David Pujadas: Good evening, Mr. President, I’d like to start straight forward. For most French, you are in a very large part responsible for the chaos going on in Syria, because of the brutality of the repression during the last four years. According to you, what is your part of responsibility?
Bashar al-Assad: Actually, since the first few weeks of the conflict, the terrorists infiltrated the situation in Syria with the support of Western countries and regional countries, and they started attacking the civilians and destroying public places, public properties and private properties, and that’s documented on the internet, by them, not by us. So, our role as government is to defend our society and our citizens. If you want to say what you said is correct after four years, how could a government or president that’s been brutal with his population, killing them, and with the support from the other side of the greatest countries and political powers in the world, with the petrodollars in our region… how could he withstand for four years? Is it possible to have the support of your public while you are brutal with your public?
David Pujadas: In the beginning, there were tens of thousands of people in the street. Were they all jihadists?
Bashar al-Assad: No, definitely not. But the other question is, if in the sixth day of the conflict, the first Syrian policeman was killed… how? By the peaceful demonstration? By the audio waves of the demonstrators? How? He’s been killed by terrorists. Somebody who took a gun and shot that policeman, so he’s a terrorist. It doesn’t matter if he’s a jihadist or not, because he killed a policeman.
David Pujadas: There were perhaps jihadists or terrorists, but our reporters were there at the beginning and they met a lot of people saying “we want more freedom, more democracy.” They weren’t terrorists or jihadists.
Bashar al-Assad: Definitely, everybody has the right to ask for his freedom, and every government should support freedom, of course, under the constitution. But does freedom mean to kill the civilians, to kill policemen, to destroy the schools, the hospitals, the electricity, the infrastructure? That’s not owned by the government; it’s owned by the Syrian people. It’s not owned by us, it’s not owned by me. Is that the freedom that you’re talking about?
David Pujadas: A lot of analysts and a lot of journalists say that you have helped ISIS to emerge, because it’s an opportunity for you to appear like a shield.
Bashar al-Assad: But ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006 under the supervision of the Americans. I’m not in Iraq and I wasn’t in Iraq. I wasn’t controlling Iraq. The Americans controlled Iraq, and ISIS came from Iraq to Syria, because chaos is contagious. When you have chaos at your neighborhood, you have to expect it in your area.
David Pujadas: But the word ISIS at the beginning…
Bashar al-Assad: Let me continue. Whenever you have chaos in a certain country, this is a fertile soil for the terrorists to come. So, when there is chaos in Syria, ISIS came to Syria. Before ISIS came al-Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda, and before that you had the Muslim Brotherhood. They all represent the same grassroots for ISIS to come later.
David Pujadas: So you have no responsibility at all for what happened since the last years in Syria?
Bashar al-Assad: Normally, things are not absolute. To have no responsibility is not precise, because everybody has a responsibility. We have our own problems in Syria. The government is responsible, every one of us is responsible, every Syrian citizen is responsible, but now I’m talking about what brought ISIS here: the chaos, and your government, the government – or if you want to call it regime – the French regime, as they call us, is responsible for supporting those jihadists that they called moderate opposition.
David Pujadas: France is supporting a coalition, national Syrian coalition. Are they terrorists?
Bashar al-Assad: The people who are supported now, who have Western armaments, they became ISIS, they were supported by your state, and by other Western states, by armaments, and that was announced by your Defense Minister. He announced it at the beginning of this year; he said we sent armaments. So, those people you called moderate, in 2012 before the rise of ISIS and before the West acknowledged the existence of al-Qaeda faction which is al-Nusra, they published videos where they eat the heart of a Syrian soldier, where they dismember other victims, and where they behead others. They published it, we didn’t. So, how can you ignore this reality, that they want to publish it, and tell you this is the fact?
David Pujadas: Let’s talk about the present. It appears that the Syrian army continues to utilize indiscriminate weapons like barrel bombs, which have devastating effects on civilians. Why don’t you change this strategy?
Bashar al-Assad: We never heard in our army of indiscriminate killing weapons, because no army, including our army, will accept to use weaponry that doesn’t aim, because it will be of no use. You can’t use it, I mean from a military point of view. This is first. Second, when you want to talk about indiscriminate killing, it’s not about the weapon; it’s about the way you use it, and the proof of that is the drones, the American drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they killed more civilians than terrorists. They are the highest precision weapon in the world. So, it’s not about the kind of bomb. We have regular bombs, regular armaments.
David Pujadas: You don’t use barrel bombs?
Bashar al-Assad: What is a barrel bomb? Can you tell me what it is?
