Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview on Thursday to the Czech paper Literarni Noviny. Following is the full text of the interview as posted by the state-run SANA news agency:
Question 1: Mr. President, I would like to start from the beginning. Less than a decade ago, Syria was building its relations with the west, and you were implementing World Bank-proposed reforms, and Mr. Kerry, until 2010, I believe, used to call you “my dear friend,” and somehow, overnight, everything changed, and you became a dictator and a Hitler and so on. What’s your opinion about that? How can you explain this dramatic change?
President Assad: In fact, I haven’t changed, neither have we changed our policies, values or principles. The problem lies with the West, and it’s not a new problem. It is related to the independence of our country. In fact, this is the problem of the west with many other countries, including Syria. During the period you refer to concerning relations with the West, between 2008 and 2010, relations were good, but in fact they were not based on mutual respect. For instance, France wanted Syria to play a role with Iran concerning the nuclear file.
What was required was not to be part of that file, but to convince Iran to take steps which are against its interests. We refused to do that. They also wanted us to take a position against resistance in our region before putting an end to Israeli occupation and aggression against the Palestinians and other neighboring countries. We refused that too. They wanted us to sign the Euro-Association Agreement which was against our interests and was meant to turn our country into an open market for their products while giving us a very small share of their markets. We refused to do that because it is against the interests of the Syrian people.
These are a few examples of that relationship, and that’s why they took that decision. The same is happening now with Russia; two decades ago, Russia was a close friend of the West. Suddenly, Russia became an aggressive country; and the West started to demonize President Putin, and the same propaganda was used in both the Syrian and Russian cases. So, the problem has to do with the independence of these countries. The West wants client states ruled by puppets. This is the core issue with the West. It has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or supporting the people in the region. An example is what happened in Libya and the continuing killing in Syria with Western support.
Question 2: But in those times, the beginning of the so-called American war on terrorism, Syria used to help the CIA in the rendition programs and interrogating and torturing people. Why did you join that program?
President Assad: You mean before the crisis?
President Assad: We have been suffering from extremism for more than five decades. And terrorism, in its stark shape, appeared in Syria in the 1970s. At that time we called for international cooperation to fight terrorism. Nobody cared about that then. In the West, they were not aware of this problem. That’s why we have always been ready to help and cooperate with any country that wants to fight terrorism. And for that reason we helped the Americans, and we are always ready to join any country which is sincere about fighting terrorism. We will never change our position in that regard, before, during, or after the crisis. The problem of the west is that it did not understand how to deal with this issue. They believed that fighting terrorism is similar to a computer game, which is not true. Fighting terrorism should be through culture, the economy, and in different fields.
Question 3: Regarding this question of terrorism, you heard about events in France recently, what are your comments about that?
President Assad: When you talk about terrorism, about killing civilians, and regardless of the political position, agreement or disagreement with the people who have been killed, this is a case of terrorism; and we are against killing innocent people anywhere in the world. This is our principle.
We are one of the countries which best understand this issue because we have been suffering from terrorism for the past four years and we lost thousands of innocent lives in Syria. That’s why we sympathize with the families of those victims. However, and at the same time, we want to remind many people in the West that we have been talking about these repercussions since the beginning of the crisis in Syria. We have been saying, you shouldn’t support terrorism and provide it with a political umbrella, because this will reflect on your countries and your people.
They didn’t listen to us. Western politicians were short-sighted and narrow-minded. What happened in France proved that what we said was true. At the same time, this incident brought European policies to account, because they are responsible for what happened in our region, for what happened in France, and maybe what happened earlier in other European countries.
Question 4: In your opinion, what is the best way to fight terrorism?
President Assad: If we want to talk about the reality now, we need to fight terrorists because they are killing innocent people, and we have to defend these people. This is the most important and urgent method to deal with it. But if we want to talk about the crisis, fighting terrorism doesn’t need an army, but needs good policies. We should fight ignorance with culture and education, should build a good economy to fight poverty, and there should be an exchange of information among the countries concerned with fighting terrorism.
The problem cannot be addressed in the way they addressed it in Afghanistan, I mean what they did in Afghanistan in 2001. A group of Congressmen visited Damascus at that time and they were talking about invading Afghanistan in revenge for what happened in New York earlier. I said this is not how you should do it, because fighting terrorism is similar to treating cancer. You do not treat cancer by cutting it, but by extracting it. What happened in Afghanistan is that they cut the cancer, and the result was that it spread much faster. That’s why, as I said, we should focus on good policies, on the economy, and on culture and education.
Journalist: So, you used to repeat that to European politicians but they didn’t listen.
President Assad: Exactly.