Editor's note: The following is a transcript of Ann Curry's interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Due to transcription issues towards the end of the interview, the best source for Assad's words is the video link of the complete interview.
ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS: Mr. President, the highest level meeting between US and Syria was held just last week. Is it a reakthrough?
BASHAR ASSAD: It's too early say it's a breakthrough or to judge it. So far we haven't seen any action related to this meeting. This administration only talk about Iraq and then Iraq only a lot about the borders. The problems is more complicated. More problems are linked together.
If you want to talk about Iraq, you have to talk about the relation with the United States. When our minister told us that it has enormous-- diplomatic relations and political cooperation.
We cannot talk about security while you have bad political relations. So this is what she heard. And we're still waiting to see how they want to start to... We are ready for any kind-- kind of cooperation. But we need to know step by step what the United States is going to do.
CURRY: You must hear more, you're saying, from the US. You're saying it is too early to say that this is a breakthrough. Given, Mr. President, the degree of suffering at this time in our history, is that good enough? This non-communication? This non-connection? Non-dialogue?
BASHAR ASSAD: Well, if you don't have dialogue and connection and communication and cooperation, this is bad relations in the world.
CURRY: You're saying it's not good enough.
BASHAR ASSAD: It's not good-- it's not good at all not to have cooperation with any country. How United States has a great power and as country who is involved directly in the situation in Iraq that's going to affect the whole situation. So for our interests, it's better to have good cooperation.
But you cannot have any cooperation. You need criteria. And you need to set the goals. And you need to set the means...
CURRY: Well, let's talk about the criteria. The secretary of state said to your foreign minister that there is a link between Syria stopping foreign fighters from crossing the border into Iraq and a good relationship with the United States.
BASHAR ASSAD: The funny thing about this administration and this official, when they came to see (UNINTEL), they started talking about they cannot control as United States controls their border with Mexico. But we have to seal the border with Iraq. The problem is political. The problem is political...
And for our (plan) to control the border, we will not do it for the United States. We'll do it for ourselves. When you have chaos, you will have loose borders. Because if you want to control the border, you control them both sides, not only from one side.
CURRY: What are you doing-- what is Syria doing from its side of the border to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: If you go to the border, you see there's a Syrian army. And it's been there since '75. It's nothing new. And we--
BASHAR ASSAD: And we have increased the number of soldiers on that border since the invasion of Iraq because of the both directions. But to control the border, you don't usually control them on the border. You control them through cooperation between two governments...
They need intelligence cooperation. And we need other (kinds) of cooperation. We don't have any partner to cooperate with regarding this issue.
CURRY: You want the U.S. to cooperate with you regarding intelligence on stopping foreign fighters from going into Iraq.
BASHAR ASSAD: That's what we told them in 2004, in September 2004, there was a delegation headed by William Burns and other offshoots from the army and from the CIA. And we told them lets make cooperation between Syria, the United States and Europe regarding this issue. They left. They didn't come back. And we're still waiting.
CURRY: You're saying for you to strengthen your efforts, you need US cooperation, intelligence cooperation?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, it starts with the political.
CURRY: Political cooperation.
BASHAR ASSAD: We cannot have intelligence cooperation while they threaten Syria from time to time. And they do things against Syria that are aggressive. This is from one side. The second aspect of the issue, the United States doesn't have experience in fighting terrorism.
Well, we have. We have a long time ago before many countries in this-- world for the last-- three decades. So they cannot be in the lead. They cannot lead this process. They have not information, your intelligence. They don't have the knowledge. We have the knowledge. And the issue of knowledge and culture.
CURRY: You're suggesting that the US has been arrogant in how it's been dealing with this problem.
BASHAR ASSAD: Maybe there's not a lack of knowledge but lack of knowledge about how to fight the terrorists.
CURRY: And you say you have this knowledge?
BASHAR ASSAD: Definitely. From experience.
CURRY: Because you've had a history of dealing with terrorism.
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. 'Til the '50s.
CURRY: In the '50s.
BASHAR ASSAD: Since the '50s.
CURRY: The US wants to believe that you're doing all you can to stop these fighters. What evidence-- because a lot of this is perception is reality. What evidence can you offer that Syria's doing everything possible to stop these foreign fighters? Because these foreign fighters are linked to these car bombings that are killing thousands of Iraqi civilians, US troops in Iraq. Are you doing enough?
BASHAR ASSAD: You can ask yourself-- very question. What do I have? What's my interest in having care for Iraq? When you have chaos, as I said, it's contagious. So when I help both, I'm helping-- affecting Syria directly.
And again, as I said earlier, I work for Syria and Iraq. I don't work for the United States. So it doesn't matter what this administration think. The most important thing, where-- where is my interest lies? Regarding this issue, when they say "Do you have interest in this administration?" In controlling the border, stopping those terrorists from crossing the border, I have the same interest. But... I work for myself and my country.
CURRY: So are you saying to me this morning, are you saying that Syria's doing everything it can to stop these foreign fighters, for its own interests?
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. But when you have the-- one-- airplane with more than one captain, you can't ask one of them, "Where are you going?" You have to ask all of them, "Where are you going?" But we're not the only player.
Iraq has border with six countries. And United States is inside it. And they can take control of everything. And they are the (ones) responsible of everything. When asked (a) question and they say "yes" or we can see that they are doing their job, we can ask the others. But you don't start from the neighbors. You start from Iraq itself.
CURRY: So you're asking whether the US is doing enough inside Iraq to control its borders?
BASHAR ASSAD: They do nothing.
CURRY: You're saying the US in Iraq is doing nothing to control the borders?
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. Because the issue is political. While they deal with it as a number of soldiers. How many numbers - you raise the number of soldiers or you go down the number of soldiers. That’s not the issue.
CURRY: You acknowledge then that foreign fighters are crossing in significant numbers through Syria into Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: This normal 'cause nobody can seal this border.
CURRY: You're saying "yes"?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes every country in the world has (border problems) all over the world. All the time.
CURRY: But in this particular case, we're talking about people who are causing car bombs exploding in Iraq. So you're saying "yes"?
BASHAR ASSAD: I know-- we don't know.
CURRY: Do you know how many?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, no. We don't know who cross or not. We don't know. We don't have information that somebody crossed as a terrorist to go and do such action. I said any country and especially in our region, you have smuggling (weapons and) everything. People. You don't know if they are terrorists or people going to work or drug dealers or whatever. You don't know.
CURRY: But what about this report? Last week the US military said that your government is taking more steps to stop the fighters from crossing the border.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. 'Cause we want to protect Syria as well.
CURRY: But at the same time, the state department also said in the report, quote, foreign fighters and terrorists continue to transit Syria's borders into Iraq. True?
BASHAR ASSAD: We don't have information who is crossing the border. We should be very precise. Is it terrorist or not? But because our border has been used forever, like your border with Mexico, it cannot be controlled.
So nobody can talk about controlling the border completely. This is not realistic. But who's crossing we don't know. They have to tell us because they go to Iraq. Did they catch them? Do they have any evidence? Any information? They have to tell us. So far they haven't-- provided us with any beneficial information about it. Just allegation.
CURRY: Actually a senior intelligence officials go further. They tell NBC News, quote, the Syrian government is the biggest external supporter of the Iraqi insurgency. There is certainly some suggestion of top government involvement. Is your government involved in supporting the insurgency in Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: You have to say why first. This is false allegation and logic. This is devoid of logic. Again, how can I work against myself?
CURRY: Your answer is "no"?
