President Bashar al-Assad of Syria stressed that the Syrian National Army reached the majority of the northern Syrian regions, but not completely, according to his statements given to Damascus-based Al-Sourea and al-Ikhbariya TV on Thursday.\r\n\r\nAssad stressed that his government\u2019s ultimate goal was to restore state authority over Kurdish controlled areas in northeast Syria.\r\n\r\nHe noted that a deal between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to drive out the Kurdish-led YPG militia from a 30 km (19 mile) \u201csafe zone\u201d along the border was a \u201cpositive\u201d step that would help Damascus achieve its goal.\r\n\r\nAssad said Donald Trump was the \u201cbest American president\u201d for his \u201ccomplete transparency\u201d about intentions to maintain control <a href="https:\/\/www.reuters.com\/article\/us-syria-security-assad-kurds\/syrias-assad-says-kurdish-controlled-northeast-syria-must-return-to-state-authority-idUSKBN1XA2LI">of Syria\u2019s main oilfields in Deir al-Zor<\/a> province.\r\n\r\nThe Syrian President reaffirmed that Damascus had a right to defend its territorial integrity against separatist Kurds who aspired to create a Kurdish state and rule over Arabs and other ethnic groups, Assad said.\r\n\r\nAsked if Israel was benefiting from recent developments, in which Turkey invaded the north of the country, Assad said: \u201cThis is self-evident. Even if we do not discuss it, it is one of our national givens in Syria.\u201d\r\n<h2><span style="color: #ff0000;">Here is the full transcript of the interview with President Assad, according to Syrian News Agency <a style="color: #ff0000;" href="https:\/\/sana.sy\/en\/?p=177331">SANA<\/a>:<\/span><\/h2>\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Hello and welcome to this special interview with the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, His Excellency Dr Bashar al-Assad.\u00a0 Thank you for receiving us Mr President.\u00a0 Your last interview with Syrian media was several years ago and therefore we have a lot of questions.\u00a0 We will begin with political questions and then move into internal issues.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: You are welcome, and as always let us speak with full openness.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Mr President, thank you very much for receiving us.\u00a0 Since the political issues are pressing at the moment we will start with politics, Mr President. The United States announced a few days ago that the leader of the terrorist organization ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed. And it thanked Russia, Syria, Iraq, the Turks and the Kurds for their help in killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Trump thanked Syria, but we have not heard any comment from Damascus. What is your take on Trump thanking Syria? Did Syria really take part in this operation?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Absolutely not, we heard about this only through the media. Maybe, the reason behind including a number of countries as participants in this operation is to give it credibility so these countries will not feel embarrassed, but have the desire to be that they are part of a \u201cgreat\u201d operation, as the Americans have tried to portray it. In this way, they are credited for fighting terrorism.\u00a0 We do not need such credit.\u00a0 We are the ones fighting terrorism.\u00a0 We have no relations and have had no contact with any American institutions.\r\n\r\nMore importantly, we do not really know whether the operation did actually take place or not.\u00a0 No aircraft were detected on radar screens.\u00a0 Why were the remains of Baghdadi not shown?\u00a0 This is the same scenario that was followed with Bin Laden.\u00a0 If there are going to use different pretexts in order not to show the remains, let us recall how President Saddam Hussein was captured and how the whole operation was shown from A to Z; they showed pictures and video clips after they captured him.\u00a0 The same happened when they killed his sons several months later; they showed the bodies.\u00a0 So, why did they hide everything about the Bin Laden operation and now also the Baghdadi operation?\u00a0 This is part of the tricks played by the Americans.\u00a0 That is why we should not believe everything they say unless they come up with evidence.\u00a0 American politicians are actually guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Mr President, if Baghdadi has actually been killed, does it mean the end of his organization, or is it as usual that there will be new leaders and new organizations which are being prepared for the moment when the cards of their predecessors have been burned out?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 First, Baghdadi represents ISIS, and ISIS represents a type of doctrine, which is the extremist Wahhabi doctrine.\u00a0 This type of thought is more than two centuries old.\u00a0 As long as this thought is alive and has not receded, this means that the death of Baghdadi, or even the death of ISIS as a whole, will have no effect on this extremist thought.\r\n\r\nRegarding Baghdadi as an individual, it is well-known that he was in American prisons in Iraq, and that they let him out in order to play this role.\u00a0 So, he is someone who could be replaced at any moment.\u00a0 Was he really killed? Was he killed but through a different method, in a very ordinary way?\u00a0 Was he kidnapped?\u00a0 Was he hidden?\u00a0 Or was he removed and given a facelift?\u00a0 God only knows.\u00a0 American politics are no different from Hollywood; it relies on imagination.\u00a0 Not even science fiction, just mere imagination.\u00a0 So, you can take American politics and see it in Hollywood or else you can bring Hollywood and see it through American politics.\u00a0 I believe the whole thing regarding this operation is a trick.\u00a0 Baghdadi will be recreated under a different name, a different individual, or ISIS in its entirety might be reproduced as needed under a different name but with the same thought and the same purpose.\u00a0 The director of the whole scenario is the same, the Americans.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Questions have been raised about the Russian-Turkish agreement, particularly the item related to maintaining the status quo in the region which was subject to the Turkish aggression, Tal Abyadh and Ras al-Ain with a depth of thirty-two kilometers.\u00a0 What some people understood from this was that it legitimized the Turkish occupation, particularly that the agreement did not include any Syrian role within these areas which were discussed in the agreement.\u00a0 What is your response to that?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 First, the Russian principles have been clear throughout this war and even before the Russian base that started supporting the Syrian army in 2015.\u00a0 These principles are based on international law, Syrian sovereignty and Syria\u2019s territorial integrity.\u00a0 This has not changed, neither before, nor after, nor with changing circumstances.\u00a0 However, Russian policy deals with the realities on the ground.\u00a0 These realities on the ground have achieved two things; the withdrawal of armed groups from the north to the south in coordination with the Syrian Army, and as such the advance of the Syrian Army to the north, to the area not occupied by the Turks. These two elements are positive, but they do not cancel out the negative aspects of the Turkish presence until they are driven out one way or another.\u00a0 This agreement is a temporary one, not permanent.\u00a0 If we take for example the de-escalation areas at a certain period of time, some people believed that they were permanent and that they will give terrorists the right to remain in their areas indefinitely.\u00a0 The fact was that it was an opportunity to protect civilians, and also to talk to the terrorists with the objective of driving them out later.\u00a0 So, we have to distinguish between ultimate or strategic goals on the one hand, and tactical approaches on the other.\r\n\r\nIn the short term, it is a good agreement \u2013 and let me explain why; the Turkish incursion, not only reflects Turkey\u2019s territorial greed but also expresses American desire.\u00a0 The Russian relationship with Turkey is positive because it reigns in Turkish aspirations. On the other hand, it outmaneuvers the American game in the north.\u00a0 Let me explain this. The recent German proposal which was immediately supported by NATO \u2013 and the Germans would not make this except on behalf of the Americans, NATO is the same thing as America.\u00a0 The proposal talked about restoring security to this region under international auspices. This means that the area would be outside the control of the Syrian state and thus making separation a reality on the ground.\u00a0 Through this agreement, the Russians reigned in the Turks, outmaneuvered the Americans and aborted the call for internationalization which was proposed by the Germans.\u00a0 That is why this agreement is a positive step.\u00a0 It does not achieve everything, in the sense that it will not pressure the Turks to leave immediately. However, it limits the damage and paves the way for the liberation of this region in the future, or the immediate future, as we hope intervention: God willing\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Since you described the agreement as temporary, but Turkey, as we have known it, does not abide by agreements.\u00a0 Consequently, the question is what if Turkey continued to occupy the areas which it has controlled as a result of its recent aggression?\u00a0 You said repeatedly that the Syrian state will use every possible means to defend itself.\u00a0 But practically, did not the Russian-Turkish agreement prevent the ability to try and use such means?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Let us take another example, which is Idlib.\u00a0 There is an agreement through the Astana Process that the Turks will leave.\u00a0 The Turks did not abide by this agreement, but we are liberating Idlib.\u00a0 There was a delay for a year; the political process, the political dialogue, and various attempts were given an opportunity to drive the terrorists out.\u00a0 All possibilities were exhausted.\u00a0 In the end, we liberated areas gradually through military operations.\u00a0 The same will apply in the northern region after exhausting all political options.\r\n\r\nWe must remember that Erdogan aimed, from the beginning of the war, to create a problem between the Syrian people and the Turkish people, to make it an enemy, which will happen through a military clash. At the beginning of the war, the Turkish Army supported the Syrian Army and cooperated with us to the greatest possible extent, until Erdogan\u2019s coup against the Army.\u00a0 Therefore, we must continue in this direction, and ensure that Turkey does not become an enemy state.\u00a0 Erdogan and his group are enemies, because he leads these policies, but until now most of the political forces in Turkey are against Erdogan\u2019s policies.\u00a0 So, we must ensure not to turn Turkey into an enemy, and here comes the role of friends \u2013 the Russian role and the Iranian role.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Picking up on this idea, Mr President, the actions taken by the Turks recently, and by Erdogan, in particular, like Turkishization, building universities, imposing the use of certain languages. These are actions taken by someone who is not thinking of leaving \u2013 just a follow up on your idea, since you said that they will leave sooner or later.