Transcript of exclusive AFP interview with Syria’s Assad

13 Apr 2017

Damascus:  In the following AFP interview with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, the questions were asked in English and he replied in English.

Question 1: Did you give an order to strike Khan Sheikhun with chemical weapons last Tuesday?

President Assad: Actually, no one has investigated what happened that day in Khan Sheikhun till the moment. As you know, Khan Sheikhun is under the control of Al-Nusra Front, which is a branch of Al-Qaeda, so the only information the world have had till this moment is published by Al-Qaeda branch. No one has any other information. We don’t know if the whole pictures or videos that we’ve been seeing are true or fabricated. That’s why we asked for investigation to what happened in Khan Sheikhun. This is first.

Second, Al-Qaeda sources said that the attack happened at 6, 6:30 in the morning, while the Syrian attack in the same area was around noon, between 11:30 to 12. So they’re talking about two different stories or events. So there was no order to make any attack, we don’t have any chemical weapons, we gave up our arsenal a few years ago. Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them, and we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history.

Question 2: So what happened this day?

President Assad: As I said, the only source is Al-Qaeda, we cannot take it seriously. But our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack. It wasn’t an attack because of what happened in Khan Sheikhun. It’s one event. Its stage one is the play that we saw on the social networking and on TVs, and the propaganda, and the stage two is the military attack. That’s what we believe is happening because it’s only (a) few days — two days, 48 hours — between the play and the attacks, and no investigations, no concrete evidence about anything. The only thing were allegations and propaganda, and then (the) strike.

Question 3: So who, according to you, is responsible about this alleged chemical attack?

President Assad: The allegation itself was by Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, so we don’t have to investigate who. They announced it, it’s under their control, no one else. About the attack, as I said, it’s not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now, and you have the proof that those videos were fake, like the White Helmets for example. They are Al-Qaeda. They are Al-Nusra Front who shaved their beards, wore white hats, and appeared as humanitarian heroes, which is not the case. The same people were killing Syrian soldiers, and you have the proof on the internet anyway. So the same thing for that chemical attack. We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all? Who committed the attack if there was an attack? What’s the material? You have no information at all, nothing at all, no one investigated.

Question 4: So you think it’s a fabrication?

President Assad: Definitely, a hundred percent for us, it’s fabrication. We don’t have an arsenal, we’re not going to use it. And you have many indications if you don’t have proof, because no one has concrete information or evidences, but you have indications. For example, less than two weeks, around ten days before that attack, the terrorists were advancing in many fronts, including the suburbs of Damascus and Hama, which is not far from Khan Sheikhun. Let’s suppose we have this arsenal, and let’s suppose that we have the will to use it, why didn’t we use it when we were retreating and the terrorists were advancing? Actually, the timing of that attack — or alleged attack — was when the Syrian army was advancing very fast, and actually the terrorists were collapsing. So why to use it, if you have it and if you have the will? Why to use it at that timing, not when you were in a difficult situation, logically? This is first.

Second, if you want to use it, if you have it and if you want to use it — again, this is if we suppose — why to use it against civilians, not to use it against the terrorists that we are fighting? Third, in that area, we don’t have army, we don’t have battles, we don’t have any, let’s say, object in Khan Sheikhun, and it’s not a strategic area. Why to attack it? What’s the reason? Militarily, I’m talking from a military point of view. Of course, the foundation for us, morally, we wouldn’t do it if we have it. We wouldn’t have the will, because morally this is not acceptable. We won’t have the support of the public. So every indication is against the whole story, so you can say that this play that they staged doesn’t hold together. The story is not convincing by any means.

Question 5: With the US airstrike, Trump seems to have changed his position on you and Syria drastically. Do you have the feeling that you lost what you have called a potential partner?

President Assad: I said “if”. It was conditional. If they are serious in fighting terrorists, we’re going to be partners. And I said not only the United States — whoever wants to fight the terrorists, we are partners. This is basic for us — (a) basic principle, let’s say. Actually, what has been proven recently, as I said earlier, that they are hand-in-glove with those terrorists, the United States and the West, they’re not serious in fighting the terrorists, and yesterday some of their statesmen were defending ISIS. They were saying that ISIS doesn’t have chemical weapons. They are defending ISIS against the Syrian government and the Syrian army. So actually, you cannot talk about partnership between us who work against the terrorists and who fight the terrorism and the others who are supporting explicitly the terrorists.

[…]

Question 7: But do you think that there will be another attack?

President Assad: As long as the United States is being governed by this complex of military industrial complex, the financial companies, banks, and what you call deep regime, and works for the vested interest of those groups, of course. It could happen anytime, anywhere, not only in Syria.

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