BASHAR ASSAD: Of course no.
CURRY: This is not happening?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, no, no. It's devoid of logic, what they say. It's against me if I do that, as I said.
CURRY: Why? Why would it be against Syria for you to support the Iraqi insurgency?
BASHAR ASSAD: As I mentioned, because those terrorists are killing innocents. They created chaos in Iraq. When you have chaos and you have civil war, that will be contagious. That will affect Syria.
So we have no interest in doing so. And this is from one side. Second, they don't work against the United States. They work against the Iraqis. They explore for the cause in Iraq regime, not in the — American military camp. What's the logic? Where's the logic that Syria is supporting this? They don't have any logic or explanation.
CURRY: I wonder perhaps if the idea came from something that happened years ago. Has Syria ever supported the insurgency in Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: Never.
CURRY: Never? Not in 2004?
BASHAR ASSAD: Again, what's our interest? No, no, no.
BASHAR ASSAD: All allegations from administration. Nobody believes them.
CURRY: Why would the administration want to say this?
BASHAR ASSAD: 'Cause they want to absolve themselves from the responsibility. They blame others. As I said, they always looking for scapegoats. They failed. Their war was complete fiasco. All their plans were doomed to failure and they want to-- to accuse others and to-- And to make clear their mistakes. This is why.
CURRY: Here's a question. I think I know you have said publicly that you oppose al-Qaeda.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. I oppose any extremist state of mind.
CURRY: If you oppose al-Qaeda, how aggressively are you working against it?
BASHAR ASSAD: That depends on the definition-- definition of "aggressiveness." How would you define "aggressive"? Just anyone was involved in any terrorist attack regarding Syria or any-- other--
CURRY: Are you prosecuting them? Are you-- are you--
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. Of course.
CURRY: --are you prosecuting an effort of going after them? Are you hunting them down?
BASHAR ASSAD: Definitely. We-- we have more than 1,600 detainees. Of course we deported them. We deported them to their countries. We don't keep them here. We don't--
CURRY: We don't you prosecute them?
BASHAR ASSAD: Well, because we have kind of agreements with many countries that if we have some-- detainees of their nationality, we have to deport in this kind of cooperation. We can't--
CURRY: What's to prevent them from coming back again, Mr. President?
BASHAR ASSAD: How did you know that he's al-Qaeda and where he comes from? I don't know. How do you know? Did you know about those who implement the 11th of September -- when came to the United States? You don't know. They become like any other one. It's impossible to know.
CURRY: We eventually knew who they were. But you're saying beforehand we didn't know. You're saying that before--
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. Before. But when you know and when there's evidence that he is involved in such action, you-- you take procedure. You take action.
CURRY: Are you saying that none of these 1,600 people you deported you had any evidence against they were linked with al-Qaeda?
BASHAR ASSAD: Of course. Many of them. That's why we deported them to their country according to the agreement with those countries. And they will prosecute them. But it's-- it's-- it's the same.
CURRY: So what is your message this morning to al-Qaeda that wants to use Syria as a transit point into Iraq and elsewhere?
BASHAR ASSAD: My message to al-Qaeda?
BASHAR ASSAD: My message to al-Qaeda is they know it. They know that we don't allow this. This is against our interests. And as you know, we have many-- or maybe you know that we had some clashes with al-Qaeda and Syria for the last two or three years. It started in 2004. They got the message. This is very clear.
CURRY: "The door is shut. Do not come. You are not welcome"?
BASHAR ASSAD: Of course. This is-- very normal. As long as it's against our interests, they-- they shouldn't be here. And they were never allowed to be here because we suffered from terrorism. I'm not talking about al-Qaeda. Before al-Qaeda. Many decades. We knew that in the '80s, 15,000 Syrians died. We-- we learned from our lessons in the past. So we don't have to learn again. It's old lessons in Syria. Maybe for you in the United States it's something new. For us it's something not new.
CURRY: You said you learned from your own suffering?
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. Exactly. That's why this is old message, what you're asking about, it's nothing new.
CURRY: Someone who was welcomed recently (was) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: The Bush administration harshly criticized Nancy Pelosi for meeting with you last month. Vice-president Dick Cheney called her, accused her of having bad behavior. You smile.
BASHAR ASSAD: (LAUGHTER) Yeah.
CURRY: You smile. Why are you smiling?
BASHAR ASSAD: Well, this is American issue. But it's-- it's a funny description. To say it's a "bad behavior" because I think the other way. She didn't come to Syria because she admires-- government or the state or our political stance. But she was doing her job as American officer in a very high position.
She wants to know what's going on. Most of the debate in the United States is about foreign policy in Iraq. As Americans, you spend, you paid for more than 400-- billion dollars in Iraq. And the question is: What are the results? Against the terror?
The terror is still at large. The terrorists are spawning everywhere. The world is more vulnerable and more susceptible to their attacks. And she was coming here to work for the interests of her country to see how can I help United States? She didn't come to help President Assad. That's why I laugh.
CURRY: "It's ironic that she came and the president, the Bush administration, did not." I can see that in your eyes.
BASHAR ASSAD: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
CURRY: It's ironic that she--
BASHAR ASSAD: That she came?
CURRY: And then the-- and-- then- a member of the Bush administration did not.
BASHAR ASSAD: No, if I have problem overseas, I have to go as official to see what's going on. You cannot do it from satelitte, from afar. It's not a conference.
CURRY: You're saying the president--
BASHAR ASSAD: You have to deal with your interests in reality.
CURRY: You're saying the president and his administration has an interest in coming to see you?
BASHAR ASSAD: I don't know. I wouldn't say they have interest. We, as Syria, we are main player. If they want to ignore us-- it's their problem, not our problem. We live here. And we are active and effective.
CURRY: You actually say that you have the credibility, the political credibility to talk to all the parties involved inside Iraq--
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: --and the neighboring countries surrounding?
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. You have to have--
BASHAR ASSAD: --relation with every player, whether it's state or person or organization or certain political ... You have to deal with everyone who can affect this political situation. Not to spend the time condemning and praising. That will do nothing.
CURRY: So you're saying you could help create peace politically in Iraq because you have the credibility to speak to all parties involved?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: And so you think the president and the United States and his government should use this as an opportunity?
BASHAR ASSAD: I don't have to tell him that because the report of Baker-Hamilton was very clear about it. Make dialogue with Syria and Iran. Why? Because they are not effective or active? This is very clear right here. I shouldn't have-- The report was not vague about it. But-- yes, of course we can-- help in bringing peace. And there is a difference between bringing peace, quote, as one player and helping the other players in bringing peace. But the most important condition and requirement is the will of this administration to work for Iraq, not for the administration to be extricated from their predicament.
CURRY: So in the-- so in not following the recommendations of the Iraq study group, you're saying the president has made a huge mistake ignoring you?
BASHAR ASSAD: We definitely can see the interest of the United States in this region from our region in a good way. But in our region, definitely without having good relation with the countries in the Middle East and surrounding us, no matter how strong you are and how great power you are, you cannot solve the problems without the people in the government in this region.
And Syria is one of them. So this is self-evident. It doesn't need Baker-Hamilton report to prove it. This is reality.
CURRY: With all due respect, why should the US trust you to help make peace when it blames you for feeding the war?
BASHAR ASSAD: It's not that they trust me-- or not. The problem is they listen to others or not first. You cannot trust people if you don't listen to them. So the priority number one is do they listen? You don't have to trust, but when you listen through the reality, through the evidence. And everything that's happening now after the war they heard from me, many officials in Congress. And many American allies in Europe they heard from me. Very soon you're going to get stuck in the mud. And you're--
CURRY: Gonna be stuck in the mud?
