Amid a new diplomatic effort by the U.S. to press Syria to help stop the violence in neighboring Iraq, NBC's Ann Curry sat down with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.
Syria is on the U.S. government's list of state supporters of terrorism. Curry noted on the TODAY show that though Syria is called a police state, this was a no-holds barred interview and no question was off-limits.
Ann Curry, NBC News: The highest level meeting between U.S. and Syria was held just last week. Is it a breakthrough? Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria: It's too early to say it's a breakthrough. We were very clear to Ms. Rice when our minister told her that the beginning is having normal diplomatic relations and political cooperation. You cannot talk about security while you have bad political relations. So this is what she heard and we're still waiting to hear how they want to start.Curry: The secretary of state said to your foreign minister that there's a link between Syria stopping foreign fighters from crossing the border into Iraq and a good relationship with the U.S.Al-Assad: The funny thing about this administration and its official who came to Syria and I meet with some of them, they start talking about they can not control the borders as the United States can not control the border with Mexico -- but we have to seal the border with Iraq. This is not logical. The problem is political. Curry: The Bush administration harshly criticized Nancy Pelosi for meeting with you last month. Vice president Dick Cheney accused of her of having bad behavior. Al-Assad: (laughs) Curry: You smile. Why are you smiling? Al-Assad: It's a funny description. To say “bad behavior,” I think the other way she was doing her job as an American official in a very high position. She wants to know what's going on.Curry: What is Syria doing from its side of the border to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq?Al-Assad: We've increased the number of the soldiers since the invasion of Iraq, but we don't have any partner to cooperate with regard to this issue. Curry: These foreign fighters are linked to these car bombings that are killing thousands of Iraqi civilians...U.S. troops in Iraq. Are you doing enough?Al-Assad: You can ask yourself a very self evident question: what's my interest in having chaos in Iraq? Those terrorists cause chaos and when you have...as I said earlier, it's contagious.Curry: Has Syria ever supported the insurgency in Iraq? Al-Assad: Never.Curry: Never? Al-Assad: No -- all allegations from the administration. Curry: Why would the administration do that? Al-Assad: They want absolve of the responsibility. They want a scapegoat. They failed. Their war was complete fiasco. Curry: Do you have any hope for this suffering in Iraq and this region to end?Al-Assad: Mainly no. I wouldn't not say 100 percent, no. Maybe there is a small window of hope if they learn their lesson. We are going to help Iraq for our interest. Maybe after the meeting with Rice and our foreign minister there's a small window of hope but I wouldn't say “a large window."