Breaking international law in Syria

by Sharmine Narwani | 25 Nov, 2015

The war drums are getting louder in the aftermath of ISIS attacks in Paris, as Western countries gear up to launch further airstrikes in Syria. But obscured in the fine print of countless resolutions and media headlines is this: the West has no legal basis for military intervention. Their strikes are illegal.

“It is always preferable in these circumstances to have the full backing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) but I have to say what matters most of all is that any actions we would take would…be legal,” explained UK Prime Minister David Cameron to the House of Commons last Wednesday.

Legal? No, there’s not a scrap of evidence that UK airstrikes would be lawful in their current incarnation.

Then just two days later, on Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2249, aimed at rallying the world behind the fairly obvious notion that ISIS is an “unprecedented threat to international peace and security.”

"It's a call to action to member states that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures against (ISIS) and other terrorist groups," British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.

The phrase “all necessary measures” was broadly interpreted – if not explicitly sanctioning the “use of force” in Syria, then as a wink to it.

Let’s examine the pertinent language of UNSCR 2249:

The resolution “calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter…on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq.”

Note that the resolution demands “compliance with international law, in particular with the UN Charter.” This is probably the most significant explainer to the “all necessary measures” phrase. Use of force is one of the most difficult things for the UNSC to sanction – it is a last resort measure, and a rare one. The lack of Chapter 7 language in the resolution pretty much means that ‘use of force’ is not on the menu unless states have other means to wrangle “compliance with international law.”

What you need to know about international law

It is important to understand that the United Nations was set up in the aftermath of World War 2 expressly to prevent war and to regulate and inhibit the use of force in settling disputes among its member states. This is the UN’s big function – to “maintain international peace and security,” as enshrined in the UN Charter’s very first article.

There are a lot of laws that seek to govern and prevent wars, but the Western nations looking to launch airstrikes in Syria have made things easy for us – they have cited the law that they believe justifies their military intervention: specifically, Article 51 of the UN Charter. It reads, in part:

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

So doesn’t France, for instance, enjoy the inherent right to bomb ISIS targets in Syria as an act of self-defense - in order to prevent further attacks?

And don’t members of the US-led coalition, who cite the “collective self-defense” of Iraq (the Iraqi government has formally made this request), have the right to prevent further ISIS attacks from Syrian territory into Iraqi areas?

Well, no. Article 51, as conceived in the UN Charter, refers to attacks between territorial states, not with non-state actors like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Syria, after all, did not attack France or Iraq – or Turkey, Australia, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

Western leaders are employing two distinct strategies to obfuscate the lack of legal justification for intervention in Syria. The first is the use of propaganda to build narratives about Syria that support their legal argumentation. The second is a shrewd effort to cite legal “theory” as a means to ‘stretch’ existing law into a shape that supports their objectives.

The “Unwilling and Unable” Theory – the “Unable” argument

The unwilling and unable theory – as related to the Syria/ISIS situation - essentially argues that the Syrian state is both unwilling and unable to target the non-state actor based within its territory (ISIS, in this case) that poses a threat to another state.

Let’s break this down further.

Ostensibly, Syria is ‘unable’ to sufficiently degrade or destroy ISIS because, as we can clearly see, ISIS controls a significant amount of territory within Syria’s borders that its national army has not been able to reclaim.

This made some sense - until September 30 when Russia entered the Syrian military theater and began to launch widespread airstrikes against terrorist targets inside Syria.

As a major global military power, Russia is clearly ‘able’ to thwart ISIS –certainly just as well as most of the Western NATO states participating in airstrikes already. Moreover, as Russia is operating there due to a direct Syrian government appeal for assistance, the Russian military role in Syria is perfectly legal.

This development struck a blow at the US-led coalition’s legal justification for strikes in Syria. Not that the coalition’s actions were ever legal – “unwilling and unable” is merely a theory and has no basis in customary international law.

About this new Russian role, Major Patrick Walsh, associate professor in the International and Operational Law Department at the US Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Virginia, says:

“The United States and others who are acting in collective defense of Iraq and Turkey are in a precarious position. The international community is calling on Russia to stop attacking rebel groups and start attacking ISIS. But if Russia does, and if the Assad government commits to preventing ISIS from attacking Syria’s neighbors and delivers on that commitment, then the unwilling or unable theory for intervention in Syria would no longer apply. Nations would be unable to legally intervene inside Syria against ISIS without the Assad government’s consent.”

In recent weeks, the Russians have made ISIS the target of many of its airstrikes, and are day by day improving coordination efficiencies with the ground troops and air force of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies -Iran, Hezbollah and other foreign groups who are also in Syria legally, at the invitation of the Syrian state. 

Certainly, the balance of power on the ground in Syria has started to shift away from militants and terrorist groups since Russia launched its campaign seven weeks ago – much more than we have seen in a year of coalition strikes.

The “Unwilling and Unable” Theory – the “Unwilling” argument

Now for the ‘unwilling’ part of the theory. And this is where the role of Western governments in seeding ‘propaganda’comes into play.

The US and its allies have been arguing for the past few years that the Syrian government is either in cahoots with ISIS, benefits from ISIS’ existence, or is a major recruiting magnet for the terror group.

Western media, in particular, has made a point of underplaying the SAA’s military confrontations with ISIS, often suggesting that the government actively avoids ISIS-controlled areas.

The net result of this narrative has been to convey the message that the Syrian government has been ‘unwilling’ to diminish the terror group’s base within the country.

But is this true?

ISIS was born from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in April, 2013 when the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a short-lived union of ISI and Syria's Al-Qaeda branch, Jabhat al-Nusra. Armed militants in Syria have switched around their militia allegiances many times throughout this conflict, so it would be disingenuous to suggest the Syrian army has not fought each and every one of these groups at some point since early 2011.

If ISIS was viewed as a 'neglected' target at any juncture, it has been mainly because the terror group was focused on land grabs for its "Caliphate" in the largely barren north-east areas of the country - away from the congested urban centers and infrastructure hubs that have defined the SAA's military priorities.

But ISIS has always remained a fixture in the SAA's sights. The Syrian army has fought or targeted ISIS, specifically, in dozens of battlefields since the organization's inception, and continues to do so. In Deir Hafer Plains, Mennagh, Kuweires, Tal Arn, al-Safira, Tal Hasel and the Aleppo Industrial District. In the suburbs and countryside of Damascus - most famously in Yarmouk this year - where the SAA and its allies thwarted ISIS' advance into the capital city. In the Qalamun mountains, in Christian Qara and Faleeta. In Deir Ezzor, where ISIS would join forces with the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA): al-Husseiniyeh, Hatla, Sakr Island, al-Hamadiyah, al-Rashidiyah, al-Jubeileh, Sheikh Yasseen, Mohassan, al-Kanamat, al-Sina'a, al-Amal, al-Haweeqa, al-Ayyash, the Ghassan Aboud neighborhood, al-Tayyim Oil Fields and the Deir ez-Zor military airport. In Hasakah Province - Hasakah city itself, al-Qamishli, Regiment 121 and its environs, the Kawkab and Abdel-Aziz Mountains. In Raqqa, the Islamic State's capital in Syria, the SAA combatted ISIS in Division 17, Brigade 93 and Tabaqa Airbase. In Hama Province, the entire al-Salamiyah District - Ithriyah, Sheikh Hajar, Khanasser. In the province of Homs, the eastern countryside: Palmyra, Sukaneh, Quraytayn, Mahin, Sadad, Jubb al-Ahmar, the T-4 Airbase and the Iraqi border crossing. In Suweida, the northern countryside.