BASHAR ASSAD: In the mud. And you're going to talk about another Vietnam.
CURRY: You predicted chaos?
BASHAR ASSAD: I didn't predict it. It's the course of events in our region for centuries. I didn't create a new idea. But if you read the history you know where-- where-- it's going to go. So that's why they have to know, no matter how small they are, they cannot trust without having good relations with the others, whether they trusted them or not. This first. Second, when you first through the true reality, if they don't have-- this-- direct link with reality and they don't know how to read it, they cannot read by (UNINTEL) or any other (UNINTEL) in the real way.
So whether they trust me could be wrong. Or if they don't, it would be don't trust me. Could be-- sorry, it could be wrong again. So they have to read reality. This is the most important. Then we talk about trusting each other. Another issue. A trivial issue now.
CURRY: In America trust is very important. Credibility is very important. And the US government does not give your government credibility, does not have trust with your government.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. To be honest, this administration has lost credibility around the world. Second-- when you say you're not credible, what do you mean? Are we promised about doing something then we said no? You're asking me about the border in the same way with American border.
I said nobody came through this border. How can we control it better? Take the example between Syria and Turkey. We used to have the same problem and now good-- we have good cooperation and the borders are very well controlled. And we trust each other now-- in a very good way, Syria and Turkey. So this is the example.
CURRY: You're saying that having a good relationship with the US, a trusting relationship, is key to doing a better job sealing the border?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. It's a matter of credibility. It's are we credible or not? This is how we see it. Trust could be something personal. But credibility is-- do this administration or this government say what they do or do what they say? Or they say something like having certain promises that they do another thing?
So-- this is a matter of quality. We say-- we do what we say. This is our credibility. And that's why we can say our role in this (UNINTEL) without credibility. We cannot play the active (UNINTEL) in the Middle East with all the problems.
CURRY: I wanna go back to Pelosi because-- I wonder, did Pelosi's visit pave the way, in some way, one way or the other, for this first meeting last week, high level meetings in US and Syria?
BASHAR ASSAD: What do you mean "pave" the way for what?
CURRY: Make possible. Help make it possible. Help make dialogue possible. Did Pelosi's meeting help make dialogue possible last week?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: It did?
BASHAR ASSAD: Definitely. Her meeting with me?
CURRY: Yes. Let me make sure I have asked this correctly.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: Did Nancy Pelosi's visit with you last month make it easier for last week's first high level meetings to happen?
BASHAR ASSAD: Okay.
CURRY: Did it help create the dialogue?
BASHAR ASSAD: --you mean with Rice or with the administration?
CURRY: And your government. Did it open your-- allow your foreign minister to meet Pelosi-- or with-- Condoleezza Rice?
BASHAR ASSAD: You mean meeting with Rice?
CURRY:Yes. In other words, it has been more than two years-- It's been more than two years since the US and Syria had a high-- high level meeting. So first, Nancy Pelosi meets last month. You have a nice meeting, and the US says-- the president doesn't like it. The government doesn't like it. Then suddenly there's another meeting. There's a meeting between the foreign minister and Condoleezza Rice. So I ask- did it help?
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. Yeah, yeah.
CURRY: That's all I wanna know. Did it help?
CURRY: Did Nancy Pelosi's visit with you last month help pave the way for this meeting last week between Condoleezza Rice and your foreign minister, your first high level meeting between the two countries in more than two years?
BASHAR ASSAD: I think from the American side, the one who can ask also is the one who can answer this question is Rice herself. I don't know what made them ask to meet with our minister. But from our side, we were always asking for dialogue with United States publicly.
And we always say the dialogue is very important to solve our problems because the role of the United States, whether we like it or not, is essential in solving most of our problems, especially the recent problem in Iraq. But as I read in your media and your magazines, there was pressure from the Democrats against - on this administration - to implement a vote and start making dialogue with Syria and Iran. So I don't know what the facts are that made Rice meet with our minister.
CURRY: You don't know — you're saying it would be up to Condoleezza Rice to answer that question.
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly.
CURRY: But you're also saying that you do notice a bit of pressure.
BASHAR ASSAD: I notice from the media. But-- I'm not part of the American politics.
CURRY: Nor do you want to be.
BASHAR ASSAD: That's what-- what I say. (LAUGHTER) We have enough problems. But because she asked our minister to meet with her so she can answer this question.
CURRY: How did this meeting suddenly happen? Was it something that had been planned for a long time? I know that the Sharm el-Sheik conference was planned for a long time.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes, yes.
CURRY: But this meeting between the foreign minister and your nation and Condoleezza Rice, how long has this been planned? Was this a sudden meeting?
BASHAR ASSAD: I think it's about the last two months through our embassy - the dialogue between our embassy and some congressman. But the meeting itself – now I’m talking about the dialogue itself and the visit of Pelosi and this delegation coming from the Congress.
BASHAR ASSAD: But for this visit, it has been planned I think for the last few weeks -- through a meeting between Satterfield one of our officials in the previous meeting of the surrounding countries of Iraq that had been held in Baghdad. So then that's how it started.
CURRY: What did it accomplish?
BASHAR ASSAD: As I said, too early to —
CURRY: No, no, no. Your meeting with Pelosi.
BASHAR ASSAD: For the first.
CURRY:So the meeting with House Speaker Pelosi you were just talking about — what did the meeting with Pelosi, your meeting with Pelosi accomplish?
BASHAR ASSAD: As I said, because she wanted to know the reality of our region. I explained to her the reality from our point of view. And we talked about the facts without talking about the point of view. This is the fact in our area, in our region — about cooperation between the United States and Syria.
Normally as an official I talk about my interest, you talk about your interests. We put them on the table. We see what's in common.
CURRY: Did you talk about the possibility of a change in leadership in 2008 in the United States and how that might affect --
BASHAR ASSAD: No, we don't bet on that, because we only bet on of policies. We don't care if it's Democrat or Republicans. It's American issue. For us what's important is what's your vision toward my problem. What's your role, if you are in power someday, towards our issues? That's what you talk about. And, again, we concentrated on the problem in Iraq now because it's the issue for Iraq, for the region, and for United States.
CURRY: Because of the controversy over Nancy Pelosi's visit in the United States, the American people did not hear what she said about this meeting very much about what she said about this meeting. But she said, quote, we came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: Is it?
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly.
CURRY: It is?
BASHAR ASSAD: This is the cause, the meeting. And she was very honest in-- what she mentioned because this is the first meeting. And we are not going to solve all the problem and to-- to see eye to eye-- for the first-- two hours. We have problems that have been accumulated for decades.
So you need more dialogue to form a picture, a panoramic picture and to forge a plan – an executive plan. This is our second. Now they are in the position, they are not in power now. Who’s in power now? The Republicans. They take the decision. So the scope of this cooperation is limited by this reality now.
CURRY: The road to peace. So if Damascus is a road to peace, if you can speak politically to all the parties inside Iraq and in its neighboring countries, what's stopping you?
BASHAR ASSAD: About?
CURRY: Having this conversation?
BASHAR ASSAD: With?
CURRY: What is stopping you from leading the effort to--
BASHAR ASSAD: To achieve peace.