\u00a0 What about these actions?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 If he was thinking of getting out, he would have left Idlib.\u00a0 You might say that there is no Turkish army, in the technical sense in Idlib.\u00a0 But we are in one arena, the whole Syrian arena is one \u2013 a single theatre of operations.\u00a0 From the furthest point in the south to the furthest point in the north Turkey is the American proxy in this war, and everywhere we have fought we have been fighting this proxy.\u00a0 So, when he does not leave after we exhaust every possible means, there won\u2019t be any other choice but war, this is self-evident.\u00a0 I am saying that in the near future we must give room to the political process in its various forms.\u00a0 If it does not yield results then this is an enemy and you go to war against it; there is no other choice.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Nevertheless, some people said that the American withdrawal from northern Syria, after which came the Turkish aggression, and then the Russian-Turkish agreement.\u00a0 All of that came within an American-Russian-Turkish agreement.\u00a0 What do you say to that?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 This was meant to show that Russia accepted the Turkish incursion, or that Russia wanted to turn a blind eye in the fact that. In fact, it is not true. For over a year, the Russians were concerned about the seriousness of such a proposition.\u00a0 We all knew that the Turkish proposition was serious, but it was shackled by American orders or desires.\u00a0 Some people might criticize the Russians for this outcome, due to their position at the United Nations.\u00a0 As I said a short while ago, the Russians deal with realities on the ground, consequently, they try to ensure that all political conditions are in place in order to pave the way for their departure from Syria and limit the damage by the Turks or reign in the Turkish recalcitrance aimed at inflicting more damage and occupying more land.\u00a0 But the Russians were certainly not part of this agreement \u2013 Russian agreements are always public.\u00a0 The Russian-Turkish agreement was announced immediately, with all its items; the agreement between us and the Kurds, with Russian mediation and support was also made public right from the very beginning.\u00a0 There is no hidden agenda in Russian policies, which gives us assurances.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: But the American-Turkish meetings are not announced. You said repeatedly that Erdogan\u2019s objective, or creating the buffer zone, was Erdogan\u2019s main objective from day one of the war on Syria. President Obama refused to accept this buffer zone, while today we are seeing certain actions on the ground. Does this mean that Obama was better than Trump?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 We should not bet on any American President.\u00a0 First, when Erdogan says that he decided to make an incursion or that they told the Americans, he is trying to project Turkey as a super power or to pretend that he makes his own decisions; all these are theatrics shared between him and the Americans.\u00a0 In the beginning, nobody was allowed to interfere, because the Americans and the West believed that demonstrations will spread out and decide the outcome. The demonstrations did not spread as they wanted, so they shifted towards using weapons. When weapons did not decide the outcome, they moved towards the terrorist extremist organizations with their crazy ideology in order to decide the outcome militarily.\u00a0 They were not able to.\u00a0 Here came the role of ISIS in the summer of 2014 in order to disperse the efforts of the Syrian Arab Army, which it was able to do, at which point came the Russian intervention.\u00a0 When all bets on the field failed, it was necessary for Turkey to interfere and turn the tables; this is their role.\r\n\r\nAs for Trump, you might ask me a question and I give you an answer that might sound strange.\u00a0 I say that he is the best American President, not because his policies are good, but because he is the most transparent president.\u00a0 All American presidents perpetrate all kinds of political atrocities and all crimes and yet still win the Nobel Prize and project themselves as defenders of human rights and noble and unique American values, or Western values in general.\u00a0 The reality is that they are a group of criminals who represent the interests of American lobbies, i.e. the large oil and arms companies, and others.\u00a0 Trump talks transparently, saying that what we want is oil. This is the reality of American policy, at least since WWII.\u00a0 We want to get rid of such and such a person or we want to offer a service in return for money.\u00a0 This is the reality of American policy. What more do we need than a transparent opponent?\u00a0 That is why the difference is in form only, while the reality is the same.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: The leader of the dissolved Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Abdi, made statements to the media in which he said that Trump promised them that before withdrawal he will contact the Russians to find a solution to the Kurdish question by making an agreement with the Russians and the Syrian state to give the Kurds an opportunity to defend themselves. Was there really such an agreement, and what is the fate of non-border regions in the Syrian Jazeera, the regions which were under the control of the armed militias called SDF? Have these regions been handed over to the Syrian state, and if so in what way? Is it only in the military sense; or ultimately has the return of the Syrian institutions to these regions taken place?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: Do you mean an American-Kurdish agreement?\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: The Americans promised the Kurds to find a solution to their cause by influencing the Russians to reach an understanding with the Syrian state to give them an opportunity to defend themselves.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Regardless of whether contact has been made or not, as I said before what ever the Americans say has no credibility, whether they say that to an enemy or a friend, the result is the same \u2013 it is unreliable.\u00a0 That is why we do not waste our time on things like this.\u00a0 The only Russian agreement with the Kurds was what we talked about in terms of a Russian role in reaching an agreement with Kurdish groups \u2013 we should not say with the Kurds, because this is inaccurate and we cannot talk about one segment \u2013 the groups which call themselves SDF with the Syrian Army to be deployed.\u00a0 Of course, the Syrian Army cannot be deployed only to carry out purely security or military acts. The deployment of the Syrian Army is an expression of the presence of the Syrian state, which means the presence of all the services which should be provided by the state.\u00a0 This agreement was concluded, and we reached most regions but not completely.\u00a0 There are still obstacles.\u00a0 We intervene because we have direct and old relations \u2013 before the Turkish incursion \u2013 with these groups.\u00a0 Sometimes they respond, in other places they don\u2019t. But certainly, the Syrian Arab Army will reach these areas simultaneously with full public services, which means the return of full state authority.\u00a0 I want to reiterate, that this should take place gradually.\u00a0 Second, the situation will not return as before.\u00a0 There are facts on the ground which need to be addressed, and this will take time. There are new facts related to people on the ground which took place when the state was absent. There are armed groups; we do not expect them to hand over their weapons immediately.\u00a0 Our policy should be gradual and rational, and should take the facts into account.\u00a0 But the ultimate goal is to return to the situation as it used to be previously which is the full control of the state.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: After everything that happened: they targeted the Syrian state, Syrian citizens, the Syrian Arab Army. Throughout the war years, they played a bad role and were American proxies, after all this, are we as Syrians able to live with the Kurds once again?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: To be accurate, this issue is raised repeatedly, and sometimes in private gatherings.\u00a0 And I know that part of your role is to repeat what you hear, regardless of personal conviction.\u00a0 What happened during this war is a distortion of concepts; to say that this group has a certain characteristic, negative or positive, is neither objective nor rational.\u00a0 It is also unpatriotic.\u00a0 Among the Kurds there were people who were American agents or proxies.\u00a0 This is true, but among the Arabs there were similar cases in the Jazeera area and in other areas in Syria.\u00a0 This applies to most segments of Syrian society.\u00a0 The mistake which was made was that this action was made by a group of Kurds who made themselves representatives, not only of the Kurds, but of the Arabs and others segments of society in al-Jazeera region.\u00a0 The Americans, through their support with weapons and money \u2013 of course the money is not American, it comes from some gulf Arab states \u2013 helped establish the authority of these groups over all segments of the society, leading us to believe that those in the area were all Kurds.\u00a0 So, we are actually dealing with the various Kurdish parties.\u00a0 As for the Kurds themselves, most of them had good relations with the Syrian state, and they were always in contact with us and proposed genuine patriotic ideas. In some of the areas we entered, the reaction of the Kurds was no less positive, or less joyful and happy than the reaction of other people there. So, this evaluation is not accurate. Yes, very simply, we can live once again with each other. If the answer were no, it means that Syria will never be stable again.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: But what is the problem with the Kurds, even before the war? Where does the problem with them lie?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: Although we stood with these groups for decades, and we could have paid the price in 1998 through a military clash with Turkey because of them, we stood with them based on the cultural rights of these groups or of this segment of Syrian society. What do they accuse the Syrian state of?\u00a0 They accuse it of being Chauvinistic, and sometimes they accuse the Ba\u2019th Party of being a Chauvinistic party although the census conducted in 1962 was not under the Ba\u2019th Party, because it was not in power at the time.\u00a0 They accuse us of depriving this group of their cultural rights.\u00a0 Let us presume that what they say is correct.\u00a0 Can I, as an individual, be open and close-minded at the same time?\u00a0 I cannot.\u00a0 Can the state be open or tolerant and intolerant and close-minded at the same time?\u00a0 It cannot.\u00a0 If we take an example of the latest group which joined the Syrian fabric, the Armenians. The Armenians have been a patriotic group par excellence.