President Assad: Yesterday, I think, our representative in the United Nations, Mr. Jaafari, announced that we support the Russian initiatives – different initiatives, not only this one – as headlines, and now we are discussing with the Russians the details. The problem is that we went to Astana recently, as you know, the other delegation, the delegation of the militants, didn’t join that meeting, they didn’t go to Astana, and we all believe that this is the negative influence of the Turks. So, how can we start something concrete if you don’t have a partner? So, we said we are ready to discuss anything including the constitution, but we need to see who’s going to be in Geneva, are they going to discuss the same paper or not? But for us, as a government, our position is very clear: that we are ready to discuss it in details, but we support the headline, of course.
Question 2: Mr. President, there are reports that the United States-led coalition are planning to start the operation in Raqqa in the beginning of April. Do you have confirmation on that, and if Raqqa is liberated, will it be under control of Damascus, or are there any other agreements on that? And is the American troops’ presence in Syria legal?
President Assad: Any military operation in Syria without the approval of the Syrian government is illegal, and I said if there’s any troops on the Syrian soil, this is an invasion, whether to liberate al-Raqqa or any other place. This is first. Second, we all know that the coalition has never been serious about fighting ISIS or the terrorists, so we have to think about the real intention of the whole plan, if there’s a plan to liberate al-Raqqa. To liberate it from who? From ISIS? To give it to who? So, their plan is not to fight terrorists, not to help the Syrian government, it’s not for the unity of Syria, it’s not for the sovereignty of Syria, it must be something else not of these factors that I just mentioned, but all that we have till this moment are only information, we don’t have any fact on the ground regarding this.
Question 1: Mr. President, yesterday in Damascus, another attack. The situation in Syria is still dangerous. Then, what do you think about the word of Netanyahu about the role of Iran here in Syria, and if you have your opinion about Donald Trump?
President Assad: You’re talking about different aspects of the problem, which is very complicated because of the external intervention. When you talk about the terrorists in Syria, terrorist attacks like what happened yesterday in Damascus, that’s been happening maybe on daily basis, if not hourly basis in some cases. As long as you have terrorists anywhere in Syria, every Syrian citizen is in danger, this is for sure. The question here: who supports those terrorists? And that’s what I would like to raise as a question for the European officials that went in the wrong way since the beginning of the crisis in Syria and led to the destruction of Syria and prevailing of terrorism in the region, that led to terrorist attacks in many European countries and the refugee crisis. Now, if you want to talk about the European role, or the Western role, because it’s been led by the Americans, the only role is to support the terrorists until the moment. They didn’t support any political process, they only talk about political process, but there’s no real commitment to any political action till that moment. While if you talk about the role of Iran, it’s completely different. They support Syria in fighting terrorists, they support Syria politically, in the regional and international political arenas. Israel from the other side supporting directly the terrorists, whether logistically or through direct raids on our army in the neighboring area.
Question 2: My question is: if you would describe from your point of view the nature of relation between Russia and Syria at the moment, because in the media, in the world press, it is described in a wide range, from fruitful cooperation to colonization even. So, what are they doing here?
President Assad: Let’s talk about the reality, about the facts; since the Russians started their raids against ISIS in cooperation with the Syrian Army – of course after we asked them to come and support us in our fight against the terrorists – ISIS has been shrinking. Before that, there was what they called American alliance or the Western alliance against ISIS, which is a cosmetic alliance, ISIS was expanding. So, they started talking about the Russian role in that negative way only after they started succeeding on the ground. But first of all, in reality, Russia succeeded with the Syrian Army in fighting the terrorists, and the recapture of Aleppo and Palmyra recently and many other areas is the concrete evidence, so we don’t have to talk about opinions; it’s a fact.
Regarding the political relation with the government, since the beginning of this – not only intervention; the support, before sending their troops to Syria, I’m talking about the beginning of the war six years ago – since that time, every political step and later military step that has been taken regarding the Syrian issue was in consultation with the Syrian government. This is their policy, and this is their behavior. Their policy and their relation with Syria are based on two things: first of all, the sovereignty of Syria, which is part of the Charter of the United Nations, and the sovereignty of any country. The second one is on morals, based on morals, that’s why there’s no colonization, there’s relation that goes back to more than six decades between Syria and Russia, and it has always been like that in different circumstances.
Question 1: Thank you Mr. President for having us here in Dimashq, the capital of Syria. I think this is the first interview you have with Chinese media after the national ceasefire and after so many fresh rounds of talks, both in Astana and in Geneva, and of course after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and these days, as we have seen, your troops are making steady progress in battlefields, but peace talks do not seem just as productive. So, as far as the Geneva talks is concerned, your chief negotiator, Mr. Jaafari, was trying hard to find out who should be sitting on the other side of the negotiation table. So, according to your idea, who should be sitting there?
