with full embargo. We export wheat to many countries.
Barbara Walters: I want to ask about your wife whom I had met.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: Your wife was raised and went to school in England. It has been said that she is a force for moderation. I’d like to know, when you and she discuss things, what has she said about what’s happening in your country?
Bashar al-Assad: We used to live as one family in Syria because Syria is small country and whenever you have one crime, the whole country will hear about it. It’s very safe country. Of course it’s still the same pain, we feel sorry about what’s happening, but at the end the discussion is always and I think everywhere in Syria is part of what can we do to prevent more blood shedding in Syria. You know she has been busy with her development sector; she has her NGO and it is part of the solution because it is about creating jobs.
Barbara Walters: Your wife has her own projects in the country?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, development project, charity project, of course.
Barbara Walters: But do you discuss the situation with you wife?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course yes. That’s what I said, part of the solution is how to make life better in different aspects; development is part of the solution, it’s not only about demonstrations, militants, terrorists and things like that.
Barbara Walters: How you make the country better?
Bashar al-Assad: In the short run, it is according to two axes. The first is the reform. As I said, constitution, election, multi-party laws, media, freedom of media and things like this, and fighting terrorists.
Barbara Walters: Is your wife a source of support for you?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, all my family.
Barbara Walters: Well let me ask about the children because you have three young children, nine, eight and six.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes
Barbara Walters: What have you told them about what’s happening in this country?
Bashar al-Assad: The reality.
Barbara Walters: Which is what?
Bashar al-Assad: What I told you
Barbara Walters: What do you say to them? Especially the older boy Bashar al-Assad: I told them about terrorists, I told them about innocent people being killed, about investigation, who helped and about looking for the reason, everything.
Barbara Walters: You’ve told them about innocent people getting killed?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course.
Barbara Walters: Some of whom are children?
Bashar al-Assad: We didn’t talk about this because innocent is innocent whether children or not.
Barbara Walters: Do they see pictures? Do they have Facebook?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course.
Barbara Walters: Or YouTube?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course.
Barbara Walters: Do they ask questions?
Bashar al-Assad: They can watch the internet every day. Of course, they ask a lot. Barbara Walters: Pay attention.
Bashar al-Assad: They are very curious to know.
Barbara Walters: What do they say to you?
Bashar al-Assad: About what’s happening? They say why do you have militants, why do you have evil people? Why do those people want to kill?
Barbara Walters: I want to hear the answers, what do you say?
Bashar al-Assad: I told them a lot of things; sometimes people commit mistakes, sometimes you have bad people. In every society you have bad people; whenever they have a chance to make more chaos which is more safe-haven for them, they kill more to undermine the government, that’s what you explain to children.
Barbara Walters: I have only two more questions.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes.
Barbara Walters: How does this all end? How do you restore peace?
Bashar al-Assad: As I said, by reform and facing the terrorists.
Barbara Walters: Is the reform, too little too late?
Bashar al-Assad: No, because anyway, the reform will not have direct impact on the terrorists, because most of the terrorists, and I would say all the terrorists, they don’t have political agenda. They don’t care about the reform anyway. The reform is for the majority in the middle that I told you about and the people who support you, and the people who are against you. But terrorists don’t care about this.
Barbara Walters: Will you allow freedom of expression, freedom of press?
Bashar al-Assad: Why do we have all this package of new laws?! We have it for that purpose. We already have it.
Barbara Walters: You don’t have freedom of press, they cannot criticize you.
Bashar al-Assad: That depends on the law. In every society you have a limit, I wouldn’t call it taboo?
Barbara Walters: Taboos? Not in mine – we have freedom of press. People are very free and criticizing the President.
Bashar al-Assad: No, can I be frank with you? Anti-Semitism in your country is a taboo.
Barbara Walters: What is taboo?
Bashar al-Assad: Anti-Semitism is a taboo; we do not have in this region.
Barbara Walters: Oh, Anti-Semitism is a taboo? We have it and you do not have it?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes that depends, because every country has different taboos. We have to be frank about this.
