US ‘losing its cards’ in Syria: Highlights of RT’s interview with Bashar Assad
Speaking with RT’s Murad Gazdiev in Damascus, Assad commented on a range of topics, from the threat of direct conflict between the US and Russia, to why he doesn’t fear Israeli assassination threats.
On Victory: ‘It’s self-evident’ that Syria is ‘moving closer to the end of the conflict’
Assad noted that the “majority” of Syria is now under government control, but said that continued provocations and escalations by the United States and its allies have needlessly prolonged the seven-year conflict. With each Syrian military victory or successful reconciliation effort, the US and its partners have attempted to counteract these gains by “supporting more terrorism, bringing more terrorists to Syria, or by hindering the political process,” Assad said.
However, he stated that it was “self-evident” that “we are moving closer to the end of the conflict,” adding that “without external interference it won’t take more than a year to settle the situation in Syria.”
The Syrian leader said that whenever possible, his government has chosen negotiations and reconciliation over use of force.
“War is the worst choice but sometimes you only have this choice,” Assad told RT. “Factions like Al-Qaeda, like ISIS, like Al-Nusra, and the like-minded groups, they’re not ready for any dialogue… So, the only option to deal with those factions is force.”
He defended the government’s use of ceasefires and allowing extremists to withdraw to Idlib province, describing the agreements as strategically advantageous for the Syrian army. “If you have two or three frontiers, that’s better than having 10, maybe more than 100 at the time.”
On the US: Washington ‘losing its cards’ in Syria
Although the US forces continue to operate illegally in Syria, they will eventually be forced out of the country, Assad told RT.
“The United States is losing its cards. The main card was Al-Nusra, that was called ‘moderate,’ but when scandals started leaking that they’re not moderate, that they’re Al-Qaeda, which is supposed to be fought by the United States, they started looking for another card. This card is the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] now,” he said, referring to the US-backed militia group. According to Assad, once Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and Al-Nusra are exterminated, the Syrian military will turn its attention on the SDF.
“We’re going to use two methods to deal with the SDF: The first one, we started opening doors for negotiations – because the majority of them are Syrians. And supposedly they like their country, they don’t like being puppets to any foreigners – that’s what we suppose.” Assad said that these commonly-shared values could allow reconciliation with the government. “We all don’t trust the Americans, [so] the one option is to live with each other as Syrians.” However, if negotiations fail, the Syrian army will be forced to liberate areas occupied by the SDF, "with the Americans, or without the Americans.”
On this point Assad was adamant: “This is our land, it’s our right, it’s our duty to liberate [these areas], and the Americans should leave. Somehow, they’re going to leave. They came to Iraq with no legal basis. And look what happened to them. They have to learn their lesson.”
On Russia: Moscow’s leadership prevented ‘direct conflict’ with US military
Syria’s president heaped praise on Moscow, claiming that Russian “wisdom” had prevented a direct conflict between Russian and American forces in Syria. “We were close to having direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership.”
While Assad reiterated that the United States military was not welcome in Syria, he said that avoiding escalation was the key to restoring Syria’s territorial integrity. “We need the Russian support, but we need, at the same time to avoid the American foolishness in order to be able to stabilize our country.”
He emphasized that Russia has shown restraint – not weakness – in Syria, noting how Russian warnings had likely dissuaded Trump from launching a full-scale attack against Damascus.
“The Russians announced publicly that they are going to destroy the bases that are going to be used to launch missiles, and our information – we don’t have evidence, we only have information, and that information is credible information – that they were thinking about a comprehensive attack all over Syria, and that’s why the threat pushed the West to make it on a much smaller scale,” the Syrian president said.
On Israel: No longer phased by ‘threat of Israeli aggression,’ Tel Aviv in ‘panic’
Assad shrugged off Israeli threats against his own life, telling Gazdiev that “my generation – and most of the generations in Syria now – has lived under the threat of Israeli aggression. This is something in our unconscious feeling. So to say that you are afraid while living with the same threat for decades – this is nonsense.” He said that the fact that Tel Aviv has resorted to threats suggests that the Israelis are panicking.
“The Israelis have been assassinating, killing, occupying for decades now, for around seven decades, in this region, but usually they do all this without threatening. Now, why do they threaten in this way? This is panic, this is a kind of hysterical feeling because they are losing the ‘dear ones,’ the dear ones Al-Nusra and ISIS, that’s why Israel is panicking recently, and we understand their feeling.”
He said reports that Syria was helpless to stop Israeli airstrikes were inaccurate. “Our air defense is much stronger than before, thanks to the Russian support and the recent attacks by the Israelis and by the Americans and British and French proved that we are in a better situation” than at the start of the conflict seven years ago, he said. However, Assad noted that when foreign-backed fighters first poured into Syria, the first thing they did was target air defense systems – suggesting a “direct link” between the terrorists groups and Israel.
On chemical attacks: ‘Is it in our interest? Why? And why now?’
Syria’s president described the string of alleged chemical attacks as provocations that have ultimately failed to persuade the international community to give the US and its allies a military mandate in Syria.
Washington and its allies blamed the last such attack, in April, on Damascus, but Assad insisted that the Western narrative makes no sense.
“The timing of this alleged strike was after the victory of the Syrian troops in Ghouta. Let alone the fact that we don’t have chemical weapons anyway,” he told RT. Pointing to multiple reports of civilians and medical workers in the area having no knowledge of a chemical attack – with some even appearing in the Western press – Assad concluded that the alleged incident was a last-ditch Western attempt to sway international opinion – one that failed.
“They told a story, they told a lie, and the public opinion around the world and in the West didn’t buy their story, but they couldn’t withdraw. So, they had to do something, even on a smaller scale,” Assad said, referring to the joint airstrikes against purported Syrian chemical weapons facilities, carried out on April 14 by the US, UK, and France.
However, Assad acknowledged that nothing was stopping Washington from attempting similar provocations in the future. The US has “trampled on international law,” and “there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen [again].”
Assad asked: “What was the legal basis of [the April missile] attack? [Or] the so-called anti-terrorist alliance, which supports the terrorists, actually? What is the legal basis of their attack on Yemen, Afghanistan? There’s no legal basis.”
On Trump: ‘What you say is what you are’
Asked if he had a nickname for US President Donald Trump, who had previously called Assad an “animal,” Syria’s leader admitted that he wasn’t in the business of name-calling.
“This is not my language, so, I cannot use similar language. This is his language. It represents him,” he said. “I think there is a very well known principle, that what you say is what you are. So, he wanted to represent what he is, and that’s normal,” Assad added.
“The only thing that moves you is what people that you trust, people who are level-headed, people who are thoughtful, people who are moral, ethical, that's what should move anything inside you, whether positive or negative. Somebody like Trump will move nothing for me,” he said.
On the myth of Syria’s ‘civil’ war: It was foreign-backed regime change
Assad disputed claims that the seven-year conflict has been a “civil war,” pointing out that there is no sectarian or ethnic conflicts in the areas currently controlled by the government. “Now in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Homs, in every area under Syrian government control, you will see [the whole] spectrum of Syrian society. With no exceptions.”
He noted that the term ‘civil war’ had been used widely since the beginning of the conflict in Syria – but it does not correctly characterize the conflict.
“A Syrian civil war means there are lines based either on ethnicities or sects or religion. Or maybe political opinion. In reality, in the areas in direct control by the government, which is now the majority of Syria, you have all this diversity,” Assad said. “So the word civil war is not correct. What we have actually, from the very beginning – mercenaries, Syrians and foreigners being paid by the West in order to topple the government. This is the mere reality. Everything else is just a mask to cover the real intentions.”