\u00a0 This was proven without a shadow of doubt during the war.\u00a0 At the same time, this group has its own societies, its own churches and more sensitively, it has its own schools.\u00a0 And if you attend any Armenian celebration, a wedding, or any other event \u2013 and I used to attend such events because I used to have friends among them previously \u2013 they sing their traditional songs but afterwards they sing national, politically-inclined songs.\u00a0 Is there any form of freedom that exceeds this?\u00a0 The Syrian Armenians are the least, among other Armenians of the world, dissolved in society.\u00a0 They have integrated, but not dissolved into Syrian society.\u00a0 They have maintained all their characteristics.\u00a0 Why should we be open here and unopen with others?\u00a0 The reason is that there are separatist propositions.\u00a0 There are maps showing a Syrian Kurdistan as part of a larger Kurdistan.\u00a0 Now, it is our right to defend our territorial integrity and to be wary of separatist propositions.\u00a0 But we do not have a problem with Syrian diversity.\u00a0 On the contrary, Syrian diversity is rich and beautiful which translates into strength.\u00a0 We do not have an adverse view of this; but richness and diversity are one thing and separating and fragmenting the country is something else, something contrary. That is the problem.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Just to pick up on this idea, Mr President, living with each other. In your answer, you said that we must ultimately live with each other. The problem here is not only with the Kurdish component. There were groups of the population who lived in different areas outside the control of the Syrian state for years. What about those? What is the state\u2019s plan to reintegrate them under the idea of living together, particularly the children among them, because with children we are talking about Syria\u2019s future generation? What is the plan for these people?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Actually, the problem is primarily with children and then with young people in the second instance.\u00a0 There are several issues, one of which is that this generation does not know the meaning of the state and the rule of law.\u00a0 They have not lived under the state, they have lived under armed groups.\u00a0 But the worst and most dangerous impact is on the children, who in some areas have not learned the Arabic language, and others who have learned wrong concepts \u2013 extremist concepts or concepts against the state or the homeland and other concepts which were proposed from outside Syria and taught to them in formal school curricula.\u00a0 This was the subject of discussion during the past few weeks, particularly during the past few days, because the deployment of the Syrian Army in large areas in the northern regions highlighted this problem on a large scale.\u00a0 Currently ministries, particularly the Ministry of Education and also the Ministries of Defence and the Interior are studying this issue.\u00a0 I believe there will be a statement and a solution proposed shortly, albeit general in the first phase which will be followed by administrative measures in order to assimilate these people within the system of the Syrian state.\u00a0 For instance, who will enroll in the Syrian Army, who will enroll in the police, who will enroll in schools?\u00a0 Somebody who is twelve years old: how will they integrate into the Syrian school system if they know nothing of the curriculum?\u00a0 The same applies to those who are in primary schools. I believe the solution is to assimilate all within the national system, but there should be special measures in order to reintegrate them into this system, and I believe in the next few days we will have a final picture of this.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: returning to politics, and to the United States, in particular, President Donald Trump announced his intention to keep a limited number of his troops in Syria while redeploying some of them on the Jordanian borders and on the borders of the Israeli enemy, while some of them will protect the oil fields. What is your position in this regard, and how will the Syrian state respond to this illegitimate presence?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong> Regardless of these statements, the reality is that the Americans are occupiers, whether they are in the east, the north or the south, the result is the same.\u00a0 Once again, we should not be concerned with his statements, but rather deal with the reality.\u00a0 When we are finished with the areas according to our military priorities and we reach an area in which the Americans are present, I am not going to indulge in heroics and say that we will send the army to face the Americans.\u00a0 We are talking about a super power.\u00a0 Do we have the capabilities to do that?\u00a0 I believe that this is clear for us as Syrians.\u00a0 Do we choose resistance?\u00a0 If there is resistance, the fate of the Americans will be similar to their fate in Iraq.\u00a0 But the concept of resistance needs a popular state of mind that is the opposite of being agents and proxies, a patriotic popular state which carries out acts of resistance.\u00a0 The natural role of the state in this case is to provide all the necessary conditions and necessary support to any popular resistance against the occupier. If we put to one side the colonial and commercial American mentality which promotes the colonization of certain areas for money, oil and other resources, we must not forget that the main agents which brought the Americans, the Turks and others to this region are Syrians acting as agents of foreigners \u2013 Syrian traitors.\u00a0 Dealing with all the other cases is just dealing with the symptoms, while we should be addressing the causes.\u00a0 We should be dealing with those Syrians and try to reformulate the patriotic state of the Syrian society \u2013 to restore patriotism, restore the unity of opinion and ensure that there are no Syrian traitors.\u00a0 To ensure that all Syrians are patriots, and that treason is no longer a matter of opinion, a mere difference over a political issue.\u00a0 We should all be united against occupation.\u00a0 When we reach this state, I assure you that the Americans will leave on their own accord because they will have no opportunity to remain in Syria; although America is a superpower, it will not be able to remain in Syria.\u00a0 This is something we saw in Lebanon at a certain point and in Iraq at a later stage.\u00a0 I think this is the right solution.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Last week, you made a tour of the front lines in Idlib with which you surprised the Syrians and the world. Addressing the soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army, you said that the battle is in the east, but Idlib is an advanced outpost of the enemy in the west which aims at dispersing the forces of the Syrian Army. Some saw the visit as the go-ahead sign, or the zero hour for the coming battle of Idlib. Is it so?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong> No, there was no link between my visit and the zero hour.\u00a0 First, I conduct tours every so often to the areas which are considered hot spots and dangerous, because these heroes are carrying out the most difficult of tasks, and it is natural for me to think of visiting them.\u00a0 This has been common practice for me; the visit to Idlib in particular was because the world perhaps believed that the whole Syria question is summed up in what is happening in the north, and the issue has now become a Turkish Army incursion into Syrian territory, and forgetting that all those fighting in Idlib are actually part of the Turkish Army, even though they are called al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham and other names. I assure you that those fighters are closer to Erdogan\u2019s heart than the Turkish Army itself.\u00a0 We should not forget this, because politically and in relation to Turkey in particular, the main battle is Idlib because it is linked to the battle in the north-eastern region or the Jazeera region.\u00a0 This is the reason \u2013 I wanted to stress that what is happening in the Jazeera region, despite its importance and despite the wide area of operations does not distract us from the significance of Idlib in the overall battle.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: You say, Mr President, that there is no link between your visit to Idlib and the zero hour but is there a link between your visit to Idlib and the meeting which took place on the same day between Turkey and Russia?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Actually, when I was there, I had forgotten completely that a summit was being held on the same day.\u00a0 I did not remember that.\u00a0 I knew that a summit would be taking place and that it would be on Tuesday but\u2026\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: But your statements gave the impression that it was a preemptive rejection or something against the meeting.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 That is true.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Or against this meeting.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: Some articles and comments even said that there was a feeling of anger against the summit, and that the summit was against us.\u00a0 The fact is that I was not angry, and my statements against Erdogan are continuous.\u00a0 I said that he was a thief, and from the first days he started stealing everything related to Syria. So, he is a thief.\u00a0 I was not calling him names; I was describing him.\u00a0 This is an adjective and this description is true.\u00a0 What do you call somebody who steals factories, crops and finally land?\u00a0 A benefactor?\u00a0 He is a thief, there is no other name.\u00a0 Previously in my speech before the People\u2019s Assembly, I said that he is a political thug.\u00a0 He exercises this political thuggery on the largest scale.\u00a0 He lies to everyone, blackmails everyone. He is a hypocrite and publicly so.\u00a0 We are not inventing an epithet; he declares himself through his true attributes. So, I only described him\r\n\r\nAs to the agreement, as I said a while ago, we believe that Russian involvement anywhere is in our interest, because our principles are the same and our battle is one.\u00a0 So, Russian involvement will certainly have positive results and we started to see a part of that.\u00a0 Contrary to what you said, we were happy with this summit, and we are happy with the Russian-Turkish relationship in general, contrary to what some people believe, that the Russians are appeasing the Turks.\u00a0 It does not matter whether the Russians are appeasing the Turks or not or whether they are playing a tactical game with them.\u00a0 What is important is the strategy.\u00a0 That is why I can say that there is no link at all between my statements and the summit.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Remaining with Idlib, but from a different perspective, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, and in an interview with a newspaper about the situation in Idlib, described it as complicated, and I\u2019ll mention the points he made: he called for a solution which guarantees the security of civilians.\u00a0 He also talked about the presence of terrorist organizations and the importance of avoiding an all-out military campaign which, in his opinion, will, far from solving the problem, have a serious humanitarian consequence.