TRANSCRIPT: ABC's Barbara Walters' Interview With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad


Walters: You have said often that you don't see yourself doing this job for life. You've said you're doing it for your country. With all the turmoil in your country is it perhaps better for Syria that you no longer remain its leader?

Assad: I don't have problem. For me Syria as a project, project of success, if you don't succeed you don't have to stay in that position and that success again depends on the public support without public support you cannot, whether you are elected or not. It's not about the election, now it's about public support. This is the most important thing. So when I feel that the public support declined, I won't be here even if they say, if they ask or not I shouldn't be here if there is no public support.

Walters: OK.

Assad: That's conclusive.

Walters: So you are still having protests and now your military is involved and there are armed people on the other side there is turmoil in your country but you are saying that in general you have the support of your people?

Assad: Yeah but let's wait for the elections to be, to be clear.

Walters: That's too, no but that's, that's, this is 2011 we are talking this can't go on for two years.

Assad: No, no, no I am talking now about these next elections now we are going to have the parliamentary elections.

Walters: And...

Assad: I belong to the Bath Party we will see what the position of our party is because this is an indication it's important it's not only the person you are part of another party of another identity.

Walters: Yeah but your party is not going to want to give up power?

Assad: Yeah no to give up why to give up if the party has the right like the other party to compete and win the elections. But to see through the election do we still have support as a party, if yes well this is an option and if not they have another option.

Walters: And your parliamentary elections which are when in two months?

Assad: In three, two to three months.

Walters: And they will be open enough so that people can vote against it?

Assad: Of course. Anyone.

Walters: And that would be the end of the Bath Party and you as terms of leadership?

Assad: If the people said no to the Bath Party, if they lost you, can say this is the end.

Walters: Is there an opposition that they can go to?

Assad: We have opposition but it takes time to have strong opposition you have so many figures now if they unified themselves and go to the election you can have one strong election that depends on the tactic that they are going to adopt I cannot tell you they are going to be strong or not I don't know. And I don't know about how much among the people they have, how much support they have among the people I cannot tell you.

Assad: As I said, it's about personal mistakes. Not about policy. There was no policy of cracking down.

Walters: Who made them?

Assad: There was policy of facing the terrorists when you have militants; you have to face the militants. You don't allow in the United States to have militants, and remember what happened in Los Angeles in the '90s, when you send the army to the city, to face the terrorists. That the same.

Walters: Our protest, we don't kill people. And we have-- we have press seeing it all.

Assad: Yeah, but nobody knows yet who killed the people. Because-- when the same question who killed the 1,100 soldiers. If you don't know, if you don't know who killed those, you can't tell who killed the civilians.

Walters: The crackdown in the beginning, the brutality. Do you think it went too far?

Assad: I cannot tell you this, without the evidence. You ask me to tell you according to rumor, or to reports. It's not enough for me, as president. For me, when there is policy, I could say yes, or no, when there is individuals with concrete evidence, who committed mistake, I will say yes or no.

Walters: Did you give the order? For the crackdown?

Assad: No, we gave the order to implement the constitution, and the law. That's the order and that's the job of the president.

Walters: You gave-- but who gave the order to react against the protests?

Assad: You don't need order, because this is their job.

Walters: Well somebody had to say--

Assad: No, no, no...

Walters: You know, use guns, somebody had to say their arrests.

Assad: No, no. There was even written not to use guns, that's why I said it wasn't policy. Their job is to prevent people like any other country, you have the own means. Whenever they used machine guns against civilians, this is breaching of the law.

Walters: It happened.

Assad: In some cases yes, and they were caught, and they were detained I mean.

Walters: People went from houses to houses. Children were arrested. I saw those pictures.

Assad: When, but you, to be frank with you, Barbara, I, you don't live here-- how did you know all this-- this-- you have to be here to see. We don't see this. So it cannot depend on what you hear in the United States. You have to--

Walters: But I saw reporters who brought back pictures.

Assad: Yeah but how did you verify those pictures? Yeah so, that's why we are talking about false allegations and distortion of reality in this region, and most of the things that happened. In Syria, not reflected in the media, I'm being frank with you. So I cannot answer about fake pretenses, I can only talk about reality. Yeah.

