Subject: The revised Version
From: Sheherazad Jaafari < firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com < firstname.lastname@example.org>
3/5/2012 9:42 AM
Question: Mr. President, how do you look at the current situation, after eight month of protests and especially after Gulf Countries had refused the invitation to hold the Arab Summit soon?
Mr. President: if we take a look at the image as a whole, we consider it as a challenge, and Syria had already endured such challenges so it is not our first time. Conditions have changed, people have changed, details have changed and times have changed but the content remains the same. The mechanism of exerting pressure on Syria so that it subjects to certain resolutions in regional issues is still the same despite the age of the crisis, whether it has been eight or one month old. It is not a matter of the time it lasted; it is a matter of the content that has been clear since the first day of the crisis. Eight months later, the situation has not been clarified better than the first month. However, details have been revealed: we saw the Arab role and the international community’s role, that was trying to hide in the beginning behind the Arab role, has been clarified and showed that it is an internal affair.
Question: The League of Arab States said that its decision resulted from the continuous violence and increase in death toll after the Arab initiation that also called for the release of prisoners. Why didn’t Syria commit to the initiative?
Mr. President: We released two batches of prisoners, the first one included 500 prisoners and yesterday we released 1080. I believe that the number of released prisoners is linked to investigations; we cannot release individuals who have committed murder for example or sabotage. When you release a person, you check his identity and see if he is a simple demonstrator or a vandal. And when you do not have enough information on this person, you cannot release him. In all cases, we do not have an agreement with the Arab League concerning the number of released prisoners or the timing. It is a sovereign matter that concerns the sovereignty of Syria and the country’s interests. We want to release people who would go back to their normal life and not people who would conduct sabotage practices again and again. There are different criteria that define the timing and the number of prisoners and that are not part of the Arab initiative. The Arab initiative is only related to a principle which is the idea of releasing prisoners. This was first, second: the initiative talks about people, that I don’t call observers but people who would come to watch or have a look at the situation and the things that are going on. These people did not come; so they are the ones who are not implementing the initiative and not Syria. On the contrary, Syria has invited them.
Question: Is there a certain date for their arrival?
Mr. President: No. We have repeatedly asked the Arab League, even before the Arab initiative, to send observers to Syria by the league did not send any. And after the initiative, we made an agreement with the league concerning this issue and sent an official letter, about a week ago, and more precisely on Friday, in which we announced the arrival of observers but they didn’t send any. To be clear about the Arab initiative, it was basically drafted only as a basis for the international resolution and the international role, and to show that there is a problem between Syria and the Arabs. Therefore, it justifies any hostile act or role from foreign countries against Syria. The matter was clear from the beginning.
(There is a contradiction about the word “murakibin” (observers), let’s change it to “fact finding mission” instead) [The writer inserts explanation]
Question: On the day following the acceptance of the initiative, there had been an escalation in Homs from both sides. It has been said that the number of deaths had highly increased.
Mr. President: No. these are exaggerations. If we want to talk about the death toll as reported by media, i.e. the killings at the hands of the state, the truth is that the majority of the dead were innocent civilians who were killed in places where there were no clashes between the government and the insurgents, in places that lack the presence of military or security forces. They are killed in places where the army and security forces are absent. For example, a bus carrying passengers from one place to another, they bring down the passengers and kill them in a mass massacre. The government does not conduct such practices. These incidents happen; it is an escalation that has nothing to do with the clash with insurgents. We should distinguish the first from the latter. Second, you talked about a huge fraud. What are your resources for the death toll? If your resources have the exact numbers, could they give us the victims’ names? Who has figures, has also names. We, as a government, we have names linked to the figures. When we say one or 10 people were killed, we have one or ten names. If they don’t give you names, they can’t give you numbers.
Question: There are names on the internet.
Mr. President: I believe that a large number of these names are still alive. Thus, there’s no credibility. However, we never reported the death of a person that was proven to be alive or vice versa. And there’s a huge difference between the two. Let those who have names, publish all the names and then we can say the names are true. The government has records of citizens and records of the dead. On the other hand, it is not a matter of figures and numbers. We should precise who was killed and where. Were there state institutions in the places where they got killed? Security? They don’t give you such data. They need to precise the place.
Question: Syria seems nowadays extremely isolated from the west or the Arab world. How does this affect you and the future of the country?
Mr. President: This issue was raised in the year 2005 and the same question was asked to me during an interview with the French television, I suppose. Chirac was threatening at the time to isolate Syria. If this was a matter of ambassadors and foreign officials’ visits, I ask what these visits did for us during the last three years when we weren’t isolated. Nothing.