If anything, the Russian intervention has assisted the Syrian state in going on the offensive against ISIS and other like-minded terror groups. Before Russia moved in, the SAA was hunkering down in and around key strategic areas to protect these hubs. Today, Syria and its allies are hitting targets by land and air in the kinds of coordinated offensives we have not seen before.

Seeding ‘propaganda’

The role of propaganda and carefully manipulated narratives should not be underestimated in laying the groundwork for foreign military intervention in Syria.

From “the dictator is killing his own people” to the “regime is using chemical weapons” to the need to establish “No Fly Zones” to safeguard “refugees fleeing Assad”…propaganda has been liberally used to build the justification for foreign military intervention.

Article 2 of the UN Charter states, in part:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

It’s hard to see how Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has not been systematically violated throughout the nearly five years of this conflict, by the very states that make up the US-led coalition. The US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and other nations have poured weapons, funds, troops and assistance into undermining a UN member state at every turn.

“Legitimacy” is the essential foundation upon which governance rests. Vilify a sitting government, shut down multiple embassies, isolate a regime in international forums, and you can destroy the fragile veneer of legitimacy of a king, president or prime minister.

But efforts to delegitimize the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have also served to lay the groundwork for coalition airstrikes in Syria.

If Assad is viewed to lack “legitimacy,” the coalition creates the impression that there is no real government from which it can gain the necessary authority to launch its airstrikes.

This mere ‘impression’ provided the pretext for Washington to announce it was sending 50 Special Forces troops into Syria, as though the US wasn’t violating every tenet of international law in doing so. “It’s okay – there’s no real government there,”we are convinced.

Media reports repeatedly highlight the ‘percentages’ of territory outside the grasp of Syrian government forces – this too serves a purpose. One of the essentials of a state is that it consists of territory over which it governs.

If only 50 percent of Syria is under government control, the argument goes, “then surely we can just walk into the other ‘ungoverned’ parts” – as when US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and US Senator John McCain just strolled illegally across the border of the sovereign Syrian state.

Sweep aside these ‘impressions’ and bury them well. The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is viewed by the United Nations as the only legitimate government in Syria. Every official UN interaction with the state is directed at this government. The Syrian seat at the UN is occupied by Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, a representative of Assad’s government. It doesn’t matter how many Syrian embassies in how many capitals are shut down – or how many governments-in-exile are established. The UN only recognizes one.

As one UN official told me in private: “Control of surface territory doesn’t count. The government of Kuwait when its entire territory was occupied by Iraq – and it was in exile – was still the legitimate government of Kuwait. The Syrian government could have 10 percent of its surface left – the decision of the UN Security Council is all that matters from the perspective of international law, even if other governments recognize a new Syrian government.”

Countdown to more illegal airstrikes?

If there was any lingering doubt about the illegality of coalition activities in Syria, the Syrian government put these to rest in September, in two letters to the UNSC that denounced foreign airstrikes as unlawful:

“If any State invokes the excuse of counter-terrorism in order to be present on Syrian territory without the consent of the Syrian Government whether on the country’s land or in its airspace or territorial waters, its action shall be considered a violation of Syrian sovereignty.”

Yet still, upon the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2249 last Friday, US Deputy Representative to the United Nations Michele Sison insisted that “in accordance with the UN Charter and its recognition of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense,” the US would use “necessary and proportionate military action” in Syria.

The website for the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) promptly pointed out the obvious:

“The resolution is worded so as to suggest there is Security Council support for the use of force against IS. However, though the resolution, and the unanimity with which it was adopted, might confer a degree of legitimacy on actions against IS, the resolution does not actually authorize any actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force against IS either in Syria or in Iraq.”

On Thursday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron plans to unveil his new “comprehensive strategy” to tackle ISIS, which we are told will include launching airstrikes in Syria.

We already know the legal pretext he will spin – “unwilling and unable,” Article 51, UN Charter, individual and collective self-defense, and so forth.

But if Cameron’s September 7 comments at the House of Commons are any indication, he will use the following logic to argue that the UK has no other choice than to resort to ‘use of force’ in Syria. In response to questions about two illegal drone attacks targeting British nationals in Syria, the prime minister emphasized:

“These people were in a part of Syria where there was no government, no one to work with, and no other way of addressing this threat…When we are dealing with people in ISIL-dominated Syria—there is no government, there are no troops on the ground—there is no other way of dealing with them than the route that we took.”

But Cameron does have another route available to him - and it is the only ‘legal’ option for military involvement in Syria.

If the UK’s intention is solely to degrade and destroy ISIS, then it must request authorization from the Syrian government to participate in a coordinated military campaign that could help speed up the task.

If Western (and allied Arab) leaders can’t stomach dealing with the Assad government on this issue, then by all means work through an intermediary – like the Russians – who can coordinate and authorize military operations on behalf of their Syrian ally.

The Syrian government has said on multiple occasions that it welcomes sincere international efforts to fight terrorism inside its territory. But these efforts must come under the direction of a central legal authority that can lead a broad campaign on the ground and in the air.

The West argues that, unlike in Iraq, it seeks to maintain the institutions of the Syrian state if Assad were to step down. The SAA is one of these ‘institutions’ - why not coordinate with it now?

But after seven weeks of Russian airstrikes coordinated with extensive ground troops (which the coalition lacks), none of these scenarios may even be warranted. ISIS and other extremist groups have lost ground in recent weeks, and if this trend continues, coalition states should fall back and focus on other key ISIS-busting activities referenced in UNSCR 2249 – squeezing terror financing, locking down key borders, sharing intelligence…”all necessary measures” to destroy this group.

If the ‘international community’ wants to return ‘peace and stability’ to the Syrian state, it seems prudent to point out that its very first course of action should be to stop breaking international law in Syria.

Sharmine Narwani
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online,, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani

Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey's President

Russia's Sergey Lavrov is not one foreign minister known to mince his words. Just earlier today, 24 hours after a Russian plane was brought down by the country whose president three years ago said "a short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack", had this to say: "We have serious doubts this was an unintended incident and believe this is a planned provocation" by Turkey.

But even that was tame compared to what Lavrov said to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier today during a phone call between the two (Lavrov who was supposed to travel to Turkey has since canceled such plans).
As Sputnik transcribes, according to a press release from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov pointed out that, "by shooting down a Russian plane on a counter-terrorist mission of the Russian Aerospace Force in Syria, and one that did not violate Turkey’s airspace, the Turkish government has in effect sided with ISIS."

It was in this context when Lavrov added that "Turkey’s actions appear premeditated, planned, and undertaken with a specific objective."

More importantly, Lavrov pointed to Turkey’s role in the propping up the terror network through the oil trade. Per the Russian statement:
"The Russian Minister reminded his counterpart about Turkey’s involvement in the ISIS’ illegal trade in oil, which is transported via the area where the Russian plane was shot down,and about the terrorist infrastructure, arms and munitions depots and control centers that are also located there."
Others reaffirmed Lavrov's stance, such as retired French General Dominique Trinquand, who said that "Turkey is either not fighting ISIL at all or very little, and does not interfere with different types of smuggling that takes place on its border, be it oil, phosphate, cotton or people," he said.