President Assad: This is a very crucial question. If you want those negotiations to be fruitful, we have to ask “who is going to be sitting there?” I mean, there could be a lot of good people with good intentions, but the question is: who do they represent? That’s the question. In this situation, you have different groups, you have people who are, let’s say, patriotic, but they don’t represent anyone, they represent themselves. You have others who represent the terrorists, and you have terrorists on the table, and you have others who represent the agenda of foreign countries like Saudi Arabia, like Turkey, like France, UK and maybe the United States. So, it’s not a homogeneous meeting. If you want it to be fruitful, going back to the first point that I mentioned, it should be a real Syrian-Syrian negotiations. In spite of that, we went to that meeting because we think any kind of dialogue could be a good step toward the solution, because even those people who are terrorists or belonging to the terrorists or to other countries, they may change their mind and go back to their normality by going back to being real Syrians, detach themselves from being terrorists or agents to other groups. That’s why I say we didn’t expect Geneva to produce anything, but it’s a step, and it’s going to be a long way, and you may have other rounds, whether in Geneva or in Astana.
Question 2: But anyway, it is an intra-Syrian talks, right? But the matter of fact is, it is proxy dialogue. I mean, main parties do not meet and have dialogue directly.
President Assad: Exactly.
Journalist: Are you personally satisfied with the current negotiation format or mechanism?
President Assad: we didn’t forge this mechanism; it was forged by de Mistura and the UN with the influence of the countries that wanted to use those negotiations in order to make pressure on Syria, not to reach any resolution. As you just said, each one represents a different agenda, even the opposition delegations, it wasn’t one delegation; different delegations of the opposition. So, if I’m going to – as a government – if I’m going to negotiate with someone, who’s it going to be? Which one? Who represents who? That’s our question. So, you are right, this time there was no negotiations in Geneva, but this is one of the reasons, that’s why it didn’t reach anything. The only thing we discussed in Geneva was the agenda, the headlines, what are we going to discuss later, that’s it.
Question 3: But as we see, lot of time, money, energy have been put into this effort, and the clashes are still going on, people are still dying, and the refugees are still increasing.
President Assad: Exactly.
Journalist: President Bashar Al-Assad, thank for accepting this encounter with TF1 and with Europe 1 here in Damascus. We’re going to speak about the future of Syria, about the war on terror, about the recent gains and support that you can count on, as well as the heavy accusations you’re still facing.
Journalist: Good morning, Mr. President, bonjour monsieur le président.
President Assad: Good morning.
Question 1: A simple question to start with: after the fall of Aleppo two months ago, can one say that you have won the war?
President Assad: No, we don’t think that we can talk about winning the war unless we defeat the terrorists everywhere in Syria. It’s just an important step in the way to defeat and to eliminate the terrorism from our country, but I think it’s going to be a long way for one reason, a simple reason; because they still have the support of many Western countries including France, including UK, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Qatar in our region.
Question 2: You talk about a long way; can you summarize from a military point of view the objectives that you have still to reach?
President Assad: Definitely, when I talk about eliminating the terrorists from our country, it means to take over every inch of our country, to bring it back under the control of the government, and that’s the duty of any government; is to take control of every place.
Question 3: In which part of Syria particularly, which town?
President Assad: You mean next after Aleppo?
President Assad: Of course, now you have to, and we are, we continue our campaign in the area surrounding Aleppo, just to make Aleppo more immune against any other terrorist attacks from the western and northern part that’s been supported by Turkey directly, by the Turkish army.
Question 4: But the next step is Idleb? This is what people say; next big battle will be Idleb.
President Assad: Could be Idleb, could be Raqqa, could be anywhere. Now, it depends on the situation on daily basis, because you change your plans. So, we didn’t put that plan before finishing Aleppo as city and rural area. So, it’s still early to talk about which is next. That depends on the development of the battles in the different areas.
Question 5: But the situation is far better off now for you as it used to be, militarily speaking.
President Assad: Of course, every place you can liberate from the terrorists means the situation is better, but it’s not enough for us.
Question 6: Sir, for France, the main terrorist threat is Daesh, there’s no question about this. For you, all armed groups, or most of them, are terrorists. Why is Daesh not a specific threat for you?
President Assad: Let me answer you about two points: the first one, it’s not for us, when we say they are terrorists, not for us as government; it’s for the law, and for the international law. Whoever carries a machinegun in my country or in your country and starts killing people and destroying properties is a terrorist. This is an international concept, so it’s not for us. For us, whoever wants to give up his armament is not a terrorist anymore, according to the law. But if you talk about Daesh, I think when you say that the French people or the Europeans worry about Daesh, I think this is misunderstanding of the situation; Daesh is a product, it’s not the problem. The problem is the ideology of Daesh, which is the same for al-Nusra, the same for many other organizations, like-minded organizations in Syria, and maybe in Libya or any other country. So, you should be worried about those terrorists; they don’t care about being ISIS or al-Nusra, they implement what their ideology is telling them to do, mainly terrorist acts.