\u00a0 What do you think of what he said, and will the operation be postponed or stopped because of international pressure or based on Pedersen\u2019s remarks?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 If Pedersen has the means or the capacity to solve the problem without an all-out military operation, it will be good.\u00a0 Why does he not solve the problem? If he has a clear plan, we have no objection.\u00a0 It is very simple. He can visit Turkey and tell the Turks to convince the terrorists, or ask Turkey to separate the civilians from the militants.\u00a0 Let the civilians stay in one area and the militants in another.\u00a0 It would be even easier if he could identify who is a militant and who is not.\u00a0 Fighting terrorism is not achieved by theorizing, making rhetorical statements or by preaching.\u00a0 As for postponing, had we waited for an international decision \u2013 and by international decision I mean American, British, French and those who stand with them \u2013 we would not have liberated any region in Syria since the first days of the war.\u00a0 These pressures have no impact. Sometimes we factor in certain political circumstances; as I said, we give political action an opportunity so that there is no pretext, but when all these opportunities are exhausted, military action becomes necessary in order to save civilians, because I cannot save civilians when they are under the control of the militants.\u00a0 Western logic is an intentionally and maliciously up-side-down logic.\u00a0 It says that the military operation should be stopped in order to protect civilians, whilst for them the presence of civilians under the authority of terrorists constitutes a form of protection for the civilians.\u00a0 The opposite is actually true.\u00a0 The military intervention aims at protecting the civilians, by leaving civilians under the authority of terrorists you extend a service to terrorists and take part in killing civilians.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: You are not waiting for an international decision but are you waiting for a Russian one? Can the Russians delay the beginning of the military operation? We saw earlier that military operations were stopped in Idlib, to the extent that some people said that the Russians put pressure every time to stop the operations as a result of special understandings with the Turks.\u00a0 Is that true?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 \u201cPressure\u201d is not the right word.\u00a0 We, the Russians and the Iranians are involved in the same military battle and the same political battle.\u00a0 We are always in talks with each other to determine the circumstances which allow for an operation to go ahead.\u00a0 On several occasions, we agreed on a specific timing for a certain operation, which was later postponed because of military or political developments.\u00a0 This dialogue is normal.\u00a0 There are issues we see on the internal arena, and there are issues seen by Iran on the regional arena and there are those issues seen by the Russians on the international arena.\u00a0 We have an integrated approach based on dialogue.\u00a0 In the past month, I have held five meetings with Russian and Iranian officials, so less than a week apart.\u00a0 Between each two meetings there were military and political developments such that what had been agreed in the first meeting was then changed or modified in the second, third and fourth meetings and the last of which was yesterday.\u00a0 The fast pace of developments makes it necessary sometimes to postpone operations.\u00a0 On the other hand, we have contacts with civilians in those areas.\u00a0 We really try hard to make it possible for civilians to move from those areas into our areas in order to save lives; moreover, if a political solution was possible, and sometimes we succeeded in finding such a solution, it would save the lives of Syrian soldiers, which is a priority that we should not ignore.\u00a0 So, there are many elements, which are difficult to go into now, which affect this decision and postpone it; it is not a matter of pressure. The Russians are as enthusiastic about fighting terrorism as we are, otherwise why would they send their fighter jets?\u00a0 The timing depends on dialogue.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: But President Putin announced the end of major military operations in Syria.\u00a0 Would Russia be with us in Idlib? Would it take part in the military operation?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Russia was with us in liberating Khan Skeikhoon and its environs; announcing an end to military operations does not mean an end to fighting terrorism.\u00a0 Indeed, the major battles have almost finished, because most areas either surrender voluntarily or are subject to limited operations.\u00a0 The Khan Sheikhoon operation might look on the map as a major battle, but there was in fact a collapse on the part of the militants. So, maybe this is what was meant by the end of the major operations.\u00a0 Their statements that Idlib should return under the control of the Syrian state and their determination to strike at terrorism have not changed.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Remaining in Idlib and on the same point, because there is a lot being said about this. Concerning the terrorists in Idlib, and they are the same terrorists Pedersen talked about, how are they going to be handled? Are they going to be deported?\u00a0 There have been cases like this before: terrorists being deported from different regions in Syria to Idlib.\u00a0 Now, terrorists are in Idlib. Would the Turks accept the terrorists to be deported to Turkey, or how are they going to be dealt with?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 If Turkey does not accept that, it is Turkey\u2019s problem and it does not concern us.\u00a0 We are going to deal with them in the same way we have in the past. Some might ask: in the past there were areas to which terrorists were permitted to retreat to, but now there is no other place to which terrorists might be sent from Idlib.\u00a0 So, where should they go?\u00a0 If they do not go to Turkey, they have two options: either return to the Syrian state and resolve their issues or face war.\u00a0 There is no other choice, neither for us nor for them. These are the two only options.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Some media outlets have circulated leaks about meetings with the Turks.\u00a0 Is that true, on what level, and what was the outcome of those meetings, if they had taken place?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: All those meetings were held between security officers but at different levels.\u00a0 Few meetings, probably two or three, were held in Kasab inside the Syrian borders or close to the joint borders, and one or more meetings were held in Russia.\u00a0 I do not recall the number exactly, because they took place in the space of the past two years.\u00a0 But there have been no real results.\u00a0 At least we had expected to reach a solution concerning the withdrawal agreed upon in Astana for fifteen kilometers west and north in the de-escalation zone in Idlib.\u00a0 It did not happen.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: So, you confirm that there have been meetings with the Turkish side, but that was before the agreement\u2026\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: Of course, there were tripartite meetings with Russian mediation and Russian presence.\u00a0 We insisted on the Russian presence because we do not trust the Turks, so that there are witnesses.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: not bilateral meetings?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong> No, trilateral meetings.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Trilateral, with the Russians present? Was that before the last Russian-Turkish meeting?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: Of course.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Are you prepared today to sit with the Turks after the aggression and after the agreement?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 If you are asking me how would I feel if I, personally, had to shake hands with a person from the Erdogan group, or someone of similar leanings or who represents his ideology \u2013 I would not be honoured by such a meeting and I would feel disgusted.\u00a0 But we have to put our personal feelings aside when there is a national interest at stake.\u00a0 If a meeting would achieve results, I would say that everything done in the national interest should be done.\u00a0 This is the responsibility of the state.\u00a0 I do not expect a meeting to produce any results unless circumstances change for the Turks.\u00a0 And because the Erdogan-type Turks are opportunists and belong to an opportunist organization and an opportunist ideology, they will produce results according to changing circumstances, when they are under pressure, depending on their internal or external circumstances or maybe their failure in Syria. Then, they might produce results.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: The sensitive question in this regard is: the Turks are occupiers, so if I am willing, or if I have the chance, or if I believe that I might meet the Turks, the Turks are occupiers, exactly like Israelis, so it would be possible to meet the Israelis. This is a sensitive issue, but it is being raised.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong> It was actually raised when we started these meetings: how can we meet occupiers in Afrin or other areas, even if there are not occupiers, they support terrorism; they are enemies in the national sense.\u00a0 The difference between them and Israel is that we do not recognize the legitimacy of its existence as a state. We don\u2019t recognize the existence of the Israeli people. There is no Israeli people except the one that existed for several centuries BC, now they are a diaspora who came and occupied land and evicted its people.\u00a0 While the Turkish people exist, and they are a neighbouring people, and we have a common history, regardless of whether this history is good or bad or in between; that is irrelevant.\u00a0 Turkey exists as a state and it is a neighbouring state.\u00a0 The Alexandretta issue is different from the situation in which a people without land replace a land and a people; the comparison is not valid.\u00a0 Even when we negotiated with Israel in the 1990s, we did not recognize it.\u00a0 We negotiated in order to achieve peace.\u00a0 If this was achieved and the rights were returned, we would recognize it; as I said, the comparison is invalid.\u00a0 Turkey will continue to exist and the Turks should remain a brotherly people.\u00a0 Erdogan was betting at the beginning to mobilize the Turkish people behind him in order to create hostility with the Syrian people, and consequently be given a free hand.\u00a0 We have to be careful not to look at things in the same way.\u00a0 I stress again that some people, not the political forces, but within the Turkish Army and security institutions are against Erdogan.\u00a0 This was the reason behind our drive to meet them.\r\n\r\nFurthermore, and this was the subject of discussion with our Russian and Iranian friends \u2013 who said that yes, we are defending you, but in the end, you are the owners of the cause.