David Pujadas: There are several documents, videos, and photographs like this, where you see a barrel bomb dropped by helicopters. This is Aleppo, this is Hama a few months ago, one year ago. Only Syrian army has helicopters, so what can you answer?
Bashar al-Assad: This is not proof. These are two pictures of two things. No one can link them to each other.
David Pujadas: Aleppo, Hama.
Bashar al-Assad: No, no. This picture that you mentioned here, what is it? I have never seen such a thing in our army. I’m not talking about the helicopters, I’m talking about two pictures. How can you relate between the two?
David Pujadas: You say it’s a fake? It’s a false document?
Bashar al-Assad: No, no, it has to be verified, but in our army we only use regular bombs that could be aimed. So, we don’t have any armament that could be shelled indiscriminately. That’s it.
David Pujadas: But this helicopter, only the Syrian army has helicopters.
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, of course, I didn’t say we didn’t have helicopters, that we don’t use it. I’m talking about the armaments. They aim to target the terrorists. Why to kill indiscriminately? Why to kill the civilians? The war in Syria is about winning the hearts of the people, it’s not about killing people. If you kill people, you cannot be in your position, as a government, or as president. It’s impossible.
David Pujadas: What about chemical weapons? You committed two years ago not to use chemical weapons. Did you use chlorine gas in the battle of Idleb last month?
Bashar al-Assad: No, this is another fake narrative by the Western governments. Why? Because we have two factories of chlorine. One of them is closed for a few years now, it’s not used anyway, and the other one is in the northern part in Syria, which is the most important factory than the first one. It’s on the Turkish border, it’s under the control of the terrorists for two years, and we sent formal documents to the United Nations regarding that factory. They wanted to come and they sent us a formal response, they couldn’t reach it. So, the chlorine in Syria is under the control of the rebels. This is first. Second, this is not a WMD, it’s not a weapon of mass destruction. The regular armaments that we have are more influential than chlorine, so we don’t need it anyway.
David Pujadas: But there are investigations, you must have seen that, from HRW, about last month in Idleb. Three attacks with chlorine smell, with symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic gas, that is what was concluded this investigation. These three attacks took place in territory controlled by armed opposition groups. HRW, are they liars?
Bashar al-Assad:We didn’t use it. We don’t need to use it. We have our regular armaments, and we could achieve our goals without it. So, we don’t use it. No, there’s no proof.
David Pujadas: There are witnesses, there are testimonies of doctors.
Bashar al-Assad: No, no. We ask, in every allegation regarding the chemical weapons in the past, in the present, we were the party who asked the international institutions to send delegations for investigations. We are, not the opposite, actually. And our soldiers were exposed to sarine gas two years ago, and we invited the United Nations to make investigations. How could we invite them while we are using them? That’s neither true nor reasonable.
David Pujadas: Are you ready to invite them again, on Idleb?
Bashar al-Assad: We already did. We always invite. We don’t have a problem with that.
David Pujadas: Now, an international coalition led by the U.S. is bombing ISIS from the air. Is it a problem for you, or is it help for you?
Bashar al-Assad: It’s neither, none of them. Because it’s not a problem of course if you attack terrorists, but at the same time, if you’re not serious, you don’t help us.
David Pujadas: Why not serious?
Bashar al-Assad: If you want to make a comparison between the number of air raids of the coalition of 60 countries, while we are one country, a small country, what we do is tenfold, sometimes, than what they do in one day. IS that serious? It took them to liberate what they call in the media Kobani city, on the Turkish borders, it took them four months to liberate it, in spite of having Syrian fighters on the ground. So, they’re not serious so far. And the other proof is that ISIS has expanded in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in the region in general. So, how can you say that it was effective? They’re not serious, that’s why they don’t make any help to anyone in this region.
David Pujadas: There have been thousands of strikes of coalition in the beginning, but France only is striking in Iraq. Would you like France to join the coalition to strike in Syria?
Bashar al-Assad: As I said, they’re not serious anyway. The coalition against terrorism cannot be formed by countries who support the terrorists at the same time, so we don’t care whether they attack it in Syria, or Iraq, or both, as long as they support the same terrorists at the same time. They send weapons to the same terrorists under the title of moderate opposition when Obama said it’s elusive, so the armaments will actually go to whom? To the terrorists. So, this is contradiction. It doesn’t work.
David Pujadas: You have the same enemy with France: ISIS. There have been attacks in France in January. For that moment, did your intelligence service have contact with French intelligence services?
Bashar al-Assad: There are some contacts, but there’s no cooperation.
David Pujadas: What do you mean by contacts?