CURRY: --achieve peace, to end this chaos? Have the violence stop in Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: That's what we are doing. That's why we have dialogue maybe on a daily basis with different Iraqi factions — to find something in common and then to talk about this peace. But we cannot do it while this administration doesn't work for this peace. At the end, the United States is controlling Iraq. So who are we going to work with? Only working with Iraqis -- that will help only up to a certain extent.
CURRY: The US president wants the fighting, the violence to end in Iraq.
BASHAR ASSAD: They only talk about what they have done. That what action have they taken to do achieve these goals? We've been hearing about the war against terror. What about the terror? I mean-- again, I'll say what actions have they taken to have real political process?
ASSAD: Not political process to give the American people that our war was justified and-- the situation is much better and the democracy is spreading everywhere in the Middle East and-- and so on. What they have done to have real political process? Without political process you cannot talk about stability. Again, it's not the issue of smugglers. We have smugglers coming to Syria forever.
But why we have stability? It's political situation. It's not the security. It's not the army. So it has to work seriously towards having real political process. And this process can be based on Iraqi vision. And we have clear vision of all the Iraqi different factions, he can ask for-- national conference, national Iraqi conference and not international conference as they wanted a few months ago.
It won't work. It should be national Iraqi conference with the support of regional countries and the international powers. This is how it starts. But we haven't started anything like this.
CURRY: Is there still time?
BASHAR ASSAD: For this administration it seems it's too late. 'Cause they have to learn the lesson. And after four years you haven't learned your lesson in Iraq. It's too late to learn. But we still have time as a region. Yes. If there's a will, we still have time. It's never too late.
CURRY: You're saying it's maybe too late for this administration to be a part of peace in Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: I'm talking about learning the lesson. If they can learn the lesson and I hope I'm wrong that they can learn the lesson in the remaining time for this administration. It's not too late.
CURRY: What in your view, based on your experience, does this administration have to do if it accepts your statement that it must solve this politically and not militarily?
BASHAR ASSAD: First of all, to give the authority to government.
CURRY: Iraqi government?
BASHAR ASSAD: Iraqi government.
CURRY: But it says it has.
BASHAR ASSAD: No.
CURRY: It says it has.
BASHAR ASSAD: Not—
CURRY: It has its government in place.
BASHAR ASSAD: I’ll give you one example. A few months ago they sent 30,000 troops - I heard this from an Iraq official, from a high rank. I wouldn’t mention his name unless you want me to say that. I asked him this question: What don’t you do your best to stabilize the terrorism? In Baghdad? In Iraq? The region? He said, “Once they send 30,000 troops and they are taught by the American army. We’re not allowed to do anything. We don’t have any authority.”
CURRY: You’re saying the Iraqi Army doesn’t have—the Iraqi government doesn’t have authority over the US Army? Well, of course it doesn’t. Why should the Iraqi government have authority over the US Army?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, no, no. Over their army.
CURRY: Over their army. Ah, ah, ah.
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. The Iraqi Army—
CURRY: You’re say—you’re saying—you’re saying that in the Iraqi government, a high level officials told you that they don't have control over his own Iraqi army?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah. That hasn’t been anyway. A third thing, whoever controls will take the responsibility. If you don’t want to give the authority of the Iraqi government over their army or over the American army, so you take the responsibility. You don’t blame the Iraqi government. So that’s how they have to fight. Then, as I mentioned, they’re must become dialogue among the differing factions and to prepare for a national conference.
CURRY: Let me tell you the truth. The American people are frustrated. They are losing their sons and their fathers in Iraq. They are furious about these car bombs and these IEDs that are causing their loved ones, if they don’t kill them, they lose their arms and their legs.
CURRY: They’re frustrated and they’re heart broken.
BASHAR ASSAD: And the same in our region.
CURRY: So what is it that must cause this suffering to end? What is the best thing now that the Bush administration can do? That you can do?
BASHAR ASSAD: That we can do or they can do?
CURRY: That they can do.
BASHAR ASSAD: They can do for Iraq. For—
CURRY: To end this suffering.
BASHAR ASSAD: They cannot, as long as you have occupation, you have this conflict.
CURRY: You’re saying—you’re saying the US should get out of Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: Oh, definitely. There’s no doubt. This is our announced position. They have to. But when this is not the question. We don’t say today or tomorrow. We were not the ones to say when or how.
But first of all, they have to announce publicly that they’re going to leave Iraq. Second, they should have scheduled timetable. In parallel, they have to have the political parties because, again now, what’s going on in Iraq—the United States administration is responsible (UNINTEL) sectarian situation now, the (UNINTEL) sectarian conflict (UNINTEL) that we have recently.
So they should have this process. Otherwise, Iraq is going to be disintegrated. We may say that there’s no civil war or full blown civil war now in Iraq. But definitely Iraq is sitting on the precipice of civil war. It’s not far from it. So they—there must be a timetable. In the United States. In Iraq.
CURRY: I think a family that has a boy, young man, in battle in Iraq. You say what about Syria’s involvement? Because the American public, the American people are asking can they trust you. You say you talk about the government. What do you say to the mother and the father of a—of a soldier in Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: Oh, the American soldiers?
CURRY: Yes. About your involvement of—look—can you look them in the eye and say— "Syria is absolutely not involved in causing"
BASHAR ASSAD: There is big difference between those—if you call them terrorists who are crossing any border to come—and do a suicide bomb. And between what you called them or what this administration called the insurgent that (UNINTEL) American army who are Iraqis.
They don’t cross any borders. However, the operation against the American army is Iraqi. They are different.
CURRY: But the foreign fighters are causing the car bombings and that’s killing civilians. It’s also killing troops as well.
BASHAR ASSAD: Well, maybe by coincidence. From our investigation—with those who are captured recently—they say their goal or their target is always Iraqis.
CURRY: So what is your message then to the American families who are suffering because of this war, who are heart broken and who are wondering whether they can trust your not hurting their—their children?
BASHAR ASSAD: I would ask them to ask themselves what—reasons their sons dying for... What noble cause their children—
CURRY: What is your message to the mothers and fathers in America of young soldiers in Iraq who fear, who worry that they cannot trust that you are not making their lives better? What is your message to the mother and father of soldiers in Iraq who fear that you may making—you may be making the situation worse for their children?
BASHAR ASSAD: Of course you feel sorry for anyone who dies for any reason. Nobody’s happy to see this conflict. But you have lost thousands of American soldiers in Iraq. But the Iraqis have lost more than 700,000 lives and I don’t know how many but definitely about a million widows and orphans. The same. We—we all paying the price. So why do the American and the Iraqis are paying the price for what cause? That’s a question that they have to ask and that we ask. Who—who wins? The United States?
The situation is against the United States. And they don’t—they—they don’t fight for national reason. It’s a reality. You have to be frank with them.
CURRY: You’re saying that the mothers and fathers of American soldiers should—ask the question. What is the question?
BASHAR ASSAD: (UNINTEL) this administration (UNINTEL) why did you do this war? Why did you kill Americans and kill Iraqis? We—I don’t have answer. But they—they should ask for this answer because—they lost their boys.
CURRY: So—I get the clear impression—you fear chaos in Iraq. And you fear it’s going to widen.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. Because it has domino effect. We have the same in this region, we have the same mosaic of society. Whenever you have problems somewhere, it will stream directly not only to neighboring countries, to the rest of the region.
CURRY: How is it affecting Syria?
BASHAR ASSAD: Not now. We have stability. We feel the tension. When you have tension—you won’t have-- (UNINTEL) investment. When you don’t have investment, you have—stagnation of the economy. And that will affect the political situation and so on.