\u00a0 This is true, the land is ours, and the cause is ours and so we have a duty to carry out by meeting them directly, even if we do not expect results.\u00a0 Maybe there will come a day when we can achieve results, particularly with changing circumstances inside Turkey, in the world and within Syria.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Concerning Israel, some people describe it as the absent present in the events in Syria, the greatest beneficiary of what happened in Syria. Indeed, it is more comfortable now than in any other time before in comparison with weakening Syria, Hizbollah and Iran, as analysts say.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 It is the always-present.\u00a0 It has never been absent.\u00a0 It might be absent in terms of language, because we fight its proxies, agents, flunkies or tools, in different ways, some military some political.\u00a0 They are all tools serving Israel directly or through the Americans.\u00a0 Since the battle on the ground is with these forces, it is normal that the terminology describes these forces and not Israel.\u00a0 Israel is in fact a main partner in what is happening, and as an enemy state, that is expected.\u00a0 Will it stand by and watch?\u00a0 No. it will be proactive, and more effective in order to strike at Syria, the Syrian people, the Syrian homeland and everything related to Syria.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Benefiting practically from what happened?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 This is self-evident.\u00a0 Even if we do not discuss it, it is one of our national givens in Syria.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: After all the aggressions carried out by the Israeli enemy on Syria, we have never seen an Arab position, and the Arab League has never moved. When the Turkish aggression started, the Arab League met at the level of Foreign Ministers. The first impressions were good, and the final communique was described as positive. In return, we have not heard a statement from the Syrian state.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Do you recall when Syria\u2019s membership in the Arab League was frozen?\u00a0 Did we issue a statement? We did not.\u00a0 So, if we did not issue a statement as a result of Syria\u2019s departure from the Arab League, why would we issue one when they started discussing Syria\u2019s return to the Arab League? I think the implications of my answer are clear for all those who want to understand.\u00a0 I do not think that your viewers believe that raising this issue merits more than the few sentences I have just said.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 True. If we move to pure politics concerning the constitutional committee.\u00a0 What is your explanation of the criticism made by the other side to this committee, although it has been one of their demands for years?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 Very simply, they believed that we would reject the formation of this committee, and maybe they were shocked that we were able to form it, because they used to raise obstacles and blame the Syrian government.\u00a0 We dealt with these obstacles in a specific diplomatic manner, not making concession on fundamental issues, but on some issues which we consider related to form.\u00a0 They were shocked in the end, and that is why they launched a severe attack on it.\u00a0 That is what happened, in brief.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: The Syrian state made no concessions under Russian or Iranian pressure?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 No. Had we made real concessions, they would not have attacked it.\u00a0 They would have praised the formation of the committee.\u00a0 Their attack shows that we have not made any concessions and no concessions can be made.\u00a0 The constitutional committee and the outcomes it might produce later would be used as a launching pad to attack and strike at the structure of the Syrian state.\u00a0 This is what the West has been planning for years, and we know this. That is why it was not an option to concede on fundamentals and particular stances related to Syria\u2019s interest.\u00a0 There were other details which were insignificant, like the fact that they camouflaged themselves under the umbrella of the so-called moderate opposition.\u00a0 In many instances, they proposed names affiliated to al-Nusra Front, which we rejected because of this affiliation.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Terrorists?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong> They are terrorists.\u00a0 In the end we agreed to a number of those, which might have come as a surprise.\u00a0 We determined that the result would be the same regardless: the same background, the same affiliation, the same master.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: True\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 And decision maker, and so the signal for the decision would be from the same source.\u00a0 So, what difference does it make?\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Puppets, no more.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Exactly.\u00a0 We agreed.\u00a0 This is only an example.\u00a0 There are many other details, but this is what surprised them.\u00a0 We have not made any concession on fundamental issues.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Pedersen talked about meetings of the constitutional committee in Geneva saying that it would open the door to reaching a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis, and in his view, that solution includes holding parliamentary and presidential elections under the supervision of the United Nations and in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254.\u00a0 He also talked about ensuring the participation of Syrian expatriates. Would you accept international supervision on parliamentary and presidential elections?\u00a0 And is this issue within the preview of this committee?\u00a0 And who has the right to vote, practically?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: For him to say that this committee prepares the ground for a comprehensive solution, this is not true.\u00a0 It provides part of the solution, maybe.\u00a0 But by saying this he ignores the presence of the terrorists.\u00a0 A constitutional committee while the terrorists are still there will solve the problem \u2013 how? This is impossible; it is rejected.\u00a0 The solution starts by striking at terrorism in Syria.\u00a0 It starts by stopping external interference in Syria.\u00a0 Any Syrian-Syrian dialogue complements, contributes and plays a certain role, but it does not replace the first and second elements. I am saying this in order not to leave part of the statement as if we have agreed to it.\r\n\r\nIf he believes that Resolution 2254 gives the authority to any party, international or otherwise, to supervise the elections, this means that they are returning to the era of the mandate.\u00a0 I would like to recall that the first part of the resolution refers to Syria\u2019s sovereignty, which is expressed by the Syrian state alone and no one else.\u00a0 The elections that will be held will be under the supervision of the Syrian state from A to Z.\u00a0 If we want to invite any other party \u2013 an international body, certain states, organizations, societies, individuals or personalities, it will still be under the supervision of the Syrian state and under the sovereignty of the Syrian state.\u00a0 The constitutional committee has nothing to do with the elections it is only tasked with the constitution.\u00a0 If they believe that they will return to the days of the mandate, then that would only be in their dreams.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Again, on Pedersen\u2019s statements, he said that the mere acceptance to form the constitutional committee is an implied acceptance of the other side and constitutes a joined commitment before the Syrian people to try and agree, under the auspices of the United Nations, on the constitutional arrangements for Syria. Some people objected to this implied acceptance of the other side by the committee, since it does not represent the Syrian people and is not elected by the Syrian people. What is your response to that?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 All your questions are valid, at least from a legal perspective.\u00a0 First, let us identify the first party and the second; some people believe the first party is the Syrian state or the Syrian government.\u00a0 No, this is not the case, the first party represents the viewpoint of the Syrian government, however the Syrian government is not part of these negotiations nor of these discussions.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: The first party is supported by the Syrian government.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 Exactly.\u00a0 The government supports this party because we believe that we share the same viewpoint.\u00a0 They are people who belong to the same political climate of the Syrian government.\u00a0 This does not imply that the government is part of the negotiations.\u00a0 Legally, we are not a part of the constitutional committee and this does not imply the government\u2019s recognition of any party; this issue is should be clear.\u00a0 So, he is referring to a side which represents the viewpoint of the Syrian government.\u00a0 Here we have to question: what does he mean by \u201cimplied acceptance,\u201d what is it we are accepting?\r\n\r\nThe first party initially accepted to be part of Sochi and to sit down with the second party in Sochi; it later accepted to set up a constitutional committee and discuss ideas regarding the constitution.\u00a0 Accepting to sit down with them, does not imply that we accept their nature.\u00a0 The first party exists in Syria, lives in Syria, belongs to all segments of the Syrian people; similarly, there is a state which has the same viewpoint, is elected by the Syrian people and enjoys the support of the majority of people.\u00a0 The second party is appointed by whom?\u00a0 It is appointed by Turkey.\u00a0 Why was the formation of the constitutional committee delayed? For a whole year, we have been negotiating with Turkey via the state-guarantors, Russia and Iran.\u00a0 The second party was not appointed by any Syrian side; a few represent the terrorists and the majority represent the states which imposed them; it is exclusively Turkey, and of course those standing in the background, the Americans and others.\u00a0 And there is the other party, which, as I said, represents the terrorists. So, what is it I am accepting?\u00a0 I accept the terrorist to be a patriot, or I accept those appointed by others, or I accept agents to be patriots. Let us speak frankly.\u00a0 Why should we lie and speak diplomatically?\u00a0 The reality is that there is a patriotic party dealing with a party which is an agent and a terrorist, its as simple as that. But in order to be diplomatic and to not anger everyone, I will call it a Syrian-Syrian dialogue, but only in terms of an identity card, passport and nationality.\u00a0 But as for belonging, that is a different discussion, to which we all know the answer too aside from the diplomatic discourse.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Pedersen considered that the launch of the work of the committee is actually a return to Geneva. Have we returned to Geneva after four years? And what about Sochi and Astana?