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Tuesday, October 10, 2006 

BBC interview with Bashar Al-Assad

Click here to watch John Simpson's interview with Syria's President in Damascus.

Two things struck me - how good Bashar's English is. And how gentle he is. This is no brutal dictator - there's almost a comical moment when Simpson asks "are you a dictator?". Watch and make up your own mind.

Two printed stories from the BBC too:

Syria: US lacks Mid-East vision

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the United States does not have "the will or vision" to pursue peace in the Middle East.

In a BBC interview, President Assad said Syria was prepared to hold talks with Israel but he said there needed to be "an impartial arbiter".

He said there was no sign the Americans were prepared to play this role.

President Assad acknowledged Syria and Israel could live side-by-side in peace accepting each other's existence.

The current US administration has said Syria is a member of what it has called an axis of evil.

President Assad suggested President Bush could not be an impartial umpire and said no direct dialogue had taken place between the two nations.

"How can you talk about peace and at the same time isolation? How can you talk about peace and you adopt the doctrine of pre-emptive war?" he asked.

The implementation of UN resolutions by all parties - Syria, Israel, America, the UN and EU - was the only way to achieve peace, Mr Assad said.

Pointing the finger

In the wide-ranging interview, the Syrian president said the West was too ready to blame Syria for problems in the Middle East.

He said the reality and the perception of his country were two different things but that it suited the outside world to point the finger at Syria.

Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Assad said the West had accused Syria of supporting terrorism to make it "a scapegoat" and to "absolve themselves from any responsibility".

Washington has also accused Syria of backing Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, organisations it views as a terrorist groups. However, President Assad said public support for such groups had to be taken into account.

"As long as they [Hezbollah] are effective on the ground among the people you have to deal with them.

"When they have the support of the people you cannot label them as terrorists because this way you label the people as terrorists," he said.

As far as Iraq is concerned, he insisted that Syria did not support any insurgent attacks, but added that "as a concept" resistance was the right of the people.

Syria has also been accused of allowing insurgents to pass across the border with Iraq, but President Assad said the accusations were untrue.

Syrian president's patient wait for peace
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

Mr Assad does not have to worry about troublesome elections

For a man who has just been pointedly ignored by Condoleezza Rice on her latest Middle East tour, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria seems remarkably relaxed.

From his point of view, the dangers are a great deal less nowadays.

Because Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah during its attacks on Lebanon this summer, Hezbollah's backer Syria no longer fears an Israeli attack.

And there seems no chance that the United States, weakened by its own failures in Iraq, and distracted by its confrontations with Iran and North Korea, will do anything against Syria.

President Assad has another major advantage: he can play the long game. His father, whom he succeeded in 2000, was effectively president-for-life. He himself does not have to worry too much about troublesome elections.

So when I went to the immense presidential complex on the edge of Damascus to interview him, I found him relaxed, thoughtful and willing to wait a long time for the right moment to make peace with Israel.


He clearly feels the present Israeli government has been too weakened to be able to make a lasting peace agreement.

But anyway he knows nothing can happen without Washington; and he is scathing about what he regards as President Bush's inability to forge a Middle East peace.

"So far", he said, "the United States doesn't have the will to play this role, and it doesn't have the vision towards peace. Of course," he went on, "it doesn't have vision towards Iraq, it doesn't have vision towards terrorism and many other issues."

Implicitly, therefore, he rules out any chance of a comprehensive peace agreement until President Bush has left office and his successor has had time to settle in. So from the Syrian perspective we could be talking about 2009 or even later.

President Assad says he has put out peace-feelers to Israel already. Ehud Olmert, Israel's embattled prime minister, has rejected them; but other leading Israeli politicians think it might be necessary to talk to Syria.

I suggested to President Assad that Israel would be more likely to respond favourably if Syria cut its ties with movements and regimes which sought Israel's destruction. He defended his links with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, but insisted he did not want to see Israel wiped off the map.

When I asked him if Syria and Israel would one day be able to live side-by-side in peace, each accepting the other's existence, he answered promptly. "Yes, the answer is yes."

New approach

I pressed him about the charges that he had supplied weapons and help to Hezbollah, but he insisted that he gave political support, and nothing more. People who wanted to resist would always find weapons, he added.

He has also been accused of helping the insurgents in Iraq. Was he, I asked, prepared to help the people who killed British and American soldiers?

He replied that people had a right to resist any occupying forces, and Syria supported that right. But he insisted that he did not help the Iraqi insurgents. In fact, he said, Syria had stopped many would-be insurgents crossing the border.

President Assad is a quiet, intellectually precise man, who looks much more like the ophthalmologist he once was than the leader of a country accused of giving support to terrorism.