Bashar al-Assad: We met with them, we met with some of your security officials, but there’s no cooperation.
David Pujadas: No exchange of information?
Bashar al-Assad: No, nothing at all.
David Pujadas: So, why did you meet them?
Bashar al-Assad: They came to Syria, we didn’t go to France. They came, maybe for some exchange of information, but when you want to have this kind of cooperation, it’s a two-directions way, so it’s about we help them, they help us. Now, according to the reality that’s related to your politics or to the policy of the French government, we should help them, while they support the terrorists and kill our people, so it doesn’t work.
David Pujadas: Did France ask for contact with your intelligence services?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes, we met with them. There was a meeting with them.
David Pujadas: It was France asking?
Bashar al-Assad: Yes. We don’t have anything to ask from the French intelligence. We have all the information about the terrorists.
David Pujadas: There are hundreds of French fighting with ISIS in Syria. Did you arrest some of them? Are there some French people from ISIS now in Syrian jails?
Bashar al-Assad: No, in the prisons we don’t have any of them, we only have information, because the majority of those jihadists, they come here to fight and to die and to go to Heaven, that’s their ideology. So they’re not ready to go to any prison.
David Pujadas: So, there are none in jail?
Bashar al-Assad: No, in jail we don’t have any of them.
David Pujadas: There are some people nowadays in France, some politicians, some MPs, you have received some of them these last days, they say that it’s time to dialogue with you. What initiative would you be ready to take to convince the others that you can become a partner for dialogue?
Bashar al-Assad: With them?
David Pujadas: With France.
Bashar al-Assad: They have to convince me first, that they don’t support terrorists, that they are not involved in the blood shedding of the Syrian people first. They made the mistake regarding Syria, we didn’t kill any French or European people. We didn’t help terrorists in your country. We didn’t help the Charlie Hebdo. You helped the terrorists, so your country, Western officials, should convince us that they don’t support terrorists. But we are ready for any dialogue, taking into consideration that it’s going to be for the interest of the Syrian citizens.
David Pujadas: So at this moment, you are not interested in dialogue with France.
Bashar al-Assad: No, we are always interested in dialogue with anyone, but that is based on the policy. How can we make dialogue with a regime that supports terrorists in our country, and what for? That’s the question. When they change their policy, we’ll be ready to make dialogue, but without that policy, there’s no aim for the dialogue. You don’t make dialogue for the sake of dialogue; you make it in order to reach certain results, and that result for me is for this government to stop supporting the terrorists in my country.
David Pujadas: So, you would have no message to send to Francois Hollande in the objective of dialogue?
Bashar al-Assad: I think the main message that should be sent to him is by the French people, and the poll in France will tell you what message Hollande should listen to, which is, as the most unpopular president in the history of France since the 50s, should take care of his population and prevent terrorists from coming to France. For me, as somebody who suffering with his citizens, with the other citizens in Syria, from terrorists, I think the most important message is what you’ve been seeing in France is only the tip of the iceberg. When you talk about terrorism, you have a full mountain under the sea. Be aware of this mountain that will inflict your society.
David Pujadas: When John Kerry, the United States, said perhaps we will have dialogue with Mr. Bashar Assad, with President Assad, after he came back to another position, but you said ok, these are words, I want acts, I’m ready for dialogue. So, you are ready for dialogue?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, we are ready. I said we are ready, with every country in this world, including the great powers in the world, including France. But I said dialogue should be based on a certain policy. The spearhead against Syria, the spearhead that supports terrorism in Syria, was first France, second UK, not the US this time. Obama acknowledged that the moderate opposition is illusive.. he said that it is fantasy.
David Pujadas: He said it’s a phantasm to think that we could arm them and they could win the war, but he didn’t say there were no moderate opposition.
Bashar al-Assad: Exactly. What’s the meaning of “we could arm them and they couldn’t win the war?” What does it mean? What does fantasy mean? They said they’re going to arm the moderate opposition. Can you tell me what is it, where it is? We don’t see it. We live in Syria, you live in France. I live here, I don’t find it to fight it, if we have to fight it. We don’t find it.
David Pujadas: You say there are foreign countries, too much foreign countries, involved in the Syria conflict, but without Iranian support, without Hezbollah support, would you be able to fight against terrorism now? I mean, you denounced that foreign countries are involved in Syria, but on your part there is Iranian and Hezbollah support for you.
Bashar al-Assad: There’s a big difference between intervention and invitation. Every country, every government in the world, every state, has the right to invite any other country or party or organization to help in any domain, while no country has the right to intervene without invitation. So, we invited Hezbollah. We didn’t invite the Iranians, they’re not here, they didn’t send any troops.