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 No, we have returned to Geneva only geographically, whereas politically, we are part of Sochi, and everything that is happening has its frame of reference as Sochi and is a continuation of it.\u00a0 There is no Geneva, it is not part of this process.\u00a0 The fact that the UN is represented and participates in Sochi gives it an international dimension, which is necessary; but it does not mean that Geneva undercuts Sochi.\u00a0 There is no Geneva.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Could Pedersen\u2019s statements, all the statements we have reviewed here, aim at preempting the work of the committee, or are they completely outside the context of its work? And concerning the constitution, in particular, is what is happening a complete change of the constitution, a discussion on the constitution, or the amendment of some provisions of the constitution?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 There will be an attempt to direct the work of the committee in a certain direction.\u00a0 This is for sure, and we are fully aware of this and won\u2019t allow it.\u00a0 That is why everything announced outside the committee has no value; it is absolute zero, as simple as that.\u00a0 Therefore, we should not waste our time on such statements or give it any importance. What is the second point?\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 About the nature of the committee\u2019s work: is it discussing the provisions of the constitution, amending some provisions or a complete change of the constitution?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 This constitutes a large part of the discussion on setting up the constitutional committee: shall we amend the constitution or have a new constitution?\u00a0 Our position was that when we amend a provision of the constitution and put it to a referendum, it becomes a new constitution.\u00a0 So, there is no real difference between amending the constitution or having a new one, because there is nothing to define the new constitution, a completely new constitution.\u00a0 This is all theoretical and has no real meaning.\u00a0 What concerns us is that everything produced by the meetings of this committee and is in line with national interest \u2013 even if it is a new constitution from A to Z, we shall approve.\u00a0 And if there is an amendment of a single provision in the constitution, which is against national interest, we would oppose it.\u00a0 So, in order not to waste our time in such sophistry, we should focus on the implications.\u00a0 We are fully aware of the game they are going to play. They aim to weaken the state and transform it into a state which cannot be controlled from within and, consequently is controlled from the outside.\u00a0 The game is clear, as is happening in neighboring countries which we don\u2019t need to mention.\u00a0 This is not going to happen; but they will try and we will not accept.\u00a0 This is the summary of months of future dialogue, and maybe longer, I don\u2019t know. Of course, I mean future dialogue.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 We discussed at length the constitutional committee and all the statements made about it. I will move to talking about the internal situation in Syria, since we are talking about attempts to influence, what matters is the internal situation.\u00a0 During the war years, the Syrian\u2019s suffered from high prices, lack of production, shortage of job opportunities, many consequences of terrorism, the sanctions, and the difficult military situation over large parts of the Syrian territory.\u00a0 The natural outcome was a deterioration in the living conditions of Syrian families.\u00a0 But now, conditions on the ground militarily have improved, most of the land has returned to the control of the Syrian state.\u00a0 What about the living conditions? Are there signs of an improvement of this situation, or will the situation remain as it is until all Syrian territory is liberated?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 If the cause was only due to the situation on the ground, terrorism, etc., then yes, it is better to wait.\u00a0 But this does not make sense.\u00a0 As you know, some people tend to blame everything on the security situation and whilst there is no doubt that it has a great impact, but it is not absolute.\u00a0 This answers the last part of the question.\u00a0 Do we wait?\u00a0 No, because if we were to wait, even if the situation on the ground changed, living conditions would not improve.\u00a0 Living conditions will not improve unless we move, very simply, as a state and as a society on all levels.\u00a0 Liberating some areas might have an impact on the economic situation if these areas were employed and integrated into the development and economic cycle in Syria.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Areas in which there are resources in particular.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 There might be resources, or it might be a tourist area.\u00a0 Currently there is no tourism, so this area will not have an impact on the economic situation, but an agricultural area like the northern regions, this is essential; today we import some of the things which we used to export and because they are imported in a round-about way in order to circumvent the sanctions, we are paying more for them.\u00a0 If we take Aleppo for instance, it is the heart of Syrian industry, and with Damascus they are the centre of the Syrian economy.\u00a0 So, areas are different but if we liberate areas without taking the necessary measures to invigorate the economy, things will not improve.\u00a0 So, as a state, we need to accelerate the rebuilding of infrastructure \u2013 like restoring electricity and other utilities, and the role of state institutions, in order to facilitate the return of the productivity cycle.\u00a0 Here I am not referring to major industries and large projects.\u00a0 Even before the war, we had the view that large projects are important but they are not the solution.\u00a0 For a country like Syria, the strength of its economy lies in small and medium-sized enterprises. This will help invigorate the economy.\u00a0 The problem is that some people wait; they say that let us wait to see what happens.\u00a0 If we are to wait, then we should not expect to see the signs that you referred to.\u00a0 Are there signs? Yes, of course, there are improvements, there are industries which have emerged, workshops that have returned to work.\u00a0 The number of people who have returned to the country is higher than the development of the economy, and consequently some might say these improvements are intangible, this is correct.\u00a0 The challenge now is to integrate these people into the economic cycle.\u00a0 The answer to the question: (can we do it?) of course, we can.\u00a0 We should not say that circumstances prevent us, no; we have some laziness, we have some dependencies and sometimes we do not have the vision of how to move.\u00a0 And by we, I mean all of us as a society, as a state and as citizens.\u00a0 The state is responsible to provide the necessary conditions and the infrastructure, but it cannot open all the shops, workshops, and industries.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 If we can, why do we not see a real response by the government to your continued directives to the ministers to deal transparently with the citizens.\u00a0 Why is this indifference and improvisation in the work of government institutions and the absence of any planning or a preemptive alternative, as some people say, some people who hold the government responsible directly for squandering the blood of the martyrs and the wounded and the sacrifices of the Syrians.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 First, if we want to address government institutions, and in order to be objective, I cannot talk about them collectively; there are those ministries that are working, while there is laziness and inefficiency in others.\u00a0 Within ministries, there are institutions which are functioning properly and others which are not fulfilling their duties.\u00a0 So, if we want to talk objectively, we need to identify specific sectors in order to distinguish between them; any generalities do not properly reflect reality.\u00a0 In our own private discussions, we can talk in general terms \u2013 the state is not functioning, the government is not functioning etc., but I am an official and I cannot but speak in a scientific, objective and tangible manner.\u00a0 In reality, there are cases of negligence and there is the opposite.\u00a0 If I look at the positive aspects, if all the institutions are not working, where are we getting salaries from?\u00a0 How do students go to school?\u00a0 There are martyrs in the education and electricity sectors.\u00a0 Electricity plants were targeted and then problems solved and solutions found.\u00a0 Despite the difficulties due to the sanctions, we are able to provide basic commodities like oil, wheat and others.\u00a0 So, there is work being done.\u00a0 Of course, you will tell me that it is only normal for talk about pain.\u00a0 This is natural and I do not expect people to refer to the positives.\u00a0 It is human nature to talk about pain. When I am healthy, I do not talk about being in good health every day, but when I\u2019m sick, I will talk about my illness; again, this is only natural.\u00a0\u00a0 But in order to evaluate properly the situation we should consider all angles.\u00a0 As to the negatives, the challenge lies in distinguishing between causes related to the crisis and the war and causes related to our dereliction? When people criticize the state, they speak as if there is no war.\u00a0\u00a0 Similarly, when an official speaks, they often blame everything on the war; the challenge is how to separate the two.\u00a0 This is what we are doing now. When we had the gasoline and diesel crisis, the problem was indeed caused by the sanctions and our ability to provide these resources.\u00a0 The problem is that the state itself is under sanction, so it cannot import.\u00a0 It imports using other channels, which I won\u2019t divulge, to source these resources.\u00a0 Most of the time we succeed, but other times we do not; these latter cases are beyond our control.\u00a0 As for electricity, the plants and infrastructure are continuously targeted, do we hold the officials responsible for the terrorist rockets?\u00a0 We need to be objective about certain issues, for example we were able to reclaim some gas wells, which improved the electricity situation, but the needs of the returnees and the workshops which have reopened are much larger than the electricity we were able to restore.\u00a0 We need to see all these issues.\u00a0 So, we are able to produce, but we go back to the same question: how do we distinguish between dereliction and valid causes.\u00a0 This is what we should be considering, but we are not discussing the situation from this perspective.\u00a0 At the level of the state, we are trying to reach these results, and we have been able to reach them in relation to dereliction.\u00a0 Officials who do not fulfill their duties should be removed; dereliction should not be given an opportunity to continue.\u00a0 There is also the issue of corruption.