It’s all linked with each other. This is one—aspect that when you have full blown war—full blown civil war, for example, in this integration of Iraq, the different—ethnicities and sects in the region will be affected by the civil war. And it will be part of it. And then you have this—this integration spreading toward maybe Asia, toward north, south, nobody knows where.
CURRY: You’re talking about a widening war that burns not just in Iraq but throughout the Middle East and—
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. That’s what—
CURRY: This is something that you think is possible?
BASHAR ASSAD: That’s what I call the domino effect, of course. I’m not talking about the next few months or the next few years. But you have problems and you don’t solve it. And every day it’s worse. So to say it—it is not possible, of course it’s possible. We work against it in order to make it just illusion. But are we going to succeed or not?
CURRY: You’re already beginning to see the edges are fraying. You have 1.4 million Iraqis who’ve moved into Syria, just Syria alone.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. Exactly.
CURRY: And these are poor, traumatized people.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: This is causing some problems in Syria.
BASHAR ASSAD: When you say “poor” and “traumatized,” this is very essential because this has two aspects. The first aspect is the (UNINTEL) and we have to help them from a humanitarian—position and because they’re our neighbors and because we have the same nationality, the same (UNINTEL) and—and the same society.
This is normal. But most importantly, the other aspect, when you talk about stability in Iraq, you talk about the political parties. When you talk about the political parties, talk about the Iraqi people. Now the (UNINTEL) in any problem are the most important (UNINTEL) to have good political parties.
And if those traumatized people, if you don’t take—take care about (UNINTEL) how to—how to—how could they earn their living, building another direction. So of them could be extremists. And when your extreme—when you’re extremist, you have thin line between being extremist and terrorist.
So they’re going to be (UNINTEL) against any political parties (UNINTEL PHRASE). So we have to take care of them. It’s not only humanitarian (UNINTEL). It’s a political. That’s why we mentioned to—to the Americans, to the Europeans recently and in Geneva Conference about the refugees (UNINTEL) that this issue is not Syrian issue. It’s a international issue. The whole world should take care of those refugees, support them, in order to be a real part and positive part of any political parties in the future.
CURRY: And if they don’t, if the world does not take care of these refugees?
BASHAR ASSAD: We are trying our best, but how much can we do? For this we are small country. We don’t have a lot of resources. We have another half a million Palestinian refugees. We have our own economic problems. We do our best, but how can we achieve? I don’t know.
CURRY: And if you don’t, if nothing—if not enough is done for these refugees, you fear that they could be part of this widening war?
BASHAR ASSAD: Because now we have one and a half million. And the situation in Iraq is getting worse. This means we have another few million but other countries. It’s going to be a big problem. It is.
CURRY: So you—would you say that you need help? Do you need help from the outside?
BASHAR ASSAD: We asked—
CURRY: From the US?
BASHAR ASSAD: --from all the countries in the world. But definitely the US, sure, because they created this mess and they have to pay for it. We don’t have to pay for their mess.
CURRY: And what is it that you think the US should pay?
BASHAR ASSAD: Should pay—
CURRY: What do you think the US has a responsibility to do?
BASHAR ASSAD: Definitely for—for, as I mentioned, to—to (UNINTEL) people earn their living. How—dedicated (UNINTEL) technical issue (UNINTEL) specialist, what kind of—for example, if you ask the most important thing—I’ll tell you the schools. Where can they learn?
They’re going to be illiterate in three years. Is that what you want? You know, to tell the truth, illiteracy is the perfect (ground) for terrorism.
CURRY: Perfect fertile soil. Yeah.
BASHAR ASSAD: Fertile soil for terrorists. Is that what you want? So schools help. They are people, they want to be healthy. Then food. All other services. American people in your country, you know, what do Americans want for their daily lives? The same for Iraqis.
CURRY: I have a feeling if you were sitting face to face with George Bush you’d have a lot to say. What is the most important thing you would tell him, if you could have the opportunity?
BASHAR ASSAD: As long as you don’t talk about peace in the region, you are the problem. This is the basis. Any American policy in the Middle East should be based on peace. And that’s what I mentioned many times even before 11th of September.
After 11th of September, before the invasion of Afghanistan and before the invasion of Iraq and now our nation (UNINTEL). But now the (UNINTEL) has becoming more complicated because you have to add the Iraqi issue which is linked to the peace process and to what’s going on in Lebanon. (UNINTEL PHRASE) peace. So the—the more problems you have, the more heavy loads you put over the word “peace,” which was very simple (UNINTEL)-- I mean, which was much more simpler a few years ago.
CURRY: The president has said and would say, “Sir, I have a problem with terrorism. I have a problem with people trying to attack America. And I’ve gotta do something about it.”
BASHAR ASSAD: Very good to talk about your problem. But the—the answer that we want or the (UNINTEL) that you’re going to take in the war, what is the medical to treat the patient?
CURRY: Was this the medicine?
BASHAR ASSAD: No.
CURRY: You’re saying was invading Iraq the medicine—
BASHAR ASSAD: The medicine.
CURRY: --the fix the problems of terrorism?
BASHAR ASSAD: No. You make it worse. You only make it worse. You’re coming say that you have ache ‘cause you didn’t—you—you eat in a careless way. Then you’re eating another more heavy food. You would feel awful.
CURRY: What then would you suggest to the president? What then is the most important thing he, the US, can do now?
BASHAR ASSAD: Again, they have, first, to focus on helping the Iraqis (UNINTEL) situation and go through this (UNINTEL) that I mentioned and to make dialogue. Start from dialogue. We have to listen to others.
If the United States, no matter how research centers and (UNINTEL) intelligence and the best genius you put them in this administration, if you don’t go to reality, go to people, go to people who live in this region for thousands of years, you cannot (UNINTEL). First talk to them, listen to them.
CURRY: Talk to you.
BASHAR ASSAD: Not to me.
CURRY: You’re saying—no, you’re saying talk to you.
BASHAR ASSAD: No, to all the countries in this region and to all the factions—
CURRY: Including Syria.
BASHAR ASSAD: Of course. We are part of it. Of course including Syria. But I’m not inviting them to make dialogue (UNINTEL). Whenever we say we talk about dialogue, they think that we are weak and we are begging them to make dialogue. No. I’m talking about making dialogue with everybody in this region and listen.
And then analyze in the correct way. That’s what they have to do. But that would be—anything else would be—counterproductive.
CURRY: So without that, do you have any hope for this suffering in Iraq, in this region, to end? Without this dialogue?
BASHAR ASSAD: No.
CURRY: Is there any hope for this to end this war in Iraq?
BASHAR ASSAD: Mainly no. I wouldn’t say 100 percent no. Maybe there’s a small window of hope that they learn the lesson. But if they don’t have cooperation with Syria, we’re going to help Iraq anyway. We are going to help Iraq, of course, again, for our interests.
But there’s small window of hope (for) cooperation. Maybe after the meeting between Rice and our minister. There’s small window of hope. But I wouldn't say large window.
CURRY: What specifically was discussed in this meeting that gives a window of hope?
BASHAR ASSAD: Now, the meeting itself gives the window of help because they always used to say “we’re not going to talk to Syria. We’re not going to talk to this region.” And they—and they talked. This is small window. But the content of that meeting wasn’t something—again, as I mentioned—
BASHAR ASSAD: --significant. It—it wasn’t breakthrough because she only talked about the borders. And from our point of view, borders is a trigger issue. It’s not the reason of what’s going on in Iraq.
