After his visit to Paris this week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was interviewed by Laurent Delahousse of France 2 Television.
DELAHOUSSE: Good evening, Mr President, Thank you for accepting our invitation. First of all, today you met the [French] President Nicolas Sarkozy. It’s not the first time, [as Sarkozy] went to Syria twice. [Note: al-Assad also came to France on 14 July] How would you describe the relationship today between our two countries, France and Syria?
AL-ASSAD: With Nicolas Sarkozy, we wished to base our relationship on frankness and transparency. We have built a climate of confidence between us, between France and Syria. Together, we can play a positive and constructive role on questions that concern us in international situations, at least in the Middle East.
DELAHOUSSE: Mr. President, this visit today was because, it’s in a particular context, for you, it is urgent in that the peace process in the Middle East is started again. Do you agree that the peace process is simply blocked today?
AL-ASSAD: This process is effectively blocked, at least since the Israeli attack on Gaza at the beginning of the year. We should always think about the interest of stability for the interest of peace. And peace, of course, leads to stability. I’m rather inclined towards optimism, even if there is no Israeli partner, and that’s what we discussed with Mr. Sarkozy.
DELAHOUSSE: If you came today to see and consult with President Sarkozy, does that mean that you are counting on France to have a role in this peace process?
AL-ASSAD: Yes, France can play an important role. They should defend the mediator role of Turkey, and persuade Israel to return to the negotiating table, with the Turkish mediator. We discussed this with President Sarkozy and we think he is able to [help] within the framework of his relations with Israel.
DELAHOUSSE: Mr President, it’s now a year that Barak Obama has been President of the US, we may think from what you say for a while that you seem to be disappointed with his diplomacy, is this the case or not?
AL-ASSAD: (laughs a bit) We quite agree with the main lines of what he said before he was President, and since he is President, but when we see the result, countries and peoples ask for a plan of action. How to transform this positive talk that we heard into a reality on the field. I can’t talk about deception, it’s less than a year that President Obama is in power, I think therefore that we must give more time to Obama. But I can say that the peoples of the Middle East are beginning to lose hope. I hope they are wrong.
DELAHOUSSE: Mr President, you are convinced today that the Iranian nuclear program is only peaceful and not military?
AL-ASSAD: For years we have heard that Iran wants the nuclear bomb, in one year, two, or three years. The crisis began in 2003, and six years later we still hear about a level of uranium enrichment of 5% [that Iran is reaching]. For medical enrichment, you need a level of 20%, and for military levels you need more that 90%. How can one believe that there is a military programme? Logically it’s not convincing. I say to Europe not to believe the Americans, that [attitude of Washington] goes back to in fact the Bush Administration.
DELAHOUSSE: Mr. President, France has thanked you twice for the case of Clotilde Reiss [the French student detained in Iran in the post-election crisis]. Do you think that she will freely be able to come back to France? Have you talked to President Sarkozy about this question?
AL ASSAD: I can’t say precisely if Clotilde Reiss will be able to come back to France, it depends on Iran and France. We have transmitted what President Sarkozy has said to Iran in the last few months, but we haven’t intervened since.
DELAHOUSSE: Mr. President, do you fear a new escalation of violence in the region?
AL ASSAD: The area today, when we speak of the Israel-Arab conflict, is still a region between peace and war. This situation can’t continue. It can only end with peace or a war. If the war doesn’t happen, there will be extremism. Both hypotheses are bad, let’s hope that there will be negotiations and measures that will lead to peace and normal relations in the whole region.
DELAHOUSSE: Thank you, Mr. President, for answering our questions.