\u00a0 Dereliction of duty is one thing and corruption is something else. The outcome may be the same sometimes, but here I am referring to an official who is not corrupt but is either unable to carry out their duty or does not have a clear vision.\u00a0 When it becomes apparent that they do not have either of these qualities, then they should leave immediately.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 On this subject of having a clear vision, if we talk about the rate of exchange for the dollar, it is logical that during the war the exchange rate increases if not as a result of the war itself, as a result of the embargo and the economic sanctions on our country, but recently rises are incomprehensible and affect the details of the daily life.\u00a0 What is your explanation of this incomprehensible rise?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 As I said some issues are self-evident, first, sanctions have an impact on state revenues in dollars or hard currency in general.\u00a0 This affects the exchange rate, which in turn affects prices.\u00a0 State revenues have also receded as a result of fewer exports and the lack of tourism; no tourists will visit a country during a war.\u00a0 Countries that we depend on for exports are contributing to the sanctions in one way or another.\u00a0 Nonetheless, we have managed to identify unofficial channels for exports, which has contributed to the inflow some hard currency. There is also the speculation game, some of which happens inside Syria and some of which happens outside; additionally, there is speculation on social media, which we get dragged into.\r\n\r\nThe most dangerous of these factors is the psychological.\u00a0 When we hear that the Syrian pound has dropped, we rush to buy dollars.\u00a0 We believe in this way that we have saved money by turning our pounds into dollars, but as a consequence, the exchange rate drops in a severe and accelerated manner and consequently prices rise significantly; what citizens have saved by converting pounds to dollars they have lost due to higher prices.\u00a0 There are many aspects to this issue. Now, can the state intervene?\u00a0 Yes it can, but with limited revenues and tremendous demand \u2013 due to higher prices of basic commodities like wheat, oil, fuel and others, there is a trade off between exhausting dollars on speculation or spending on basic needs.\u00a0 If dollars are exhausted, this will mean we will have no wheat and oil; this is our reality.\u00a0 Our revenues are not what they used to be and as such our priorities have been on focused on arms and ammunition and squeezing what we can in order to provide the necessary weapons.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Are there no measures that the state can take to control the rate of the exchange?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 Of course, there are.\u00a0 If you compare our situation with other countries in our region, when the dollar exchange rate is affected, you find that it increases multiple times in a matter of days.\u00a0 So, it is a miracle that the exchange rate, which was in the upper forties or fifties before the war, is still around six hundred nine years on.\u00a0 This does not make sense; the pound was expected to collapse at the end of 2012. Had it not been for particular methods, which unfortunately I cannot divulge due to their covert nature, the pound would have collapsed.\u00a0 Let me give you an example: one factor which people are not aware of, is that the liberation of an area does not necessarily serve the Syrian Pound, because by liberating an area, we are removing its access to dollars which were paid to the terrorists to cover their needs and expenses.\u00a0 This is one of the tools we benefited from. I mean that things are not absolute, and we cannot say that terrorists were serving us in this regard.\u00a0 Not every positive step has a positive impact.\u00a0 That is why I am saying that the issue is complicated.\u00a0 Some experts say that there is a process of drying the region up of dollars and the whole region is paying the price of the dollar.\u00a0 But notice the difference between us and neighbouring countries.\u00a0 The Turkish Lira, for instance, lost about two percent of its value in the last few days; yesterday I believe, due to a decision taken by the American Congress.\u00a0 Countries are totally subject to these fluctuations.\u00a0 Despite our circumstances, we do not succumb entirely \u2013 we suffer, we defend, we fight all the whilst having a war waged against us.\u00a0 Whereas these other countries do not have a war waged against them, yet they can barely support their currency, and moreover, the currency is supported by external financial and political measures.\u00a0 So, there are challenges but once again the solution is not difficult.\u00a0 The solution is not the dollar game, but an economic game.\u00a0 If we go back to your first question and start to look at the economic cycle as being the foundation, not speculation.\u00a0 If we are able to get the economic cycle moving, then we can create more tools for the monetary authorities and for society to improve the economic conditions and reduce dependency on the dollar.\u00a0 Small or medium-sized industries help us reduce our dependency on importing materials and hence reduce the pressure on the Syrian Pound.\u00a0 We have many tools which we can use, but the speculation game is not the solution. This is what I believe.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: So, I understand from what your excellency said that these policies or measures might take a longer time to produce results, but they are more effective and successful.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: What I want to say in answer to all economic questions is that the solution is there. There are those who say that when I present all these factors, it is because we do not have a solution.\u00a0 No, solutions do exist and are not impossible and what we have done proves that they are not impossible; but this does not mean that we have done our best.\u00a0 This is the starting point and this requires an economic dialogue, I am presenting the larger headlines that we are capable of achieving.\u00a0 Actually, the dollar, the economy and the living conditions are all part of one cycle.\u00a0 They are not separate parts.\u00a0 The solution lies in accelerating state services and facilities to push projects forward and this is what we are doing; we are waiting for a response, because there is a lot of pressure on foreign investors not to invest in Syria.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: And the solution also lies in fighting corruption. There is a lot of talk about that now. There is talk about a wide-ranging campaign which included a number of business men and officials who are suspected of corruption. Is that true, Mr President? Is this campaign part of the measures taken to combat corruption, and would it include other individuals?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 That is true, but it is not a campaign, because the word \u201ccampaign\u201d gives the impression that we have just started, because a campaign has a beginning and an end, and is temporary.\u00a0 This is not true, for either we used to accept corruption and suddenly we don\u2019t accept it any longer, or we did not acknowledge it.\u00a0 No, it is visible, and the beginning is now over three years old. Why?\u00a0 Because at the start of the war the internal situation was not a priority at all.\u00a0 We used to think of providing our basic needs, just to live, but there was process of tearing up the state and the homeland by terrorists and, on a larger scale, by the corrupt.\u00a0 That was the problem. The country cannot stand it and the state cannot stand it.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: We just wanted to stay alive.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad:<\/strong>\u00a0 In the first years.\u00a0 Afterwards when the tearing up increased, we returned to fighting corruption which we had started before, but the circumstances were different before the war, and priorities were different.\u00a0 Now fighting corruption was given priority because of the economic conditions we are living and because this reservoir, which is the state, is punctured in many places, so any revenues going into it were syphoned out and so we were not able to benefit from them.\u00a0 Where did we start? We started with the military establishment. No state starts accountability at the heart of the military establishment during a war; this institution is sacred.\u00a0 However, because it is sacred especially during the war, and because it stands for discipline, this establishment doe not allow itself to be, at the same time, be a symbol of corruption.\u00a0 So, accountability started in the military establishment and many high-ranking officers were put in jail with other officers at different levels.\u00a0 Those who were proven innocent were released and there are those who are still being tried up till now and after many years; so, there was no favouritism.\u00a0 The question was raised: is it possible while the military establishment is involved in a war.\u00a0 We said that the military establishment is fighting terrorism and fighting corruption. It fights everything, and because it is the military establishment it should be at the forefront in everything.\u00a0 The same process was also followed in the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Telecommunications. Many institutions were involved.\u00a0 But, the issue was raised because there are aspects of society, personalities and institutions which are the subject of people\u2019s attentions, in the spotlight of society, the issue was given prominence, while in actual fact, there is nothing new.\u00a0 As to accountability, it is an ongoing process.\u00a0 In answer to your question, yes, it is ongoing.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Are we going to see other individuals brought to account?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 As long as there is corruption, fighting it we will continue. That\u2019s for sure. In these circumstances and in other circumstance.\u00a0 This is part of developing the state. We cannot talk about developing the state in terms of administration and other aspects without fighting corruption. This is self-evident.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: there are those who floated the idea that the state needed money, or that our allies asked the state to pay for debts, so the state appropriated money from merchants, in a vengeful way, to the extent that some people described it as Ritz Carlton Syria.\u00a0 How do you comment on this?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 They always describe Syria as a regime.\u00a0 They do not say a state. Their objective by saying so is to make us appear as a gang, a junta, etc.\u00a0 Whereas the state has basic principles, a constitution, regulations, clear controls.\u00a0 We are a state, not a sheikhdom as is the case in some countries.\u00a0 The state has a constitution and a law.\u00a0 The first thing in the constitution, or one of its most important provisions, is the protection of private property.\u00a0 We cannot tell somebody, under any title, we take this property.\u00a0 There are many appropriations of properties belonging to terrorists, which have been appropriated temporarily, but they have not become state property, because there is no court decision, although these individuals are terrorists, there is still a need for a court decision. It doesn\u2019t mean that this property goes automatically to the state. It needs a court decision.