She didn’t talk about the real problem in Iraqi political parties. The cooperation of the (UNINTEL) bilateral (UNINTEL) and the rest of it. She didn’t talk about peace, for example, which is very important for Syria, this process.
CURRY: The US and Israel accuse your government of supporting anti-Israeli groups, include Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic jihad. How can you do this and still say you want peace with Israel?
BASHAR ASSAD: Usually we don’t support organizations or person (UNINTEL). We support (UNINTEL) Hamas and Hezbollah, they have—they own (UNINTEL). And they have the support of the Lebanese, Palestinian, the Syrian people and the rest of the other people (UNINTEL) most of the people in—in (UNINTEL)-- region. So they could accuse all those (UNINTEL) million or more than million—billion, sorry—people they are terrorists and they support terror?
We have (UNINTEL) see from different ways. What about the killing of the Palestinians every day by the Israeli Army? Isn’t (UNINTEL)? Why to have this double standard? Why—to talk about—terrorists who are killing the Iraqis or to label them a terrorist and the people who are killing Palestinians and Lebanese like what happened last summer during the war (UNINTEL), not to accuse them as terrorists? It’s the same action. Killing innocent life. So—
CURRY: Israel’s argument to that it is responding to a—an aggression from Hezbollah.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, but—
CURRY: That it wasn’t the same—
BASHAR ASSAD: But Hezbollah was created on the day which—of Israeli occupation. They’re the same. The—the—the egg and the chicken. But we know that who came first. Who were the one were attacked, who occupied (UNINTEL) Israel? Lebanese never attacked or occupied Israeli (UNINTEL). It’s (UNINTEL).
CURRY: There are reports that meetings are under way between Israel and Syria—
BASHAR ASSAD: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
CURRY: to move you closer towards peace.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: Are you any closer? Are these meetings going on? Can you confirm?
BASHAR ASSAD: No. Because we need—not (UNINTEL) that you don’t have. First (UNINTEL) partner. We don’t have partner in the Israeli government regime-- (UNINTEL) government. When you’re (UNINTEL) strong leadership.
We don’t have—impartial arbiter, unfortunately, which the United States and, as you know this administration, doesn’t have—the will or the vision toward peace. So this (UNINTEL). The only requirement that we have is the will in Syria’s government and its people and we have, as government or as state, the support of the Syrian people to the government to—to work towards—the peace.
This is the only requirement that we have. So we are not any closer. And more wars and killing, especially after the war in Lebanon, the invasion of Iraq, the situation in Iraq, I think we’re on much far from peace than before. The more blood you have, the more difficult to resume the peace process that’s going to be.
CURRY: You were saying just a moment ago you’re not any closer. And that there is this sense that you have so much blood that’s so difficult to dissolve. So Israel says Hezbollah is rearming, that there is an increasing chance of yet another war as early as this summer. Are you rearming Hezbollah?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, no.
CURRY: Are you helping funnel arms through Syria to Hezbollah?
BASHAR ASSAD: As I said, if they talk about borders, they’re smuggling everything in all the—all directions in Syria and other countries. But—talking about (UNINTEL) Israeli (UNINTEL) Israeli allegation. And we—talked with many Western (UNINTEL) about this.
And said when they have the proof they have to bring it. How, according to or based on what (UNINTEL) based on what? This is the second-- (UNINTEL) supporter. And their government—that doesn’t have good relation with Syria. They do all their best to prove that Syria has rearmed Hezbollah.
They have their own intelligence, have their own police, and (UNINTEL) on the border. And the border (UNINTEL). They can control it very easy. It’s complicated ‘cause it has high mountains. But they can control it. So if there’s smuggling, if—if they know, first of all, how they know? Second, why didn’t they—catch the smugglers and bring the evidence?
CURRY: They might argue the same argument that you have about Iraqi insurgents. It’s true also for Syria and Lebanon that they cannot control their borders. But—but they—but they—but there is this idea that—that a war is coming. Do you have any information and intelligence that another war is coming between Hezbollah and Israel?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, only through the media. And I (UNINTEL) Hezbollah is going to launch—
CURRY: No, that the— --a war. I don’t know who’s going to launch what but that there’s going to be another war.
BASHAR ASSAD: No. What I read in maybe in our media that—they (UNINTEL) Israeli—war. We don’t have any evidence but because Israel launched war in—in 2006 (UNINTEL) launched another war in 1996. So we always expect Israel to launch war. But we don’t know when. We don’t have any evidence.
CURRY: There is a report in the Israeli newspapers that Syria has underground bunker systems with missiles for firing missiles.
BASHAR ASSAD: We have—we have (UNINTEL) very military—question. So I don’t usually answer it. But we have the right like any other country to take defensive procedure on the (UNINTEL). But we have the right, as in every country, to prepare ourselves for any (UNINTEL). And we have (UNINTEL) to protect our country.
CURRY: Are you preparing for something?
BASHAR ASSAD: Always because we have occupied land. And we consider Israel (NOISE) aggressive country (UNINTEL) launch an assault against Syria. So this is normal.
CURRY: Lebanese officials and international investigators have accused your government, including some close to (UNINTEL) assassinating the former Lebanese prime minister (UNINTEL). If you and your government are innocent, then why aren’t you angry about being falsely accused?
BASHAR ASSAD: We always feel angry.
CURRY: Are you angry?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, we’re not angry. But you don’t feel happy at least if somebody said something which is wrong about you.
CURRY: But people don’t all believe that it’s wrong. No matter what you say, people still believe that you should be under suspicion, that your government should be under suspicion.
BASHAR ASSAD: As government, as a state, as politician, we (UNINTEL PHRASE) evidence. We don’t deal with the belief anyone has the right to believe in everything. People in the region (UNINTEL) people in—in Syria (UNINTEL) other country, they believe that Israel (UNINTEL). They have the right to believe. But (UNINTEL) as politician (UNINTEL) where is the evidence? I cannot talk about (UNINTEL).
CURRY: The UN tribunal is gathering evidence. And it may call members of your government. You have said that you would not let them go before the UN tribunal. You would help your credibility on this (UNINTEL) if you said, “Yes. Let’s look at the evidence.” Why not?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, we—we cooperated with the international investigation committee. And we’re still cooperating. And their report—in (UNINTEL) report they mentioned that cooperation with Syria was satisfactory. We were always on time. We never hesitated to cooperate with them fully. But we have interests to—to know the truth about the assassination. That will change the mind of the people who believe that Syria—did this horrible crime. But cooperation with the tribunal is different. It’s a matter of—of sovereignty. This tribunal is going to be—
BASHAR ASSAD: This tribunal is going to be called—according to agreement between the Lebanese government and the United Nations. Syria has nothing to do with it. If—if it’s a matter of cooperation, of course—of course we are going to cooperate. But any Syrian person is within the purview of the Syrian law and the Syrian judicial—judicial system. We do not hand him over to any other judicial system no matter what the (UNINTEL) or—the reason. If they have any evidence, any concrete—evidence—to have it, to have it over to Syria. And it’s going to—to be prosecuted in Syria.
CURRY: You would prosecute them to the full extent of the law. What would that mean? What would be the punishment you think is justified for participating in the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister?
BASHAR ASSAD: If anyone is complicit in this crime, according to our law, considered as a traitor. And a traitor under Syrian law—faces the highest punishment in our law. I cannot tell what it is called. You know, there’s a—margin for the judge to say.
CURRY: But one of those—and one—
BASHAR ASSAD: Would be—could be for life.
CURRY: One of the—one of the possibilities is you’re—you’re saying that this person could face life in prison? Death? Is death a possibility? Is the death penalty a possibility?