The reason we find this line of questioning fascinating is that just last week in the aftermath of the French terror attack but long before the Turkish downing of the Russian jet, we wrote about "The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking" in which we asked who is the one "breaching every known law of funding terrorism when buying ISIS crude, almost certainly with the tacit approval by various "western alliance" governments, and why is it that these governments have allowed said middleman to continue funding ISIS for as long as it has?"

Precisely one week later, in even more tragic circumstances, suddenly everyone is asking this question.

And while we patiently dig to find who the on and offshore "commodity trading" middleman are, who cart away ISIS oil to European and other international markets in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars, one name keeps popping up as the primary culprit of regional demand for the Islamic State's "terrorist oil" - that of Turkish president Recep Erdogan's son: Bilal Erdogan.

His very brief bio:
Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, commonly known as Bilal Erdogan (born 23 April 1980) is the third child of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current President of Turkey.
After graduating from Kartal Imam Hatip High School in 1999, Bilal Erdogan moved to the US for undergraduate education. He also earned a Masters Degree in John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2004. After graduation, he served in the World Bank as intern for a while. He returned Turkey in 2006 and started to his business life. Bilal Erdogan is one of the three equal shareholders of "BMZ Group Denizcilik ve insaat Sanayi Anonim sirketi", a marine transportation corporation.
Here is a recent picture of Bilal, shown in a photo from a Turkish 2014 article, which "asked why his ships are now in Syria":

In the next few days, we will present a full breakdown of Bilal's various business ventures, starting with his BMZ Group which is the name implicated most often in the smuggling of illegal Iraqi and Islamic State through to the western supply chain, but for now here is a brief, if very disturbing snapshot, of both father and son Erdogan by F. William Engdahl, one which should make everyone ask whether the son of Turkey's president (and thus, the father) is the silent mastermind who has been responsible for converting millions of barrels of Syrian Oil into hundreds of millions of dollars of Islamic State revenue.

By F. William Engdahl, posted originally in New Eastern Outlook:

Erdogan's Dirty Dangerous ISIS Games

More and more details are coming to light revealing that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, variously known as ISIS, IS or Daesh, is being fed and kept alive by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President and by his Turkish intelligence service, including MIT, the Turkish CIA. Turkey, as a result of Erdogan’s pursuit of what some call a Neo-Ottoman Empire fantasies that stretch all the way to China, Syria and Iraq, threatens not only to destroy Turkey but much of the Middle East if he continues on his present path.

In October 2014 US Vice President Joe Biden told a Harvard gathering that Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons…” Biden later apologized clearly for tactical reasons to get Erdogan’s permission to use Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, but the dimensions of Erdogan’s backing for ISIS since revealed is far, far more than Biden hinted.

ISIS militants were trained by US, Israeli and now it emerges, by Turkish special forces at secret bases in Konya Province inside the Turkish border to Syria, over the past three years. Erdogan’s involvement in ISIS goes much deeper. At a time when Washington, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar appear to have cut off their support for ISIS, they remaining amazingly durable. The reason appears to be the scale of the backing from Erdogan and his fellow neo-Ottoman Sunni Islam Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Nice Family Business

The prime source of money feeding ISIS these days is sale of Iraqi oil from the Mosul region oilfields where they maintain a stronghold. The son of Erdogan it seems is the man who makes the export sales of ISIS-controlled oil possible.

Bilal Erdogan owns several maritime companies. He has allegedly signed contracts with European operating companies to carry Iraqi stolen oil to different Asian countries. The Turkish government buys Iraqi plundered oil which is being produced from the Iraqi seized oil wells. Bilal Erdogan’s maritime companies own special wharfs in Beirut and Ceyhan ports that are transporting ISIS’ smuggled crude oil in Japan-bound oil tankers.

Gürsel Tekin vice-president of the Turkish Republican Peoples’ Party, CHP, declared in a recent Turkish media interview, “President Erdogan claims that according to international transportation conventions there is no legal infraction concerning Bilal’s illicit activities and his son is doing an ordinary business with the registered Japanese companies, but in fact Bilal Erdogan is up to his neck in complicity with terrorism, but as long as his father holds office he will be immune from any judicial prosecution.” Tekin adds that Bilal’s maritime company doing the oil trades for ISIS, BMZ Ltd, is “a family business and president Erdogan’s close relatives hold shares in BMZ and they misused public funds and took illicit loans from Turkish banks.”

In addition to son Bilal’s illegal and lucrative oil trading for ISIS, Sümeyye Erdogan, the daughter of the Turkish President apparently runs a secret hospital camp inside Turkey just over the Syrian border where Turkish army trucks daily being in scores of wounded ISIS Jihadists to be patched up and sent back to wage the bloody Jihad in Syria, according to the testimony of a nurse who was recruited to work there until it was discovered she was a member of the Alawite branch of Islam, the same as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Erdogan seems hell-bent on toppling.

Turkish citizen Ramazan Basol, captured this month by Kurdish People’s Defence Units,YPG, as he attempted to join ISIS from Konya province, told his captors that said he was sent to ISIS by the ‘Ismail Aga Sect,’ a strict Turkish Islamic sect reported to be tied to Recep Erdogan. Basol said the sect recruits members and provides logistic support to the radical Islamist organization. He added that the Sect gives jihad training in neighborhoods of Konya and sends those trained here to join ISIS gangs in Syria.

According to French geopolitical analyst, Thierry Meyssan, Recep Erdogan “organised the pillage of Syria, dismantled all the factories in Aleppo, the economic capital, and stole the machine-tools. Similarly, he organised the theft of archeological treasures and set up an international market in Antioch…with the help of General Benoît Puga, Chief of Staff for the Elysée, he organised a false-flag operation intended to provoke the launching of a war by the Atlantic Alliance – the chemical bombing of la Ghouta in Damascus, in August 2013. “

Meyssan claims that the Syria strategy of Erdogan was initially secretly developed in coordination with former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and Erdogan’s then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in 2011, after Juppe won a hesitant Erdogan to the idea of supporting the attack on traditional Turkish ally Syria in return for a promise of French support for Turkish membership in the EU. France later backed out, leaving Erdogan to continue the Syrian bloodbath largely on his own using ISIS.

Gen. John R. Allen, an opponent of Obama’s Iran peace strategy, now US diplomatic envoy coordinating the coalition against the Islamic State, exceeded his authorized role after meeting with Erdogan and “promised to create a "no-fly zone" ninety miles wide, over Syrian territory, along the whole border with Turkey, supposedly intended to help Syrian refugees fleeing from their government, but in reality to apply the "Juppé-Wright plan". The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, revealed US support for the project on the TV channel A Haber by launching a bombing raid against the PKK.” Meyssan adds.

There are never winners in war and Erdogan’s war against Syria’s Assad demonstrates that in bold. Turkey and the world deserve better. Ahmet Davutoglu’s famous “Zero Problems With Neighbors” foreign policy has been turned into massive problems with all neighbors due to the foolish ambitions of Erdogan and his gang.