David Pujadas: There are no Iranians here fighting with you?
Bashar al-Assad: No, no, they don’t fight. We have regular relations with Iran for more than three decades. We have commanders, officers coming and going between the two countries based on the cooperation that existed between us for a long time. This is different from fighting. So, we as a government have the right to have such kind of cooperation, but France and other countries don’t have the right to support anyone within our country. This is a breach of the international law, this is a breach of our sovereignty, this a breach of the values that they’ve been proudly talking about – or allegedly some of them talk about – for decades now, maybe for centuries. One of these values is democracy. Is it democracy to send armaments to terrorists? To support rebels? Do I have the right to support the terrorists of Charlie Hebdo or something similar?
David Pujadas: You know what the French Prime Minister said recently about you. He said “he’s a butcher.” What’s your response?
Bashar al-Assad: First of all, let me be frank with you. The statements of the officials in France, no-one is taking them seriously now, for one reason: because France is a satellite somehow to the American policy in the region. It’s not independent, it doesn’t have the weight, it doesn’t have the credibility. This is first. Second, as an official, you always care about the opinion of the population and Syrain citizens. I’m not made in France or any other country. I’m here because of the Syrian citizens, and that’s what you have to take care of.
David Pujadas: Do you think, one day, you will win this war, and that everybody, everything will go on like before, and Syria will go like before, with nothing changed?
Bashar al-Assad: No, nothing should be as before, because you make things as before means you didn’t develop, you didn’t learn from the conflict. This conflict has many lessons. We have to learn from the lessons, and we have to make things not like before, but better, and there’s a big difference.
David Pujadas: And with Bashar Assad ruling Syria?
Bashar al-Assad: I don’t care about this. I care about what the Syrian people want. If they want Bashar al-Assad, he will stay. If they don’t want him, he has to leave right now. I mean, how can he govern without the support of his public? Can he? He cannot.
David Pujadas: How can you know that you have the support of your population?
Bashar al-Assad: First of all, when you don’t have support, they won’t support the army, you will not withstand for four years. How can you withstand without their support?
David Pujadas: Perhaps they’re scared.
Bashar al-Assad: They are 23 millions. How can 23 millions be scared of one person, or one intelligence, or one government? That’s not realistic, not rational.
David Pujadas: You think it’s democracy now in Syria? You think people can really say what they think?
Bashar al-Assad: No, we were on the way to democracy, it’s a process, it’s a long way. There’s no place you reach it, you say this is democracy. If you want to compare me to the West, to France, and other countries, no, you are much ahead of us, definitely, because of your history and because of many other circumstances and factors. If you want to compare me to your closest friend, Saudi Arabia, of course we are democratic. So, it depends on how you compare me.
David Pujadas: If you were convinced that leaving the power would mean peace for Syria, would you do it?
Bashar al-Assad: Without hesitation. If that were the case, without hesitation, I would leave of course. If I’m the reason of conflict in my country, I shouldn’t be here. That’s self-evident.
David Pujadas: I wanted to show you another photograph. This is Gilles Jacquier. He was a journalist in our channel, France 2. He was killed here in Syria 3 years ago. You had promised an investigation about that to know who killed him. What can you tell us about this investigation today?
Bashar al-Assad: Regardless of the allegations at that time that we killed him, he was in a residential area under the control of the government, and he was killed by a mortar, not by a bullet, so the self-evident thing is that the government wouldn’t shell itself or the residential area of its supporters by mortars. So, it’s very clear, everybody knows, and many French media at the time acknowledged that he was killed by a mortar that was shelled by what you call the opposition, actually they are terrorists. So, he was definitely killed by them, but if you want to about – are you asking about the investigation?
David Pujadas: Yes. There has been an investigation? Would you give the result of this investigation you have to prove for French justice?
Bashar al-Assad: No, we don’t have to prove. We have legal procedures, and whenever we have any crime in Syria, we follow these procedures, like any other country. You have a judicial system in Syria, you have regular procedures; so if you want to know about the details, after this interview you can be referred to the involved or interested institution.
David Pujadas: And you would ok to give this information to French justice?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course, we don’t have any problem.
David Pujadas: If French justice would like to send investigators here, policemen, judge, would you be willing to?
Bashar al-Assad: That depends on the agreement between the two governments, if you have agreement or, let’s say, a treaty or such a thing, regarding the judicial systems in the two countries and the cooperation between these two systems, we don’t have a problem, but it’s not a political decision.
David Pujadas: Thank you, Mr. President.
Bashar al-Assad: Thank you for coming.