Barbara Walters: You think that America is an Anti-Semitic country?
Bashar al-Assad: No, no I did not say that. But I mean that we do not have this concept in this region.
Barbara Walters: The concept of Anti-Semitism?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, we do not have it as a concept. I mean we do not deal with it.
Barbara Walters: That is a whole other interview I’ll have to come back for.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, it is another subject.
Barbara Walters: How do you hope that you will be remembered?
Bashar al-Assad: By doing the best I can for this country whether the people agree or don’t agree. At the end, I wasn’t puppet; I care a lot about being independent president for independent Syria, and do my best according to my convictions. That’s the most important thing. At the end, even if they disagree with you, they will respect you.
Barbara Walters: I am going to go back to the first question because I think it is important.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that my country has of what’s happening here? If indeed there is a misconception?
Bashar al-Assad: Misconception about lot of things, I cannot tell you because it is about so many facts, distorted facts you have them in the media. But the most important thing, as an accumulation of these facts is that you don’t have a vision. The problem with the west in general, especially the United States, is that they don’t have a vision about my region, at least; I wouldn’t talk about the rest of the world, failing in Iraq, failing in Afghanistan and failing in fighting terrorism. The situation is getting worse and worse in the rest of the world. The question you ask as an American: what did you get? Where did you win? Well, you spent trillions, where you could spend few hundred of millions, and get better result. So that harms your interest, but at the same time, it harms others’ interest in the world. So, this is the misconception I think.
Barbara Walters: Dealing with the protestors, what is the misconception, if there is any? That’s what is being focused on now.
Bashar al-Assad: Okay,
we don’t kill our people. No government in the world kill its people, unless it’s led by crazy person. For me, as president, I became president because of the public support. It’s impossible for anyone in this state to give orders to kill people.
We have militants, those militants are killing soldiers and civilians. This morning, we lost nine civilians, killed in Homs in the middle of Syria, and they are supporters; most of the victims are government supporters. That’s something they don’t know. They think every civilian is a demonstrator and every civilian is against the government, which is not true.
Barbara Walters: But the protestors in the beginning, who were killed, what about them?
Bashar al-Assad: What do you mean?
Barbara Walters: Well, our view is there are peaceful protestors, they were killed, some were tortured and it was a brutal reaction, are we wrong in thinking that way?
Bashar al-Assad: Every brutal reaction was by individual not by institution. That’s what you have to know. Not by institutions because institutions means policy. We do not have such a policy, we don’t have institution that kill people or give order for brutal reactions. This is individual and that’s what I call and describe as individual mistakes.
Barbara Walters: Okay, done by the military, or done by whom?
Bashar al-Assad: We don’t know everything. In some cases, they were done by the police, in some other cases they were done by civilians who support the government, not by the government or the police.
Barbara Walters: But not by your command?
Bashar al-Assad: No, no. No one’s command; there was no command to kill or to be brutal.
Barbara Walters: So that was individual people?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course.
Barbara Walters: Individuals overreacting?
Bashar al-Assad: Exactly because when you have chaos in some areas, anyone could make this mistake or commit a crime or aggression of whatever.
Barbara Walters: Are you remorseful?
Bashar al-Assad: What do you mean by remorseful? You mean being sad or regret?
Barbara Walters: Regret.
Bashar al-Assad: No, because you regret when you commit a mistake. I always try to protect my people, how can I feel remorseful if I try to protect the Syrian people?!
Barbara Walters: But people were killed. You’re not remorseful? Do you feel guilty?
Bashar al-Assad: If you mean guilty, it means you made the mistake. That’s why I have to be precise. So if you can change the term just for me to be precise.
Barbara Walters: Do you feel guilty?
Bashar al-Assad: I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty when I do my best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost, but you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people.
So, it is not about being guilty; you do your best, and you have to do your best, and you have to fight terrorists to protect the other civilians in Syria.
Barbara Walters: Thank you Mr President.
Bashar al-Assad: Thank you.