By Tyler Durden of Zerohedge | 11/25/2015

In France, a whiplash from rotten Syria policy

Nov 23, 2015 | By Sharmine Narwani

Considering the fact that “Armed moderates” are practically non-existent in Syria, France announced in 2012 that it was delivering “lethal weapons” to Syrian rebels. French Arms deals were also with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar; states at the forefront of supporting Salafi networks.

Let’s not beat around the bush.

The terror attacks in Paris last Friday shook the globe, even in countries where these acts are sadly the norm. Europe hasn’t seen carnage on this scale, with this degree of planning, for decades. But was this political violence entirely unexpected?.

Perhaps not. When French commentators railed against the perpetrators for “an attack on our values, our way of life” they couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Paris attacks had one source only and that was the Syrian conflict. True, the alleged terrorists, ISIS, were able to recruit angry, young, European Muslims to the task because of years of disenfranchisement and voicelessness in the heart of their continent.

But there would have been no calling, no urgency, no engine driving the recruitment frenzy, out of context of the Syrian storyline.

Nearly five years ago, several regional and western states utilized the larger-than-life symbols of the Arab Uprisings to create regime change in Syria. Syrians had already hit the streets in small numbers, galvanized by the fearlessness of their fellow Arabs to demand political and economic reforms. But it was only when shots rang out and Syrians fell dead that demands turned to rage and larger numbers mobilized.

With the benefit of time and disclosure, we have since learned that Syrian security forces were also being killed from the earliest days – 88 soldiers in the first month – and that there were armed elements shooting at both sides, to stir up conflict for the explicit purpose of effecting regime change in Syria. (1)

In a 2015 report on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the US-think tank Brookings Institution wrote:

“Presented with an opportunity to inject violence into what had been a peaceful revolt, Baghdadi sent one of his Syrian operatives to set up a secret branch of the Islamic State in the country that year. The branch, later known as the Nusra Front, initially followed the Islamic State’s playbook by attacking civilians as part of a clandestine terror campaign to sow chaos.”

And chaos they sowed.

Chaos, of course, is a goal for radical, Salafist, militant groups. It creates a political and security vacuum that they are well-equipped to fill. These practices and experiences were honed at the expense of Afghans three decades ago, when the Saudi-funded and CIA-trained Mujahedeen learned how to create, then exploit, power vacuums.

The US-led invasion of Iraq, however, was the pivitol event that began the seeding of these extremist terror networks far and wide. Baghdadi is an Iraqi and ISIS is borne from Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) which then merged into the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the precursor to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham).

During the course of the Syrian conflict, we have seen the ease of movement between extremist groups. Free Syrian Army (FSA) members join ISIS, Ahrar al Sham militants join Jabhat al-Nusra, they fight with each other, they break up and re-form under new leadership – avowed enemies fighting on one front form security pacts when fighting on another. And thousands of these western-backed rebels have fought alongside ISIS and Al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

“Armed moderates” are practically non-existent in Syria, despite countless efforts by western media, analysts and politicians to whitewash the “rebels” and pretend ignorance on the radical character of the militants they armed and assisted. Former US Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn admitted in August that his government and western allies had taken a "willful decision" to support the establishment of a "Salafist principality in Eastern Syria" - the same area now controlled by ISIS. (2)

At the forefront of the foreign intervention that has supported, financed, armed and assisted militants in Syria are three western states, the US, UK, France, and three main regional states, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (UAE too).

In August 2012 when the Syrian conflict ratcheted up to a whole new level of armed political violence, I visited Zaatari Camp in Jordan, near the border with Syria where refugees were encamped. Right outside the camp entrance was a French military hospital, which I was told was providing emergency medical assistance to civilian refugees.

Later, we learned that the French facility was involved in patching up rebel fighters who would then return to the Syrian military theater. These were still early days in the Syrian conflict – around 10,000 dead compared to the 250,000-plus death toll today. (3)

But by the end of 2012, the proactive French role inside Syria was clearly detectable. British daily The Guardian wrote in December 2012:

“France has emerged as the most prominent backer of Syria's armed opposition and is now directly funding rebel groups around Aleppo as part of a new push to oust the embattled Assad regime. Large sums of cash have been delivered by French government proxies across the Turkish border to rebel commanders in the past month, diplomatic sources have confirmed. The money has been used to buy weapons inside Syria and to fund armed operations against loyalist forces.” (4)

At this point, an EU arms embargo on Syria was in effect, but direct French weapons shipments to rebels were also secretly taking place. According to the 2015 book "In the corridors of French diplomacy,” French President Francois Hollande told author Xavier Panon, a diplomatic and military specialist, that France’s “services” were delivering “lethal weapons” to Syrian rebels in the second half of 2012. These arms shipments included canons, machine guns, rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles, and were, according to Hollande, ostensibly earmarked only for vetted FSA militias.

France and the UK teamed up to push through a lifting of EU weapons sanctions on Syria in May 2013, and the following month, at a 'Friends of Syria meeting', Paris committed to further increasing military aid to rebel groups. Furthermore, the French government was arguably the biggest cheerleader for launching airstrikes against Syria in August 2013 – efforts that were ultimately thwarted by widespread public pressure against military intervention in the US and UK.

We know that French funds ended up in the hands of Islamist militant groups like Liwa al-Tawhid for the purchase of ammunition and undoubtedly other military necessities. We also know that a slew of other weapons connected to France have shown up in the Syrian military theater, whether directly or indirectly. These include MILAN anti-tank missiles, Russian Igla anti-air missiles (reportedly transferred to Syria via Libyan Al Qaeda members who claim they were trained by the French), APILAS anti-tank weapons, SNEB rockets, FAMAS assault rifles and others lethal arms.

And just this month, photos of the APILA rocket launcher originally supplied to rebels were spotted in ISIS’ possession. (5)

Why were the French so determined to pursue a policy of military escalation in Syria – given that the proliferation of weapons in the Syrian theater was clearly leading to massive casualties, widespread destabilization and the exacerbation of a humanitarian crisis?

One need only to look at another of Hollande’s foreign policy and economic initiatives to understand his Syria policy.

To bolster a lagging economy, the French president dove headfirst into a series of mega arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Persian Gulf states – selling sophisticated weaponry to despotic, sectarian regimes neck-deep in dealings with jihadi and Salafist networks spanning the Middle East and North Africa.

Last year, US Vice President Joe Biden exposed the dangerous game being played by some of these states – he names Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in these comments:

“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” (6)

While Hollande was raking in the Euros from arms deals with these very states, he was turning a blind eye to their activities in Syria.

France’s weapons exports in 2014 were just over 8 billion Euros. By May of 2015 alone, that number had skyrocketed to 15 billion Euros, primarily due to a $7 billion sale of military hardware to Qatar. The French ministry of defense claimed that 30,000 jobs would be created by this one sale – but at what cost?

And last month, the French inked an additional $12 billion in contracts with the Saudis, including major military hardware and parts.

France isn’t alone in these arms sales – the UK and US are right alongside competing for Persian Gulf petrodollars. Never mind that one of the biggest recipients of weapons is Saudi Arabia (today the number one weapons importer in the world), which has instigated the horrific carpet-bombing of Yemen that has killed thousands and decimated the already impoverished country. Worse yet, the main beneficiaries of the Yemeni bombing campaign appear to be Al Qaeda, who are de facto allies of the Saudis against the Houthis, and have used the chaos to move into new territory throughout the south of the country.