BASHAR ASSAD: The death—the death penalty is included in our law. We didn’t—get rid of it. It could be. But I’m not a specialist—
BASHAR ASSAD: --to tell you what it is. But I could say simply the highest punishment. Yes.
CURRY: So you call it a horrible crime.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: No. But this particular crime, the killing of a prime minister.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: Even a president, an assassination. What else would you say about what happened to Mr. (UNINTEL) besides saying it was a horrible crime?
BASHAR ASSAD: I don’t know what—more (UNINTEL) than the word “horrible.” (UNINTEL). This would be—the best word that can express our feeling (UNINTEL).
CURRY: So here’s the thing I notice about you. You are a man of destiny. You did not mean to become president. You were to be an eye surgeon.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: And then tragedies in your family thrust you in this position. The death of your brother, the death of your father.
BASHAR ASSAD: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
CURRY: So when you asked yourself what destiny wants from you, what is the answer you hear?
BASHAR ASSAD: Before I became president?
CURRY: To now as president, what does destiny want from you as president? It forced you to become president. This is not something you chose. When destiny asks you—when you ask destiny what it wants from you.
BASHAR ASSAD: You mean for myself? Because as president, I—I don’t work for myself. I work for my country.
BASHAR ASSAD: And—normally I work for the prosperity of this country. Of course, when I achieve—when I—when I—when I success in doing so—I will be working for myself as a—as a Syrian—as a president and for my—political future. But (UNINTEL) prosperity. Prosperity in very general way has many aspects—that—which is the priority?
The priority is according to what the most urgent for the people. And what can you—what can you (UNINTEL) for awaiting your advancement a faster. This is how to put the priority. The priority of our people, the last—for the last few years and for the last few decades is to be (UNINTEL) situation.
We are poor country. We have a lot of poverty in our region. And the second—aspect is the political process, the political reform. After the war in Iraq and after having more people in Syria for the last few years, priority number one as part of this prosperity is to become the security. And second and third, the political reform because the first to ask when you wake up today, “Are we going to be safe today or not?”
The second question, “What are you going to eat?” What are your children going to eat? What food are they going to give them? What they are going to learn and what their future, what their health going to be? The third is political, the fourth... So the priority is changing according to the political reality in our region. So this is how I see my future, my problem and the challenges that I have to face in the future.
CURRY: Well, let me put it this way then. History remembers greatness in leaders.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: Anwar Sadat (PH) was remembered—is remembered as a great leader. What do you wish history to say of you as a president of Syria? What will be your contribution, what you want to be proud of in the end?
BASHAR ASSAD: The most important thing is that trust of the Syrian people, even in the future. That our work and I did my best—for my country. And this best is limited, again, by the reality. And where you do your best, where you couldn’t do what you can do, what you—what you ever to do your best that you didn’t (UNINTEL).
What means you have what obstacles you have to—to (UNINTEL). But most important thing that you are very (UNINTEL). And this is very important in our culture, to be fair. Even if you don’t (UNINTEL) or even if you’re—it was totally wrong. But if you (UNINTEL) forgive you and we keep remembering you as a good person.
BASHAR ASSAD: Faithful.
CURRY: Faithful in what?
BASHAR ASSAD: In the national meaning.
CURRY: In the national meaning?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, in the—
CURRY: Faith in the nation.
BASHAR ASSAD: Faith—no, I mean, the people—I would say to—
CURRY: To them.
BASHAR ASSAD: To them.
CURRY: You were faithful to the Syrian people. You wanna be remembered for being faithful to the Syrian people, which means that you cared for them and you took care of their issues.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, that’s in general. Again, when you want to talk about caring them—for them (UNINTEL) tradition, moods—customs.
CURRY: But in the end, every—every—
BASHAR ASSAD: And—and (UNINTEL).
CURRY: But every leader wants to do a good job in taking care of the needs of their people, every (UNINTEL).
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, but—
CURRY: What will be said of you? What is it that you want to do? Your father wanted stability for Syria.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: That is how he will be remembered, doing everything possible to create stability in Syria.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. Because we have stability, I couldn’t say that I’m going to bring stability to Syria. But—
CURRY: But what are you going to—but what is it that you want?
BASHAR ASSAD: But I’m going to build on this stability. (UNINTEL) economic situation. The growth, the economic growth. When I became president, the—the growth was—the economy growth was about zero. In 200-- in 2005, it was 4.5 according to the (UNINTEL). They expect last year to be 5.1. That’s what I want. More openings. More—
CURRY: You want prosperity—
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly.
CURRY: --for your people.
BASHAR ASSAD: For Syria, to talk about the social and culture aspect, which is very important—we need more openings with the—with the rest of the world to have more creativity, more entrepreneurship. We cannot without openings. That’s what I want.
This is a—I mean, if you want to say what—how do the people remember me in detail (UNINTEL) general terms. But in detail this is my first (UNINTEL). And, of course, we are working on the—the political reform which is important, again. But which is slower because of our reality and because of our culture and the history.
But we are moving forward. Now we have private media. We have private universities. We are discussing—in modern-- (UNINTEL) of law for—for another—for parties, for political parties. And—changing the law-- (UNINTEL) parliament. Things like this. But, of course, we are moving step by step.
CURRY: So it’s not just prosperity. You—you want—your father brought stability.
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly.
CURRY: It’s like you want to make Syria a modern nation.
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly.
CURRY: A modern nation, meaning one that has free press—
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly.
CURRY: --free expression and open political system?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. That’s—
CURRY: You want an open political system in Syria?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, but this is the goal.
CURRY: That’s the goal.
BASHAR ASSAD: This is from the wait.
CURRY: From the way it is currently.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah. It could be long wait—
CURRY: How long is it gonna take, Mr. President?
BASHAR ASSAD: As long as the obstacles that we have.
CURRY: The obstacles that—that—
BASHAR ASSAD: I don’t know if it’s (UNINTEL) long ago (UNINTEL). Yes.
CURRY: As long as it takes—
BASHAR ASSAD: As long as it takes for—
CURRY: And what is the greatest obstacle to this dream of reform for Syria?
BASHAR ASSAD: It’s in the mind of the people. We have very good people, very national people. But—we have lots of—we have organizations, customs, and—habits that you have to change. (UNINTEL) we always have (UNINTEL PHRASE) one of the issue that we have to tackle.
The second, the tension in the region, the political tension, the sectarian tension—has effect in our country like any other country. You cannot talk about political opening while the minds or some minds are getting closer, when you have (UNINTEL) means they have more closed minds in—in your society. And closed minds is—is the opposite of opening the system or opening the mind.
CURRY: You’re talking about fundamentalism?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. Yes.
CURRY: So you’re saying it’s very difficult to open up a country—
BASHAR ASSAD: But it’s not—
CURRY: --and political freedoms if there’s an increase of fundamentalism in your country—
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: --because those are diametrically opposed.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. But it’s not the precise word—word (UNINTEL). I prefer to use extremism.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes. Fundamentalism (UNINTEL). The fund—the fundament—
CURRY: I see. You’re saying—you’re—
BASHAR ASSAD: --could be—could—
CURRY: You’re saying you want political reform, and the only thing that’s stopped you is because of the rise of extremism in your country.
BASHAR ASSAD: This is one aspect.
CURRY: One aspect.
BASHAR ASSAD: But poverty, poverty is another aspect. You cannot talk about political reform without economic reform. That’s priority. And the people at the end would ask you, “But I want to eat food. I’m not going to (UNINTEL).” So—
CURRY: So are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far, given the circumstances?