\u00a0 In this framework, the state cannot say, under any title, \u201cyou are corrupt, so give me your money.\u201d\u00a0 This is at odds with the basic principles of the state.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: These are measures taken on legal grounds.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Of course.\u00a0 There are many cases which people confuse.\u00a0 There was a meeting between a group of business men and state officials in order to support the Syrian Pound when it started to drop quickly because of the state of fear and anxiety. Otherwise, there was no economic cause for the collapse of the Syrian pound.\u00a0 They were asked to help state institutions, particularly the Central Bank, and they did it.\u00a0 This does not mean that they made donations to the state, they contributed hard currencies and took Syrian Pounds in return. Nobody offers the state anything for free.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Just moving the economy.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Yes, in a certain way and according to a certain agreed plan. They did it and it gave quick results. There is also corruption fighting which you asked about a short while ago.\u00a0 There are officials and individuals in the private sector, because corruption is done in partnership.\u00a0 In the private sector, all those who squandered state money were asked to return it because the objective is to get the money without necessarily being vindictive, before we prosecute and go to the courts for years. There are documents. Are you prepared to return state money? Many of them expressed a willingness to do so. So, there are aspects to the issue.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: But why was the issue promoted, or people understood sometimes the reasons you mentioned to mean that prosecution or accountability targeted business men only, but we have not heard about officials. We heard only about merchants or business men.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 And that is why I said that accountability started in the army, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Transport and other institutions and it is still ongoing, all of this targeted officials in the firs place.\u00a0 And all those in prison are state officials at different levels.\u00a0 You cannot prosecute one party when they have another partner. There is always a partnership, but sometimes the name of official is not mentioned because people are not interested or the name of the person from the private sector is not mentioned because people don\u2019t know this individual. The question is that of media marketing, and we have never relied, and will never rely, on media marketing or propaganda to say that we are fighting corruption.\u00a0 We are more interested in actually fighting corruption rather than making a big fuss abut it.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 That is why there is talk of a law on disclosure of financial assets of all those working in the public sector.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Discussions started a few months ago, and there was a workshop last week under the auspices of the Ministry of Administrative Development.\u00a0 It is an important law. In fact, this is not new. It was raised a year before the war but at that time it was not formulated as a law. It was rather in the form of a decision for any individual employed by the state to disclose their financial assets so that this declaration becomes a frame of reference for the assets he gains during his employment.\u00a0 Many people were asking why state officials were not being asked about their assets and how they were acquired.\u00a0 To do so, would require a legal framework and that is what we are doing at the moment.\u00a0 The essence in fighting corruption lies in the laws. By disclosing financial assets means this law which will constitute an important reference for any person employed by the state; after one year or twenty years you can ask them how they acquired their assets.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: What are the measures that will be taken in this regard?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: The law for the disclosure of financial assets is part of it, prosecuting corrupt individuals for certain wrongdoings is another.\u00a0 However, if you go back to the discussion about corruption, particularly on social media, people talk about everything except the source of corruption.\u00a0 In our case, the source lies in the laws and the related executive decrees and measures etc.\u00a0 The legal structure of corruption is the problem, most of the cases referred to the courts are found to be an implementation of the law, which is very vague and has many loopholes.\u00a0 As long as this is the case, even if you are fully-convinced that they are corrupt, they are legally innocent, because they have \u2018implemented the law.\u2019\u00a0 Our laws give far reaching authorities, and allow for many exemptions.\u00a0 This is why in my previous meeting with government, after the reshuffle, I talked about setting up a committee to amend the laws and in particular cancelling exceptions.\u00a0 Exceptions are not necessarily in the form of allowing for officials to issue them but also in the form that they may implement in various manner at their own discretion.\u00a0 I might implement it in good faith and create discrepancies between people, and I might implement it in bad faith and receive money and consequently become corrupt in the financial sense of the word.\u00a0 That is why we started by focusing on the exceptions given to the President of the Republic.\u00a0 By allowing for exceptions, if I wanted to implement the law fairly, I cannot because I will give you the opportunity to implement the provision in a certain way while somebody else is deprived of this possibility, because I did not encounter him or he did not have access to me.\u00a0 As I said we started by canceling the exceptions of the President of the Republic.\u00a0 Furthermore, any exceptions that are required in particular areas, for example the Customs Law; in these instances, there should be clear boundaries and controls over these exceptions. They should not be left to the discretion of any official regardless of their seniority.\u00a0 So, we used to have so many exceptions without any controls, including in employment and other areas.\u00a0 Again, our laws are full of loopholes which need to be fixed by passing new laws.\u00a0 This has already begun, particularly with local administration laws because the violations we see everywhere are partly legal.\u00a0 This is what we need to do. We are focusing on the anti-corruption law because what we are doing now in terms of fighting corruption is merely addresses the symptoms but does not solve the problem.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: So, it is about fighting the corrupt environment and not the corrupt individuals.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>: Exactly.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: And here I ask about our role in the media, finally, and thank you for your patience with us, Mr President, and for answering all these questions.\r\n\r\nMr President: Not at all, you are welcome.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 As the media, within the framework of fighting the corrupt environment, do we have a role and how do you see it?\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 You have a crucial role in two areas.\u00a0 By the way, my last meeting with the government was dedicated solely to the role of the media.\u00a0 First because I know that the media will have many enemies from within the state, especially when it addresses the question of corruption.\u00a0 This is for many reasons, not only because of interests but also because it is our nature and our culture that we do not like criticism.\u00a0 Even when it is general, we turn it into something personalized, and reactions start to appear, which create a great number of problems \u2013 either through fighting the media in principle or fighting the information which you need in order to do your job in this case.\r\n\r\nSo, the meeting was dedicated to advancing the state media; first because it constitutes the most important tool in fighting corruption.\u00a0 Corruption is wide-ranging and includes many sectors, the relationship between people and the state, the relationship of different sectors within the state is not only a daily relationship, it is manifested on an hourly basis.\u00a0 Consequently, we cannot, using any mechanism, follow up on all these cases. Here comes the role of the media, since the media are supposed to be in all corners of society.\u00a0 So, it constitutes a major auxiliary instrument to expose cases of corruption.\u00a0 The more important point which I touched on earlier when I referred to the laws, is the environment which needs radical reform.\u00a0 The media should lead the dialogue around this reform.\u00a0 The state has brought in legal experts to study the flaws, but legal experts do not necessarily have the vision.\r\n\r\nLawyers can formulate the laws, which is only part of the process.\u00a0 The other part is the vision.\u00a0 Who has this vision?\u00a0 The officials alone \u2013 no.\u00a0 There are details that officials, in their experience and position do not see.\u00a0 And every individual in society, by virtue of their presence in a certain domain cannot see the whole solution, they can see part of the solution.\u00a0 The media can bring us together to discuss this solution. From another perspective, we are seeing the chaos of discussion on social media.\u00a0 Here is the role of the national media to shift this discussion from superficiality, personalization, gloating, revenge and manipulation from the outside, even unknowingly.\u00a0 The media can create a real methodology for a serious dialogue, a mature dialogue, a national and consequently productive dialogue.\u00a0 In fact, there are great hopes pinned on you, although you are still at the beginning through the programmes which you have started recently.\u00a0 The opportunity to upgrade this dialogue, to fight corruption, address the laws, and the corrupt \u2013 the horizons for you are broad and open for you to play an important role. I personally pin great hopes on you and support the official media in this regard.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>:\u00a0 Thank you for your support, Mr President, which is practically empowering but also entrusts us with a great responsibility.\r\n\r\n<strong>President Assad<\/strong>:\u00a0 Thank you. I am happy to have this dialogue with two important and major national media institutions.\u00a0 No doubt people have high hopes on the role of officials and the state in the future of Syria, whether in fighting corruption, fighting terrorism or the many other issues which you have tried to pass through the views of the Syrian citizens;\u00a0 In turn we pin our hopes on you in the media to be \u2013 as you have been \u2013 part of the battle against terrorism, against corruption and against any flaw which might take the country backward instead of moving it forward.\r\n\r\nYou are welcome.\r\n\r\n<strong>Journalist<\/strong>: Thank you, Mr President.