On Monday, the US White House announced a further $1 billion sale to the Saudis of air-to-land munitions for their Yemeni campaign – under the guise of “counter-terrorism” no less - ironic, given that Al Qaeda gains each time the Saudis drop a bomb.

Two years after the September 11 terrorist attacks that claimed almost 3,000 victims in the United States, the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee held hearings on terrorism and its connection to Wahhabism (state religion of Saudi Arabia and Qatar). During the hearings, Saudi Arabia was called the “epicenter” of terror funding for “principally Al Qaeda but many other recipients as well.” The Saudis, according to Senate transcripts, had contributed a whopping $70 billion over 25 years to the funding of “what they call Islamist activities.” (7)

In 2009, a secret US State Department cable signed off by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claims: "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide…Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT (Laskhar-e Taiba), and other terrorist groups…It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

Hollande’s government is hooked on the profits derived from its Persian Gulf allies. But this relationship has also made him hostage to short-term rewards – in exchange for turning France's foreign policy into a subservient arm of Saudi-Qatari geopolitical objectives.

The Paris attacks were surely undeserved, but never unexpected. Over the past three decades we have seen, over and over again, that Salafist extremists bite the hand that feeds its ranks. While mentor states enjoy the fact that militants are convenient foot soldiers and proxies who can fight their foreign battles, they do not yet see the inevitable blowback as a deterrence. Rather, they hunker down when a terror attack heads their way, cut off further civil liberties under the guise of fighting “terrorism,” drop a few bombs and scapegoat an ethnic or religious minority group until the anxiety fades. Then it is back to old business.

In Paris, on Friday, the perpetrators – whether ISIS or another radical Salafist group – had little to lose and much to gain. Chaos is their game, and their goals, operations and cells are easily shifted. Not so France.

Hollande reacted by declaring war, stomping his feet in outrage…and dropping some bombs on Syria. He is not a visionary, but a cog in a business wheel. Under his governance and prior to the Paris attacks, France had conducted all of five airstrikes in their “war on ISIS” in Syria. And collected a lot of cash for it.

Virginia Senator Richard Black Releases Nov. 14th Letter to Syrian President Bashar al ‪Assad‬

Virginia Senator Richard Black Releases Nov. 14th Letter to Syrian President Bashar al ‪Assad‬.

The Nov 14th 2015 letter follows:

Bashar al Assad President of Syria, Damascus, Syria.

Dear Mr. President:

I was pleased by the Russians' intervention against the armies invading Syria. With their support, the Syrian army has made dramatic strides against the terrorists.

I was delighted by Syria's resounding victory over ISIS at the Kuwairis Airfield. My compliments to those who heroically rescued 1,000 brave Syrian soldiers from certain death. I am convinced that many such victories lie ahead.

The Syrian War was not caused by domestic unrest. It was an unlawful war of aggression by foreign powers determined to force a puppet regime on Syria. General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, revealed that by 2001, Western powers had developed plans to overthrow Syria. Yet after fifteen years of military subversion, NATO, Saudi Arabia and Qatar still cannot identify a single rebel leader who enjoys popular support among the Syrian people.

Foreign powers have no right to overturn legitimate elections and impose their will on the Syrian people. Syrians alone must determine their destiny, free of foreign intervention. I am disappointed that the UN has turned a blind eye to the unlawful interference in Syria's internal affairs.

Before the war began, Syrians had the greatest religious freedom and women's equality of any Arab people. Many Americans are surprised to learn that the Syrian Constitution provides for free elections, religious freedom, women's rights, and the Rule of Law. Before criticizing Syria, the U.S. might first insist that our allies Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Kuwait grant similar freedoms to their own people.

I am disappointed that the U.S. has countered Russian assistance to Syria by forwarding shipments of TOW anti-tank missiles to the terrorists. This will only prolong bloodshed in Syria. And supplying weapons to "good terrorists" while denying them to "bad terrorists" is a fools game. The reckless dissemination of TOW missiles threatens worldwide civil aviation. Long-range anti-tank weapons can easily be targeted to destroy passenger jets taxiing for takeoff. As a Virginia Senator, I am concerned that such missiles might find their way to remote areas adjacent to Reagan National Airport, Dulles International Airport and others. I have corresponded with the United States President about these concerns.

Today, the Army of Conquest receives extensive U.S. military support. The Army of Conquest is formed around al Nusra, which has sworn allegiance to al Qaeda. This means that the U.S. supplies weapons to the same terrorists who murdered 3,000 Americans on 9-11. This is an obscene betrayal of the victims of 9-11.

People have begun realizing that the Syrian terrorists are militarily supported by our allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Indeed, ISIS has no more loyal backer than Turkey, which serves as its main conduit for jihadists, weapons, medical support and trade. Although Turkey is included in the Coalition against ISIS, it has contributed nothing of significance toward the Coalition's lackluster performance.

It is apparent that the objective of the Turks and Saudis is to impose a murderous theocratic dictatorship on the Syrian people. If they succeed, Christians and other minorities will be slaughtered or sold into slavery. Many good-hearted Sunni and Shia Muslims will also be burned, drowned, crucified and beheaded.

But world opinion is turning against the terrorists and their supporters. The cruel mistreatment of captured Syrian soldiers by terrorists groups is appalling. Many Americans find the behavior of these so-called "moderates" morally abhorrent.

I bled, fighting to defend this nation's honor. I will oppose American support for terrorists, like the Army of Conquest and ISIS that threaten Syria. Many Virginians join in praying that the Syrian Arab Army and its allies will triumph over the forces of evil, and that peace will soon return to Syria

Thank you for protecting the lives of Christians and of all good people of Syria.

Sincerely, Richard H. Black Senator of Virginia, 13th District.

President al-Assad to Chinese PHOENIX TV Channel.. From the very first day, we were determined to fight terrorism

22 November، 2015

President Bashar al-Assad said that you cannot take any concrete political step before defeating terrorism, because this is the biggest obstacle, and this is the prime concern to every Syrian.

President al-Assad added in an interview given to “PHOENIX” TV Channel that …” from the very first day, we were determined to fight terrorism. We never had any other position, we want to fight terrorism and defend our people”.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Question 1: Good morning, President Assad. Thank you for having us in this former presidential palace. You see, when people talk about the crisis in Syria, the term “civil war” is often heard, but it seems like you never agree with it. You don’t think it’s a civil war going on in Syria, do you?

President Assad: First of all, you are most welcome in Syria. I’m glad to do the first interview with Phoenix channel. Regarding the definition of this crisis, no, it’s not a civil war. You can say this is civil war when you have a certain line that divide between different components of a certain society, whether sectarian or ethnic or maybe political line, something that we don’t have in Syria. Civil war has internal factors, not states supporting terrorists who come to Syria while they announce publically that their aim is to change the state or, like what they call it, the regime. So no, it’s not civil war; it’s war.

Question 2: How is the situation now in Syria, I mean, both on the ground, and politically?