BASHAR ASSAD: According to our circumstances, what we achieved is less than our ambition but better than our—above our expectation. I didn’t expect, for example, 2005, which is one of the bad years politically, to be good year economically, where we had this embargo from many countries in the world and we still have.
But we could do our (UNINTEL PHRASE) seven percent—the minimum of growth to have the (UNINTEL) need seven percent. But could I achieve that in these circumstances? You don’t—you don’t have (UNINTEL) investing. You don’t have peace. And you have the problem of Iraq and you have the terrorism. In spite of that (UNINTEL), it’s good.
CURRY: And what is your ambition for political reforms with Syria?
BASHAR ASSAD: As I say, to have the modern political system. But, of course, we’re not going to see—
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, democracy is a tool for prosperity.
CURRY: Is that what you mean by a modern political—is that what you mean?
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah, democracy, but our demo—
CURRY: Open elections?
BASHAR ASSAD: Our democracy. Not the Western democracy. Of course elections. But, again, everything should be based all those criteria should be based on our habits and custom and traditions and history and culture.
CURRY: So are you saying that if you are successful, then your son will not have to be president?
BASHAR ASSAD: My son?
BASHAR ASSAD: The Syrian citizen. He has the right like any other citizen. (LAUGHTER)
CURRY: But you had no choice. You had no choice.
BASHAR ASSAD: No, I had a choice.
BASHAR ASSAD: I have the choice when—when my father died, I wasn’t any—in any high position. I was only in the army in a very low rank. And I even became vice-president or a high member in the—party when he died. He could have done that. And many people pushed him to do—to do that for me.
And he always refused. He said (UNINTEL) became—we have institution—institution (UNINTEL) institution will decide. (UNINTEL) the decision from the institution. And I became president through the institution. But—I—I couldn’t—he couldn’t made me president no matter how strong he was ‘cause this is the (UNINTEL).
But, of course—if you said it was helpful that it was, you know, it was my father, of course it was helpful at least for my reputation. Because people hadn’t tried me as politician before. But they only knew about my reputation as a member of the family.
CURRY: And very young, too. You were 34 years old. You were very young. Do you ever still wish you were an ophthalmologist?
Do you ever still wish some day, ‘cause I notice that you try so hard to have a normal life with your wife and your children.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah. I keep trying.
CURRY: And she seems so lovely and it just seems, I wonder, sometimes is it gone, this wish to have been an eye doctor? Do you still wish for the quiet life, taking care of people’s eye surgery—
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes.
CURRY: --or are you waiting to be—
BASHAR ASSAD: No. Of course (UNINTEL) look at the past. But I still have matter issue of my colleagues when I was a doctor. And—always curious to know what’s new because now there’s—full generation between—the (UNINTEL)-- I mean, the new technology in my field in that—in my previous field and-- (LAUGHTER) those things.
So—I still have link and passion and (UNINTEL). But anyway, at that time, I never thought about having my private clinic. I always thought about working the public sector as a doctor. And I worked in the public sector and I (UNINTEL) public sector before leaving to—to London. So I moved from public sector to wider public sector, which is president (UNINTEL) everything now.
You ask me about the normal. Of course, I have tried very hard to live as much normal life as I can. And I go to restaurants. I meet with normal people. I have a (UNINTEL)-- I have my private life (UNINTEL). But it’s only aspect if you miss forever that you go and walk in the street without anybody recognizing.
CURRY: It’s not possible.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah.
CURRY: But you do drive your own car.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes, of course.
CURRY: And I heard that you drove Nancy Pelosi around pretty fast.
BASHAR ASSAD: Yeah. You can ask her about it.
CURRY: And I heard that you were shocked actually. You ended up in a restaurant (UNINTEL).
BASHAR ASSAD: Yes, yes.
CURRY: Do you like that? Do you like—do you like—do you like to make them struggle to find you? Are you mischievous that way?
BASHAR ASSAD: No, we don’t have that problem. Of course Syria is (UNINTEL) in general. It—it (UNINTEL). I mean—if you don’t have good relation with the people, nobody would protect you no matter how many guards you had. You need more than one million. So the best thing to have good security for president security is to have good relation and the trust with the people.
CURRY: I guess on that note, I wanna ask you one last thing before we do our walk. You obviously have a tremendous upbringing. You’re very well educated obviously. And you are humble. There’s a part of you that’s actually very humble for a president. And yet you were having this difficulty with having a relationship with the US government.
So let me ask you this. If you could make your relationship with the American people, to the American people listening now, what do you want them to know of you and why they should trust Syria?
BASHAR ASSAD: I think, first of all, they—they have to know that we have people like the American people. They want to live their lives. They’re looking for better standards. They’re looking for (UNINTEL).
They like to have dialogue. Because I know about the American people that they are—very friendly with the foreigners. We have the same—thing. Some talking about the United States as (UNINTEL). You have many ethnicities and (UNINTEL). We have that for thousands of—years.
We have many things in common. So they have to trust me that they have to look. They have to trust me or trust anybody else. They have to look for the information and to analyze it in the right way. We wouldn’t ask them to trust just for trust. That we (UNINTEL) know this is not the issue. The issue whether they have the right information or not. You have the (UNINTEL), the best advanced—the most advanced (UNINTEL) in the world, the internet, the satellites in the world and so on.
You have to use it to bring information from afar, not to export information. So export the information, we know a lot about the United States. But we need the United States to know more about our culture and our region. This is a second—one thing to know that the United States is—not in—an important power. It’s a great power.
But it—an important power means you can do whatever you want without the rest of the world. No. You cannot. You need the help of the smallest countries and the poorest countries in the world. (UNINTEL) as—great power and China. You’ve got—but I’m talking about the small and poor countries. Every country, when it has (UNINTEL) and can help you in fighting terrorism and having better situation. And (UNINTEL) the reputation and the future of—of the American politics, not the people. The American people have-- (UNINTEL) reputation.
Again, the—the third thing, which is very important, after 11th of September, I would ask the American people to learn more about what’s behind the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. It’s not enough to say that we live in America. We live in New World. And after 11th of September, you have to ask the—
CURRY: Why did that happen? We have to take care about the rest of the world in a positive way. You have important responsibility towards the rest of the world in prosperity. You have to develop the rest of the world. You have to solve the problem of the rest of the world. When you are a great power, means a great—responsibility. When you are a great power, means a great—achievement and the great technology and the great economy and the great laws. It’s not only great army. That’s how that’s what I would say.
CURRY: When you say ask the question “Why did it happen?” why did it happen, Mr. President?
BASHAR ASSAD: It’s a cultural conflict. It’s a state of mind. Terrorism is a state of mind. It’s not a person. It’s not organization. The question “Why?” because how to (UNINTEL) it. If we think of them as personal organization, we’re going to send the troops and prove them to be wrong and counterproductive actually.
When we know the answer about why that it’s a state of mind, we know how to deal (UNINTEL) politically, first; economically, second; culturally and by improving the education, for example, in (UNINTEL). That’s (UNINTEL) quite know how to cope with it.
BASHAR ASSAD: The fourth (UNINTEL) we (UNINTEL) poor countries. We what’s preventing the (UNINTEL) as a great country from (UNINTEL). It’s a matter of knowledge.
CURRY: So it’s understanding why people are upset with you and doing what you can to make them not angry.
BASHAR ASSAD: Exactly. Exactly.