Question 7: So, there’s no difference between Daesh and the other groups?
President Assad: Definitely, in Syria the grassroots are the same; the same people who were in ISIS were before in al-Nusra, now they are moving from organization to organization, because it’s the same ideology: it’s Wahabi ideology, this is the source of this terrorism.
Question 8: This is the same enemy for you, all the terrorists are the same?
President Assad: Yeah, of course, according to the law, not for me. As I said, according to the law and the international law, no-one has the right to hold armaments except the army and the police in any country. I think the same in France, unless I’m wrong, you can tell me, but that’s what I think, everywhere in the world.
Question 9: So, Raqqa, which is the heartland of Daesh, where the terror attacks in France were prepared, Raqqa is not a priority target for you?
President Assad: No, again, they’re not necessarily prepared in Raqqa. Raqqa is a symbol of ISIS.
Journalist: It’s a symbol.
President Assad: You have ISIS close to Damascus, you have them everywhere, you have them in Palmyra now, you have them in the eastern part of Syria, so no, it’s not about al-Raqqa; everywhere is a priority, depending on the development of the battle, but for us all the same: Raqqa, Palmyra, Idleb; all the same.
Question 10: Sir, you present yourself as the main shield against terrorism. There’s a lot of people, in the West in particular, would think that ISIS on the one hand and your regime on the other hand are the two sides, the two faces of a same evil trying to crush any form of democratic and free expression in this country. What would you answer to them? It’s a real question.
President Assad: First of all, we’re not a regime; we are a state, institutions. Second one, that’s the demonization of the Western mainstream media and political strata regarding Syria and the Syrian government and Syrian army, because they supported those “moderates” at the very beginning, and at the beginning they said they are “peaceful demonstrators,” then they said “they’re not peaceful, they are fighters but they are moderate,” but they couldn’t recognize that they were supporting the same grassroots of Al Qaeda and ISIS. That’s why they say that we are trying to promote those terrorists and to use them as alternative so the West cannot choose. First of all, the West doesn’t have to choose between me and ISIS: my people have to choose, because this is a Syrian issue, to be frank with you. So, we don’t care about what the Western officials think about this; they have to worry about their people and to protect their people from the terrorist attacks that’s been happening because of their policies.
Question 1: Mr. President, thanks for giving us the opportunity. This is your first interview with American media since President Trump has taken office. Have you had any communications with President Trump directly or indirectly, or anybody in his administration?
President Assad: No, not yet.
Question 2: This is an opportunity for you to convey a message to President Trump, if you have one. What would you like to say to him?
President Assad: wouldn’t convey the message through the media, I would send it through a different channel, maybe diplomatic channels. But any message for us is the public one, we don’t have two messages; we have one stand, one position toward what’s happening in Syria, and it’s about fighting terrorism.
Question 3: You said yesterday, I believe, that what you have heard from the new administration is promising. Explain what you meant.
President Assad: The position of President Trump since he started his campaign for presidency till this moment is that the priority is to fight terrorism, and we agree about this priority, that’s our position in Syria, the priority is to fight terrorism, and that’s what I meant by promising.
Question 4: You indicated that you thought there was some way for cooperation between the United States and Syria, but you didn’t explain what that would be. What sort of cooperation can you envision?
President Assad: Against terrorists, and against terrorism. That’s self-evident for us. This is beside having cooperation between any two nations, but in the meantime, in these circumstances, the priority is to have cooperation in fighting terrorism between the different nations, including Russia, Iran and Syria, of course.
Question 5: The President has tasked his Secretary of Defense with developing plans for defeating ISIS or Daesh. Among the proposals they are reportedly considering is using more special forces and even military assets such as Apache helicopters inside Syria, and arming Kurdish fighters who are fighting Daesh in the north. If such moves would defeat ISIS, would you welcome them?
President Assad: Could the American prowess defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan or in other places? No, you cannot… it’s not enough to have this Apache or F-16 or F-35, whatever you want to label it, to defeat terrorists. There has to be a more comprehensive way of dealing with that complicated issue. So, if you want to start genuinely, as United States, to do so, it must be through the Syrian government. We are here, we are the Syrians, we own this country as Syrians, nobody else, nobody would understand it like us. So, you cannot defeat the terrorism without cooperation with the people and the government of any country.
Question 6: But you have welcomed Russian troops into your country. Would you welcome American troops into your country?
President Assad: We invited the Russians, and the Russians were genuine regarding this issue. If the Americans are genuine, of course they are welcome, like any other country that wants to defeat and to fight with the terrorists. Of course, with no hesitation we can say that.