President Assad: Let’s say it’s been now nearly five years since the terrorism infected Syria, and of course because of the support of regional and international states, the terrorists could capture many areas within Syria. Of course, the army has been fighting them, and it won many battles, but the army cannot exist everywhere on the Syrian ground. But recently, after the participation of the Russian air forces in fighting terrorism, the situation has improved in a very good way, and now I can say that the army is making advancement in nearly every front, although front is not very precisely defined, it’s not wrong, but let’s say in many different directions and areas on the Syrian ground.

Question 3: You see, there are both Russian and NATO military activity going on in and over Syria. So, in your opinion, what are the differences in their presences in Syria, and are they both having effective coordination with the Syrian government?

President Assad: Let’s make this comparison through the facts; before the Russian participation started about two months ago, it had been more than a year the American – what they call “American alliance” – started their campaign against the terrorists, but the result is that the terrorists have gained more ground and more recruits from around the world. During the first month of the Russian participation, the same terrorists groups have been retreating and fleeing Syria in thousands to Turkey then to other countries; some to Europe, some to Yemen, and other areas. So, this is the fact.

The second one, the mythology; you cannot fight terrorism through air raids. You need troops on the ground. The Americans only fight through their airplanes.

Question 4: And how about the Russians? Are they sending any troops? They are not, right?

The Russians are depending on the Syrian troops on the ground

President Assad: What about the Russians? They are depending on the Syrian troops on the ground. They are cooperating with us. So, the difference, the main difference, is that the Americans don’t cooperate with any ground troops, while the Russians are doing this.

Question 5: So you mean the American troops, they are not having any coordination with the Syrian government?

President Assad: At all, not a single communication or connection.

Question 6: Speaking of coordination, we see that the Russian and American planes, they carried out flight tests last week, according to Washington it’s a planned communication test, and according to Moscow it’s joint military exercise, so what is it? So, which terms is more accurate, and what is the purpose of this test or exercise, whatever you name it?

President Assad: It was publically announced: not to have any conflict between the Russian and the American airplanes or aircrafts, because they work sometimes in the same area. This is the only reason.

Question 7: And that’s it? Just to validate the safety protocols? They are not ready to fight together against the terrorism yet?

President Assad: They [the Americans] didn’t actually; they took some actions against some terrorists in some areas in order to prevent them from attacking certain areas that they don’t want them to be in, but they didn’t do the same, for example, when the terrorists attacked Palmyra, which is a very important city, regarding its heritage, around the world. They didn’t do anything.

Question 8: Mr. President, how can you be sure that there’s no moderate oppositions in Syria? And if that really is the case, how do you understand the fact that last week, in one day, the Russian planes bombed dozens of targets using the coordinates supplied by the opposition groups. Have you been informed of this?

President Assad: Actually, there’s no tangible “opposition group,” under two quotations. First of all, if you want to define “opposition group,” we don’t mean militants, because when you talk about opposition, it’s a political term, not a military term. Whenever you hold a machinegun, you are a militant, you are a terrorist, whatever you want, but you cannot call “opposition” people who hold machine guns or any kind of armaments. But if you want to talk about who is related to extremists – this is the debate now – actually, no, the majority of those groups are linked to Al Qaeda, whether ISIS or al-Nusra, and we didn’t define them; they defined themselves through videos. You can find them on YouTube, on the internet, they published pictures from the very first day they started slaughtering, eating hearts, beheading, and dismemberment, and so on. So, they defined themselves as extremist groups. While if you want to talk about the opposition in the moderate way, you can talk about the political opposition that you have some of them within Syria, some of them outside Syria. Part of this opposition supported the terrorists politically, and some of them no; they stood against the terrorists and supported their government, although they are opposition.

Question 9: But now the Russian military, they are working with opposition groups, and did they tell you about this before they did this?

President Assad: Yes, again, it’s not opposition groups; they work with some of the militants, and we deal with some of the militants, because we need reconciliations in Syria. If you want to make reconciliations, local reconciliations, you want to talk to the people who have the armaments. So, we dealt with them, and there’s cooperation between the Syrians and the Russians regarding this kind of reconciliation. So, yes, they did recently, and we encourage them to do so, because this is the most effective way to make the situation better and to reach peace in the future.

Question 10: How do you understand the existence of the IS? Some say that they originated from Iraq, some say they originated from Syria. Where did their ideology come from anyway, and who is backing them financially?

ISIS cannot survive, because it doesn’t incubation in Syria

President Assad: In 2006, it was announced in Iraq as IS, which is the Islamic State, but it was “of Iraq” at that time, and their leader was al-Zarkawi who was killed by the Americans. The Americans announced his assassination. So, they announced that there is the Islamic State in Iraq under their supervision, or let’s say under American occupation. So, the Americans said that, so no-one can say that it didn’t exist in Iraq or it didn’t exist under the American supervision. This is clear.

ISIS and al-Nusra, they are offshoots of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and in Afghanistan – as Clinton said, and as everybody knows – they were formed in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets at that time with Saudi money and American supervision and instructions. So, this is very clear, this is reality. Now, their ideology is the Wahabi ideology, the Wahabi-Saudi ideology. Who supported them? The Saudi family supported the Wahabi institution publically and formally, and of course we have so many figures, Wahabi figures, who can send money to them. Logistically, all kinds of supports to ISIS, whether it’s human resources, money, and selling their oil, and so on, passes through Turkey, in cooperation with the Saudis and Qataris, and of course with American and Western overlooking of what’s going on.

But without this logistical space, or let’s say backyard, to ISIS, ISIS cannot survive, because it doesn’t incubation in Syria, it doesn’t have the incubator in Syria.

Question 11: They don’t?

President Assad: No, they don’t. So far, they don’t. They are like a foreign body in our country. But because of the fear, because of the oppression, because of the killing, they could take some areas. But actually, their force is coming from Turkey with the personal support of Erdogan and Davutoglu.

Question 12: Do you have lists of who are actually buying their oil, and do you understand how it’s even, I mean, the financial transactions, being realized?

President Assad: Mainly through Turkey, both money and oil selling, money coming through Qatar and Saudi Arabia. And of course, the Turkish government itself, and the oil goes from Syria to Turkey because anyway most of the oil fields are closer to Turkey and closer to Iraq. They cannot sell through Iraq, because the Iraqi government has been fighting ISIS, while the Turkish government has been supporting ISIS. So, this is the only lifeline to ISIS, through Turkey.

Question 13: But you see, I don’t understand what happened. It seemed like Syria and Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, used to have good relationships before the crisis, so happened? It seems like all of a sudden, they just turned against Syria, or turned against you. How do you understand it?

President Assad: Because the current President of Turkey, who was Prime Minister at that time, he’s Muslim Brotherhood in his heart, so when he saw that the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Tunisia and later in Libya then in Egypt, he thought that he could revive the Ottoman empire in the Arab world, but not under the Ottoman name; under the Islamic name. So he thought that he could rule the world. The only obstacle was Syria. That’s why, for him as an ideological person, he forgot about everything, every plan we put in order to have good relations, prosperity, and so on, and he put his ideology first. So, for him, the Muslim Brotherhood should take over in Syria and he will be the “Imam” of the Muslim Brotherhood in this region.

Question 14: And how about Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is a mixture of two things: the Saudi family, and the Wahabi institution

President Assad: Saudi Arabia is Wahabi anyway. Saudi Arabia never had, let’s say, warm relations with Syria, so we cannot say that they were in a good position then they changed. It’s different from Turkey, completely different. Saudi Arabia is a mixture of two things: the Saudi family, and the Wahabi institution, for more than 200 years now, before the recent Saudi family, even the first Saudi family. So, there’s a link; the Saudi family will be committed towards what the Wahabi institution will ask for.