Question: Even if we assume the exaggeration in the number of people killed last month, it is still true that there are many innocent civilians, women and children who were killed under this operation. So as a father and a husband, how do you feel when you see such pictures?
Mr. President: As a human being, and not in my quality of President, I interact with the events as any other Syrian citizen. We interact when we see the bloodshed of our nation’s sons. We do react, we feel pain; we feel grief, we feel all natural human feelings in a similar situation. But as President, my role is to act and not to grieve. My role as President is to search for the right steps to stop further bloodshed. If one cannot turn the clock backwards, he can adopt the right procedures to deal with the situation. My role as President, and this is what I think about on a daily basis, is to figure out ways to stop greater bloodshed by putting an end to the killing. This has been my preoccupation since the beginning of the crisis.
(Let’s use “as a human being I interact with the events. However, as a President I take the necessary and major steps to stop the bloodshed”) [The writer inserts explanation]
Question: How could the bloodshed stop?
Mr. President: by searching for insurgents and by chasing them. By forbidding the flow of weapons and money for the insurgents from neighboring countries. By banning acts of sabotage; by enforcing the law. The law is clear and the constitution is clear. My functions are clear and I am carrying them out by enforcing the law and implementing the constitution.
Question: I know that many members of the military and many security agents have been killed. Concerning mothers who are standing at both ends of the equation, mothers who have lost a child or a son, and once again, as a father who can relate to their sorrow, what do you say to every mother who lost a child or a son and how do you expect them to forget and forgive in the future? Remove this question
Mr. President: I can surely give you an emotional rhetoric answer and say that I sympathize with every Syrian mother. As a father, it is completely natural to sympathize with them. But I have something more important to say, something that they have told me. I met many of the families of civilian and military victims and sat with them. The first thing that most of them told me was: if this blood is shed to get us out if the crisis and prevent more bloodshed, we will feel relief because we sacrificed our blood for the sake of this country. So this is what really counts for me regarding compassion, to be able to transform these emotions into work, so that the victims’ families feel that the blood of their sons, brothers, husbands or relatives in general has not been wasted to shed more blood but rather to protect the country.
Question: everyone needs a shock now so that you can prove, if need be, to those who conspire, as you say, against Syria and to those who oppose you, that these are your intentions. Why don’t you call for elections in the upcoming weeks - multi-party presidential elections - unless you fear that you do not enjoy such support? You would be a candidate and would win or lose by competing with a number of other candidates.
Question: Under the label that they want change, will they stop there?
Mr. President: This is why I said we should resort to elections, that is the point.
(Remove the underlined) [The writer removes part of the answer] Question: Why can’t it be now?
Mr. President: We do not have any problems; we as a party already exist but what about new parties that are still being founded? How will they participate in elections when they cannot compete? It meets our interest to hold elections now, but then they will criticize us or say that “they held these elections before we could found our party.” They have asked for some time in order to be able to establish their parties, so they must establish their parties in order to have fair elections not similar to the previous ones. We do not have any problem but other parties, and I do not just mean the opposition, but those who are neither with the government or with the opposition, want to participate and should not be left out. They want this period of time to establish themselves and participate in the elections…
Question: Do you fear military intervention? Syria won’t see a NATO intervention like Libya, but perhaps an intervention through Turkey and the Gulf countries. Are you worried that things may reach that point?
Mr. President: I cannot foretell. I always deal with the reality in a logical manner and if they are realistic and logical, they should not do that because its consequences are massive… A military intervention may lead to ruining the whole region and all the countries will be affected ─ from Turkey to Arab countries and many others. I think that this issue is bigger than what these countries can handle, and I am speaking about the consequences, not about the Syrian power and forces, but about the social and political situation in Syria. Other countries will not be able to handle it, and that is according to the data that we have… [The issue is] bigger than Syria, you cannot just regard Syria inside its borders, and you should look at it within the surrounding countries’ framework.
Question: Why do you think that Turkey has changed its stance after having very good relations with Syria?
Mr. President: I was a friend - on a personal level - with Mr. Erdoğan, but I did not ask him; maybe you should ask him this question. Actually, I do not have an answer; I did not ask him and I do not want to imagine an answer.
Question: Do you suffer from insomnia from thinking about the outcome of this situation and the people being killed?
Mr. President: I do not think that insomnia would help the Syrians in this case.
Question: But don’t you get worried to a point where you cannot sleep?
Mr. President: No, actually it’s the opposite. I am a calm person and I do not react emotionally to crises. I deal with them calmly and that makes me more productive and allows me to find solutions, not by worrying. Worrying is negative… If you react negatively, you will get worse and worse each day and you will enter a vicious circle that we do not want to enter. I am the first person trying to break this vicious circle by being calm and logical, not by running away, so I live the situation.