He is clearly trying to introduce a new approach to the exercise of power in a traditionally fierce autocracy, persuading people that they should not see their president as super-human and all-powerful.

But was he really the one in charge here, I asked, or did someone else tell him what to do? His father would probably have ordered me out of the country if I had asked him that - and of course I would not have needed to.

Bashar al-Assad merely smiled and said yes, he was certainly in charge. "But for me," he went on, "the biggest mistake is to flout the public will".

The so-called Damascus Spring which he introduced has long since faded, but he insisted he still wanted to open Syria up. Then he added: "Reform does not mean losing control."

For all his quiet calmness, you can still see occasional signs of his father's steeliness.

This president does not know what he wants, cannot accomplish what he wants, and is dragging 18 M people behind him.
Syria deserves better and Syrians can come up with someone who is more worthy of being the president of Syria.

Millions of Syrians are displaced around the world for the lack of better jobs and better lives at home. Syria is the most corrupted country in the world. All that while Assad and his gang are sucking the country dry.I have not been able to see my home country, Syria, again for 10 years. What does Assad offer? he wants to liberate the Golan now.

Stop the lies! Stop hijacking a while nation as if it is your farm.

Independent Syrian living abroad

In the eyes of Bashar,the syrian people are 80% potential dangerous takfiris and only hisf amily regime is able to protect the western interests against the islamic treath.
The reality is other ,the syrian muslims are known to be the most open minded and civilized people.
Sasa are u Takfiri or Mukhabarati ?

It's natural that he speaks English fluently, he did graduate from England, after all.
And the other commentators: acyually it's because of whining cowards like yourslf that Syria isn't working properly. At least show some backbone and sign.

no he is not england gratuated.he had spent one year and half in england and he is graduate from the military hospital of damascus.remember that his uncles rifaat and jamil were also called doctors.

He was trained in optathalmology London, and that is where he met his wife, who graduated from King's College.

trained some months in england yes but did not receive any diplomas from england.

several years, get your facts right

all his stay in london was 9 months.

Again, get your facts right. Bashar started his MD in Optathalmogoly in 1998 at the Tishrin Military Hospital in Damascus. He finished that MD in London from 1992 to 1994 doing the practical element of his training.

You keep coming up with random figures - 1 and a half years, now 9 months. What about 27 years, or lets say 1 week.

he didn't receive any degree from london so stop your propaganda...10 000 syrian doctors are living in germany...and syria is full of great minds.
if u like general dr superman bashar of qirdaha the son of hafez of qirdaha the destroyer of the syrian dignity,let him to rule your family home,syria should not be asad familly matter and people like labwani or dalila or any syrian elected democraticaly by the syrian people.

he didn't receive any degree from london...10 000 syrian doctors are living in germany...and syria is full of great minds.
if u like general dr superman bashar of qirdaha the son of hafez of qirdaha the destroyer of the syrian dignity,let him to rule your family home,syria should not be asad family matter and people like labwani or dalila or any syrian elected democraticaly by the syrian people are what syria deserve.

You can't just make up figures, 5%, 10%, 20%. The most recent independent study (by the middle east christian institute) estimates between 20% and 30% of Aleppo is Christian. Most of them descend from Armenians, but they are fourth or fifth generation. Some are Arab Christians, a few are Lebanese Christians. To say that Syrian Christians went to Lebanon is highly disingenuous - in fact the movement was the other way. Many Lebanese Christians fled during the civil war - many went to north and south america and europe, and a few came to Syria. But there has never been a mass movement of Christians from Syria to Lebanon in the past few decades.

This is an unrealistic estimation and the reality is obvious for all,aleppo today has 4,5 millions inhabitants and its christian population is estimated to 150 000;that means less than 5% of the total.
The armenians were 80 000 in 1970 today they are about 40 000.
There is few new christian quarters in aleppo ,the only modern christian districts in aleppo are two streets ,the new syriac street and the so called al villat street and few houses in hamdaniyeh,most of the houses in these streets are empty...
as for the ottoman french era christian quarters in center aleppo ,like midan,hamidiyeh ,they were 90% christian some years ago ,today they are 80% moslems..only aziziyeh and sleimaniyeh have preserved a christian identity but the moslem population in these quarters is growing and already half of aziziyeh telal business shops belong to moslems...the syriac quarter is more and more kurdish...
all these quarters were 100% christian in 1970.
If u look at a new map of aleppo ,these quarters are like small islands in a big sea.

Bashar al-Assad and his people are the best! They are ten times better than the Israeli scum.
Bashar al-Assad only wants his country to be prosperous, and I do not blame him for that.

At least he isn't shoving stuff donw people's throats like america.

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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