Question 15: So, even if as you say that the IS is not going to stay, Turkey is going to be here, and Saudi Arabia is going to be here. How can you reconcile with these two countries?

President Assad: For us, I mean as a politician, as a state, as a government, their main goal is to work for the sake of their people, so whatever is proposed to be good, we have to follow it. So, if those countries are ready to stop supporting terrorists, we don’t have any problem. It’s not about living in the pat; we look to the future. So, we have to work in order to reach that point. After that, the people, their interests, their feelings, will define what kind of relations we can have with those countries. But we cannot say that we’re not going to have this relation. At the end we have people; it’s not only about the government. In Turkey you have 70 millions or more than 70 millions, and many of them are against Erdogan, many of them they understand what is happening in Syria, and they understand that if there’s fire in Syria, the fire will burn Turkey later.

Question 16: How about the Syrian people? Will they accept to move on with this country? After all, so many people have died in Syria and millions have been wounded.

President Assad: Emotions are very, how to say, I mean if you want to talk about the feelings of the people, you can talk about a kind of… like they are inflamed. But at the end, the people will define and they will for their interest, and they’re going to be aware. Of course, you cannot say that every Syrian is against or every Syrian is with; people are different. But at the end, I think, they will forget about what happened when they can see the bright future.

Question 17: Mr. President, you mentioned several times – actually, many times in the past – that further political steps are required to solve the Syrian crisis, and we understand that this will have to necessitate a dialogue among all the Syrian factions, a dialogue that eventually or hopefully leads into a consensus regarding Syrian political future. But you are the leader of the country, and your supporters look up to you. So, do you have a master plan or a grand vision about the future of Syria? What sort of Syria would you like to see after the crisis? And what kind of role do you see yourself play in it?

President Assad: If you talk about after the crisis, we have to define what political system you want, that is the most important thing. You can discuss it now, but it’s not related to the terrorism issue. The terrorism issue is related to maybe completely different factors; internal and external. If you want to talk about the future of Syria, it’s mainly the political system; parliamentary, presidential, semi-presidential, federal, confederal, and so on. But the most important thing, for us and for me, is that the constitution and the whole system and the country in general should be secular. Secular doesn’t mean against religion. Secular means the freedom of religions. It’s the system that can include every religion’s followers, every sect, and every ethnicity under one umbrella, which is the Syrian umbrella. This is first. Second, I think the main concern is going to be the economy, the reconstruction, and this is going to be an important sector in rebuilding Syria.

Question 18: We’re going to come back to the economic aspect later, but if there’s going to be elections soon, do you see yourself participating as a candidate?

President Assad: That’s my right, but it’s too early to say “yes, I’m going to run” or not. That depends on how my feeling is regarding the Syrian people. I mean, do they want me or not? I might accept it or not. So, you cannot talk about something that’s going to happen maybe in the next few years. It’s too early. Sometimes you can define it only a few months before that, but I wouldn’t say no, I wouldn’t run if I feel that.

Question 19: How was your recent trip to Moscow? And I assume that you and President Putin talked about the crisis in Syria. I mean, is there any specific plan that you’re working on, or how long you and President Putin think that it will take before the war ends?

President Assad: You mean regarding the political aspect of the crisis? You know now Russia is leading the political activity regarding Syria in the world, and my visit was about two weeks or three weeks before the Vienna conference. That’s why I had that visit; in order to see what the horizon is in the political field regarding this crisis, what could be done. Now, Vienna defined some of the headlines which is general terms of course. At the end, Vienna mentioned elections and new constitution and so on, but at the end it’s about what the Syrians would agree upon, so there must be dialogue. That’s why I said in Moscow “we are ready for Moscow 3” because we need to have dialogue, whatever Vienna said or any other conference. At the end, what the Syrians will say; with or against. So, that’s what we’re working on with the Russians; is to hold new dialogue meeting between the Syrians, maybe in Moscow, and if so, it’s going to be called Moscow 3.

Question 20: Have you talked about the end of this crisis? I mean, was there a timeline that you have to take?

Every Syrian wants to have security and safety

President Assad: Yes, we had, and we announced it before that visit. The Russians said and we said that you cannot take any concrete political step before defeating terrorism, because this is the biggest obstacle, and this is the prime concern to every Syrian; every Syrian wants to have security and safety. How can you achieve anything in your life if you’re not secure, politically or economically or in any other aspect? So, this is the priority. So, what we are doing in parallel beside fighting terrorism, we need to make the dialogue, but the concrete steps should follow at least a major defeat of the terrorists and the government takes control of a major area that has been captured by the terrorists. This is where you can take those steps, and the major step regarding the political, let’s say, part of the crisis, is to discuss the constitution, because the constitution will define the system, and both will define the future of Syria. So, this is our aim. Later, if there’s a dialogue, if the Syrians want any other procedure, like what you mentioned something related to the presidential elections, this is going to be part of the dialogue between the Syrians. I cannot say this is my plan or not my plan, because not everything is related to the president. We propose the major issue, then the rest will be the result of the dialogue between the Syrians.

Question 21: It seems like a quite secure thought. Is there any timetable, timeline?

President Assad: No, for one reason; because what is the timeline of defeating the terrorists? It’s a war, no-one can define when because it’s related not to only our advancement or to what they are going to do; it’s related to the support that they are going to have from other countries, because many countries, in the West, in our region, they don’t have any interest in any political solution. They only believe in supporting terrorists in order to topple the government and to have political collapse in Syria. So, they want it to drag on. But if you ask me, I mean if you don’t have that support, in less than one year you can change the situation and you can defeat the terrorists and you can start this process. But if you want to talk about the process after defeating the terrorists, if you want to talk about after that, you can talk about a maximum of two years of implementing everything, because when you talk about dialogue, then you’re going to talk about the constitution, you need to make referendum. Who’s going to define? People will accept or don’t accept? We don’t know. Then, you may have another possibility. So, more than two years, you don’t need. So, two years is enough. Let’s say this is range that we’re thinking about.

Question 22: When you were meeting President Putin, have you talked about the possibility to include the Americans or the operation system?

President Assad: The Americans? You mean in the military operations?

Question 23: Militarily.

President Assad: No, that was before the beginning of the operation. That was when President Putin announced his will to have an international coalition against terrorism. This is why that we thought everybody should be included, even countries who I think we believe that they support terrorism; at least we give them the chance to shift their position. And as we know, most of those didn’t want to participate, because they don’t have the will to fight terrorism. So, we had this discussion with the Russians a few months before.

Question 24: You have visited China in 2004. At the end throughout all these years, especially the past five years, are you still a sort of communication channel with the Chinese government? And is there any message that you would like to deliver to China, to the Chinese people, at this stage?