Walters: Some people say that it's not the protests that may bring you down, but the economic sanctions, uh, now. Not just the West, but your, as we said, your former allies having imposed economic sanctions on your country.

Walters: Shell Oil for example, which is the largest oil production in Syria, has stopped production. How much are the economic sanctions are going to hurt Syria?

Assad: How much, it's difficult to tell. But it-- it will hurt from us, one aspect, but from another aspect, it will have positive effects because of course this is surprising. But actually, we were under sanctions, strong sanction, in the second half of the '80s, and we built our industry in that period of time. So you can use sanctions for example the-- agreement between Syria and Turkey, wasn't fair.

Assad: It was against our interest. Many industrialists in Syria, many business men, most of the economic sector were against it, and they asked our government many times, to stop working with this treaty. They sent to see-- I think two folds, export, something like this, I don't have the numbers now, so, you have-- if you-- if you are smart enough, if you are creative enough. You know, every cloud has silver lining, and we have a lot of political clout in this region. So we have lot of silver lining, but you have to see the silver lining to know how to-- to have the positive. So it will affect you badly, from one side, but you can decrease the harm. I wouldn't say you can win now, let's not exaggerate, but you can decrease this harm and get some benefits from it.

Walters: How can you get benefits from economic sanctions?

Assad: First of all we are not oil producing country, we are not like Iraq. Iraq was depend-- oil dependent. We are not oil dependent, we produce. We can leave the-- we export the food. We eat our food.

Walters: So you were saying that it would take more maybe creativity, more industry.

Assad: Exactly.

Walters: In this whole country to become independent.

Assad: Exactly. And we can. We don't have problems if-- and this could be the strong point of Syria. That's why I said they cannot isolate Syria.

Walters: They cannot isolate you?

Assad: No.

Walters: I have seen the markets filled with food so I, you are able to-- to keep feeding your people.

Assad: Of course, no, we don't have trouble. We can-- we can eat two years without, with full embargo. We export wheat to many countries.

Walters: Your wife was raised and went to school in England. It has been said that she is a force for moderation. I'd like to know, when you and she discuss things, um, what has she said about what's happening in your country?

Assad: We are used to live as one family in Syria, because Syria is small country. Whenever you have one crime, the whole country will hear about it. It's very safe country. Of course it's still the same pain, to feel-- we feel sorry about what's happening, but at the end-- the-- the, the discussion-- is always and I think everywhere in Syria is part-- what can we do to have to prevent more blood shedding in Syria.

Walters: Your wife has her own projects in the country.

Assad: Yes. Development project. Charity of course.

Walters: But do you discuss the situation?

Assad: Of course yes. That's what I said, part of the solution is how to make life better in different aspects. Development is part of the solution. It's not only about demonstrations and militants and terrorists and things like that.

Walters: Is your wife a source of support for you?

Assad: Of course, all my family.

Walters: Let me ask about the children. Because you have three young children, 9, 8 and 6.

Assad: Yes.

Walters: What have you told them about what's happening in this country?

Assad: The reality.

Walters: Which is what?

Assad: What-- what I told you.

Walters: What do you say to them?

Assad: I told them all.

Walters: Especially the older boy?

Assad: I told them about terrorists, I told them about people-- innocent people being killed. About investigation we have to know who-- who helped looked for the reason. Everything.

Walters: You've told them about innocent people getting killed?

Assad: Of course.

Walters: Some of whom are children.

Assad: Uh we didn't talk about whether-- innocent is innocent. Whether it's children or-- is innocent.

Walters: Do they see pictures? Do they have Facebook?

Assad: Of course.

Walters: Or YouTube?

Assad: Of course. Of course.

Walters: Do they ask questions?

Assad: They can watch the Internet every day. Of course. They ask a lot.

Walters: Pay attention?

Assad: They are very curious to know.

Walters: What do they say?

Assad: About the question-- about what's happening? Why-- why do you have militants, why do you have evil people? Why do the-- why do those people want to kill?

Walters: I want to hear the answers, what do you say?

Assad: I told them a lot of things. Sometimes people commit mistakes, sometimes you have bad people. In every society you have bad people. So they kill more to undermine the government, that's what you explain to the children.

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