“I trust Senator Kerry, and I think he is earnest,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told PBS’s Charlie Rose. “I’m convinced President Obama wants to do something positive [on Middle East peace],” he continued. “But I’m not convinced that the institution would allow President Obama to do what he wants to do with Syria and in other subjects and issues.”
This was in May, 2010. In a lengthy interview with Rose, Assad reflected on relations between the U.S. and Syria, and on how John Kerry, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the president were looking to improve the relationship.
Three years later, much is different. In a new interview with Rose on the eve of possible U.S. strikes against Syria, Assad says that his country will look to retaliate if an attack does happen, and that the U.S. and its allies should “expect every action.” But as Assad said in 2010, “the institution” — also known as Congress — may not just let Obama do what he wants.
Here are the highlights from Assad’s 2010 interview, with the full video.
Assad on the United States’ track record in the Middle East
We are wondering about what strategy the United States has toward the different conflict, whether Iraq, Afghanistan, peace process, and any other main conflict. But I’m talking about different administrations, not only this administration. The question that we asked too many officials is, what is your strategy? They only put the title of stability, but stability is the final — is the goal of all — the final stage or the final end of solving all the other problems.
So the United States administration has been failing, failing, and failing, in still solving the problems. Why? This is related to what I said that the region has changed. They have to adopt different approach toward our region. They cannot adopt the same approach.
On the role the U.S. should play in the region
If they want to play the role of the arbiter, they cannot play that role while they are sided with the Israelis. They have to be impartial arbiter. They are not. And they were never impartial arbiters since the beginning of the peace process.
They have to gain the trust of the different players. If you don’t have good relations with Syria, how can Syria depend on you as arbiter?
On his relationship with John Kerry
I trust Senator Kerry. I trust Senator Kerry, and I think he is earnest. And I met him five times before this meeting. I met him five times in very difficult circumstances. So what he said, he said what he means.
On the U.S. political system
CHARLIE ROSE: You seem to be saying that President Obama has the right ideas but you’re not sure that he can act on them.
ASSAD: No, because he cannot, because you have institutions in the United States. You have your political system. It is not only the president. If it’s only the president, we could blame the president. We can say that he didn’t do what he had to do.
But you have the institutions and you have the Congress. For example, the ambassador to Syria who was about to come, but the Congress, the Republicans in the Congress opposed it recently. So that is why I said it’s not that the president doesn’t want to or he cannot do something. It is about the whole political system that you have in the United States. And you know more than me about it.
On U.S. understanding of Iran and the Middle East
They misunderstand the region, definitely. And that sometimes is normal because it is different culture very far away.
But after the 11th of September, at least after the 11th of September, you should learn more about what is happening behind the ocean. It is not about what you think. It is about what we think. They have to understand the society, the culture in this region, and in the rest of the world that this region, because it is complicated….
They don’t understand that we want peace. But if you want peace, it doesn’t mean — to sign’s peace treaty, it doesn’t mean we sign capitulation agreement. That’s what they don’t understand. There is a big different between capitulation agreement and peace treaty.
Peace treaty means having all your rights. This is the second about Iran, the nuclear issue. The nuclear fight is about Iran having the right to have peaceful nuclear reactor. You cannot deal with Iran through the Security Council through threats.
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