Question: How informed are you regarding the situation on the streets? Intelligence services are saying that everything is fine and under control.
Mr. President: I have told you that there are some problems and there is blood on the streets, so this means that on one side I do not have a reassuring image. However, from another side, I meet with people way more than read reports, this is my work. I do not depend on reports but on meetings with people. … I get the image of the situation from the people. Of course there are some who exaggerate, and some who ease the problem, but I tend to stand in the middle … If you have a problem, it can become worse, and if you do not see how critical it is, it could become much worse. I expect the worst and I do not assume that things are going to be better; in politics, you should always expect the worst so you can deal with it. You cannot rely on reports in such situations.
Question: Did Russia and China comfort you that they will always support Syria in the United Nations?
Mr. President: As long as we are not looking at Syria as an isolated country, contained by its borders, and we regard it within the region where the Middle East became the center of the universe ten years ago, especially after 9/11 attacks, and Syria is in the center of the Middle East, and therefore in the center of the world. In this conflict between major coalitions that has lately become declared, I do not think that there are countries who can isolate Syria from the region, subsequently, what is happening now is a redrawing of the political lines in this region. Major countries that have interests in this region cannot isolate themselves from the battle, and since we are talking about the stability, I think that Russia and China are worried about the instability that will affect other regions in the world, this is why they have been supporting Syria. They are not supporting the regime, they are supporting the stability, therefore I think, that logically they will not restrain from their duties concerning the stability in the middle east, consequently in Syria or Vice versa.
Question: the opposition has claimed that the majority of those ten thousands detainees that have not committed any crime and those who are accused of armament, is innocent and consist of internet websites writers and editors… which means that a huge number of people are innocent and there have been limited random release campaign in comparison with the Human Rights reports. Why don’t you release these people? There are some persons who are not criminal and are being held and tortured! You have previously talked about the Guantanamo prison policy, but here the policy is not just about the arresting but also about the torturing, isn’t it?
Mr. President: If we talked about individual cases, since we set aside the political causes, it is strongly linked to each person, we cannot say that there are no mistakes, it is illogical. There must be some mistakes, the essential point now is to look for those in charge and hold them to account, and that the law punishes the violators. There are some people who have been tried in many cases, whether it was linked to killing or a transgression on private properties. These things happen but as I said, not within the political framework but on the personal level. We cannot say tens of thousands; we do not have enough room for them…
Question: They have said that you have detained them in the schools and courts…
Mr. President: No, how would we detain them in the courts?
Question: Not in the courts, in the schools…
Mr. President: No, schools have started already, and the students are attending their classes. I wish you could go to schools and I mean that you ask them about the names of the schools and go as a journalist, and if there was any school where there are detainees, I wish that you would write about it in the Sunday Times. There is nothing more honest than this; you are a free journalist. Hence, no! These are pure allegations. Of course Syria is witnessing a huge attack now, and there are many attempts to counterfeit the information and I always say, let’s get back to the facts. If there is anything wrong, let us talk about it. Actually this is very erroneous.
Question: What are your comments on the reports that were released yesterday, concerning Iran’s meeting with some of the opposition members? Did you know about it?
Mr. President: No, I do not have any information regarding this report, but the Syrian-Iranian relations are known to be strong and trustful, and before the crisis, we have met with Iran in many steps. We did not block the relation with some of the opposition, we always try to communicate. Iran interfered as a friend, and in the contrary it means for Syria that it was trying to gather between us and other countries or opposition parties and members. Iran is a part of these negotiations and this does not worry us. But regarding the report, I have never heard about it.
Question: What does Iran advise you now?
Mr. President: What we are doing now; we are mainly trying to implement some reforms and stop the bloodshed.
Question: Because Iran, your biggest ally, released a report stating that the bloodshed has become intolerable?
Mr. President: We are admitting that there is a problem that needs to be fixed of course, it is normal for Iran to be worried about Syria, it is logical. These are positive comments; I do not see them as negative.
Question: I know, but how can you stop it if you could not withdraw from the regions where the army and security forces are? The death toll is increasing every week, the day before yesterday it was 90 victims per day including a large number of soldiers…
Mr. President: of course, that was on Monday, we did not get to Friday yet. But the idea is, where were they killed, I do not speak about cities but I mean that there are some regions that are not involved in these clashes. The majority are killed on the roads between the villages.
Question: What about Daraa?
Mr. President: It is the same in Daraa: sporadic cases. Most of them are in the middle and towards Idlib and the borders with Turkey, i.e. the northern regions. There are some isolated cases elsewhere but in general, in Homs, Hama, Idlib. If Iran stated such news, it does not mean that it cares about the Syrian Government.
(Translated from Arabia by Stanela Khalil and Sarah Sfier)