The relation with China hasn’t deteriorated, and the communications didn’t stop

President Assad: We recently had Syrian officials visiting China. Actually, the relation with China hasn’t deteriorated, and the communications didn’t stop. We still have embassy, and your ambassador is still active during the crisis, he never left. And the most important thing than these formal, let’s say, accessories, if you want to call it, actually the Chinese positions. China took four vetoes for the Syrian crisis, supporting the government, supporting the Syrian people, and supporting the international law, and let’s say the United Nations Charter. So, yes, the relation is very stable, let’s say, for decades now. Indeed, it wasn’t influenced by the crisis. But the most important thing to the Chinese people, now China is one of the greatest countries in this world, to be a great country doesn’t mean to have a great military and great economy; you need to have great values, and that’s what the Chinese have today. And when you talk about the Chinese government, Chinese politics, it normally reflects the values of the people, it’s not separated. So, the more role you have in the world, the more influence, the more weight, the greater you are as a country, the more responsibility you have towards the rest of the world, all the world. You have to regain the balance of the globe, and you have to support the values and the United Nations Charter. You have to rectify the moral decay of the Western policies that we’ve been paying the price of. So, we look toward what the Chinese people and the Chinese government will do for our world in the future, near future and after.

Question 25: So, are you already working on the post-war reconstruction?

President Assad: We already started, and we issued some laws regarding this, and the first area near Damascus is ready, and they started actually building the infrastructure a month ago. So, we already started, and we are working on, we are trying to make contact now with businessmen, especially in friendly governments and friendly countries, let’s say.

Question 26: How badly is the economy of Syria been damaged? Because you see the Syrian currency has devalued by 70 or 80% in the past five years.

President Assad: Actually, very badly, you are talking hundreds of billions of dollars of damage. 10% of the schools have been destroyed, 30% of the public hospitals have been destroyed, or let’s say, out of work. And infrastructure, electricity. This is the bad aspect of every war. This is very bad. But at the same time, this is an opportunity where you can have prosperity after the war, because reconstruction is the most important sector in any economy, especially after the war.

Question 27: What are you to do with the damage to cultural heritage sites, and how much will it cost for this restoration project?

President Assad: As much as it is Syrian heritage, actually it’s a global heritage, and you understand what I’m talking about because you belong to a country that has one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and your neighboring countries like Afghanistan and so on suffer from the same cultural disaster. The same happened in Iraq after the American invasion. Now, that’s what’s happening in Syria. Some of those international heritage sites have been demolished; they cannot be restored. There’s another part of the problem; that many of the monuments could be smuggled outside Syria in order to be sold internationally. But fortunately, I think all of them are documented, and they are registered in the UNESCO, so we are going to work with friendly countries and international organizations including the UNESCO in order to get back our heritage.

Question 28: So, you see Mr. President, this summer we have seen a heartbreaking photo about the dead body of a Syrian boy, a young boy found at a Greek beach. Have you seen that photo yourself? And what did you feel when you first saw it? And you see, now the refugee crisis is a big problem to a lot of European countries, and some say that the Syrian government is to be blamed on this. What do you think?

President Assad: Actually, I saw that photo, but we saw so many other photos, so you cannot feel the whole crisis through one picture, because we live in this crisis, we live with the bloodletting by the terrorists on daily basis. So we feel the sadness on daily basis. But that photo was used as propaganda by the West, and unfortunately in a very horrible way, because there are two reasons why those refugees left Syria: part of them left because of the dire threats by the terrorists themselves, they left their areas – of course, some of them left to government areas, and some of them left outside Syria, and the other part left because of the Western embargo, not because only of the terrorism and its influence, because of the Western embargo that influenced everything; the education, the health sector more than any other thing, and the basics of the daily living. So the problem of the West when they use that photo as propaganda to show their compassion with the Syrian people, is that this West, as a double standard as always, they offer the Syrian people with one hand, let’s say, a dish of food, and with the other hand a bomb. That’s the reality, because they supported the terrorists, those people and this boy and other boys and other children suffered and died and are being killed because of the Western policies in this world, in this region, and mainly inside Syria.

Question 29: So, people say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Now do you think you are a stronger man compared to five years ago?

I can only feel strong as a president or as an official when the Syrian people are strong

President Assad: Personally, I can only feel strong as a president or as an official when the Syrian people are strong. It’s not a matter of personal ability; it’s more as national ability. When you talk about national ability, you should relate it to the Syrian people. We suffered a lot, we lost a lot, as Syrians, but at the same time, if you go around Syria, you see this determination. You are fighting terrorists coming from more than 100 countries around the world, including China of course, and most of Europe, and Russia, and other countries, and they are supported by the strongest countries in the world, including the United States, and by the richest countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In spite of that, they haven’t been defeated. So, I can say yes, the Syrian people are strong, and they are becoming stronger against the terrorism, yes.

Question 30: You have stayed in your position much longer than your enemies or opponents had anticipated. What made you believe that you could make it through, what made you believe that you could make it up until now, five years ago?

President Assad: Because I believe in the Syrian people first, I believe that I’m working for my country and for the Syrian people, not for myself. The West wanted to portray the situation as a problem regarding a president who wants to stay in power, he wants to stay on his chair, and he wants to kill the people because they want to get rid of him. That’s not the reality. How can you stay when you have the opposition of not only the terrorists inside Syria, but also the strongest countries and the richest countries, and you stay for five years? It means you have the support of, at least, let’s say, more than half of the Syrians. I wouldn’t talk about the majority, but more than half of the Syrian people. Without that, how can you stay here? It’s not a matter of a superman, it’s the matter of a normal person, he has the support of the public opinion. The problem with the West is they didn’t understand the Syrian people, they don’t understand this region. That’s why they miscalculated at the very beginning, they thought it was a matter of a few weeks or a few months, like what happened in Tunisia and in Egypt, and now because they failed, they want to blame somebody else, they look for a scapegoat, and they want to say it’s me, it’s some other reasons, and so on. But actually, they miscalculated, and I believed in the Syrian population.

Question 31: If we look back in the past five years, and I’m sure you’ve undergone some serious, huge pressure, is there anything that you would do differently if you had the chance?

We never had any other position, we want to fight terrorism and defend our people

President Assad: Actually, you can talk about strategies, and you can talk about tactics. Regarding strategy, it was based on two things: first of all, from the very first day, we were determined to fight terrorism. We never had any other position, we want to fight terrorism and defend our people. The second one, is to make dialogue, and from the very first day we opened the doors for any dialogue. Some opposition accepted that, and some others didn’t. So, our methodology and our strategy, I wouldn’t say they were wrong. I think we need to continue in opening the door for dialogue and fighting terrorism. So, we’re never going to change that. Most of the things that you mentioned could be related to the tactics. Of course you change it, because every day you make mistakes, and what’s correct today is going to be wrong tomorrow. For example, if you want to draw one example, we trust many in Syria that they are working for their country, then we discover that they are working for the terrorists, and some working for other states to implement the agenda of foreign countries, and so on. So, in the tactics you always commit mistakes.

Question 32: And if you had to choose, would you rather be a doctor in the first place or the president of Syria?

President Assad: Even when I was a doctor, I worked in the public sector, I didn’t have my own clinic. So, being president is another public sector but it’s on a larger scale. Actually, being in the public sector and helping more Syrian people is more important for me than choosing what the profession that I work in, but I don’t think being president is a profession; it’s a public service. So no, for me now I enjoy much more helping a larger part of the Syrian society, more than being a doctor in one sector.

Question 33: Thank you very much, President Assad. Thank you for your time.

President Assad: Thank you for coming to Syria.