Nobody has the right to change anything in Syria but the Syrians by themselves. We are not Somalia, we are not Libya, we are not Iraq, we are not Sudan. We are Syria.
(March 16) – Tony Jones of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) speaks with Dr Jaafari in Geneva as he attends the UN-brokered Syrian peace talks as the lead negotiator for President Bashar al-Assad’s government. To watch the video, see here. Jones argues (desperately!) that the aim of the peace talks is to reach an accommodation with terrorist forces holding Aleppo, including those not represented at Geneva.Notwithstanding the social media chatter as to how Dr Jaafari puts one of the ABC’s highest paid personalities – sitting in the air conditioned ABC studio 14,000 km away on the other side of the world – in place, we are reproducing the full transcript so that readers may become acquainted with the stand of the Syrian Arab Republic, its principles and its approach to the current peace talks in Geneva. On the other hand,
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: This story is about the conflict in Syria. After five years and more than 250,000 lives lost, a new round of peace talks is under way in Geneva to try to bring an end to the conflict. As the new talks enter their third day, we’ll cross in a moment to the Swiss capital to speak to Syria’s lead negotiator. The talks were made possible by the UN-backed ceasefire which came into effect on 27th February, the first major truce in the five-year war. The peace talks aim to establish a transitional government in Syria leading up to fresh presidential elections. One key stumbling block is the future of Syria’s President Assad. The chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition says the transitional period can only begin with the fall of Assad or his death. Well the Syrian delegation is sticking by their President and refuses to discuss his future, so how will that fundamental difference be resolved?
Dr Bashar Jaafari is the Syrian Government’s representative at the United Nations. He’s also a central figure at the peace talks and he joins us live from Geneva.
Thanks for being there, Ambassador Jaafari.
BASHAR JAAFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: Thank you so much for having me with you.
TONY JONES: Now with Vladimir Putin withdrawing most of his forces, can President Assad hope to remain in power without Russian military support?
…the Russian decision has not been a unilateral decision taken by Moscow at the detriment of Damascus, as some media anchors try to say.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Of course, definitely. We have been fighting the terrorists all over Syria for five years, as you know. The participation and contribution of our allies and friends, the Russians, started just a couple of months ago, as you know. But before that, we were doing the – the Syrian Army was doing the most important part of the mission of combating terrorism on the Syrian territory. But however, just to answer your question, the Russian decision has not been a unilateral decision taken by Moscow at the detriment of Damascus, as some media anchors try to say. This decision was taken jointly by both President Putin and President Assad and it has, of course, definitely a political motivation, a political reason. The main reason for that is to encourage the process of the national reconciliation process, to give a chance to the talks, indirect talks amongst Syrians in Geneva, but also to give a signal that the biggest part of the mission of combating terrorism has been fulfilled successfully. So what we have here is not a Russian withdrawal. You may call it a partial withdrawal, but you may call it definitely a redeployment of the Russian forces deployed in Syria.
TONY JONES: OK. Well, ambassador, you are there in Geneva to talk peace with your delegation. President Assad in a recent interview said he would one day take back all of the territory that he lost during the conflict. Does your president still believe there is a military solution in Syria?
BASHAR JAAFARI: No, President Assad didn’t say that, actually. He didn’t mean that there is only a political – a military solution to the crisis. He said that there is only a military solution to the issue of combating terrorism. But definitely, President Assad and the Syrian Government are engaged in this – in the political process and this is – this is why we are here in Geneva. So there are two tracks parallel – the military track and the political track. The military track aims at destroying the terrorist and combating the terrorism, the international terrorism, whether you call it jihadist or, you know, mercenaries or pure international terrorist networks. But definitely there is another track which is called the political track and this is why we are here in Geneva.
TONY JONES: OK, I’ll come to that in a moment, but the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, quite clearly understood what President Assad was saying as being that there will be more fighting in the future, that he would fight to take back all that land and he said quite clearly a message to your President that this was something that Russia would not accept.
…the Syrian Government has the constitutional duty to liberate all the Syrian territory from all kind of terrorist – all forms of terrorist active on the Syrian soil.
BASHAR JAAFARI: No, no, no. I’m sorry to tell you that I think that you are misleading this kind of statements. The point is the following, my friend: the Syrian Government has the constitutional duty to liberate all the Syrian territory from all kind of terrorist – all forms of terrorist active on the Syrian soil. So we are not – we don’t feel ashamed of what we are doing. It is our constitutional duty.
TONY JONES: But ambassador, …
BASHAR JAAFARI: … to get rid of the international terrorism active on the Syrian soil.
TONY JONES: … can I just – can I – sorry, ambassador – ambassador, can I just interrupt you there just for a moment because on this program just last month President Assad’s advisor Dr Bouthaina Shaaban told us that liberating the people of Aleppo was the most important thing, that Aleppo would have to be liberated and brought back under Syrian regime control in order for there to be any peace. Is that still true?
In Syria, there is no regime. There is a government… nobody has the right to monopolise or to deform our representativity
BASHAR JAAFARI: Again, again, allow me to clarify this kind of statements. Number one, we are not regime. In Syria, there is no regime. There is a government. We are the legitimate government and I am representing this legitimate government at the United Nations. So nobody has the right to monopolise or to deform our representativity. We are a legitimate government and everybody should call us a government. We are not regime. Number one.
Number two, we have in fact priorities. Yes, Aleppo is more important than other less than important than Aleppo. So we may start with freeing and liberating Aleppo and then Palmyra and then Raqqa. We have the duty to liberate all these important historical cities in Syria. So, whether it is Aleppo or Raqqa or Deir ez-Zor …
TONY JONES: But ambassador, the point about Aleppo – the point about Aleppo is that you regard the opposition forces in Aleppo as terrorists and therefore reserve the right to continue military engagement against them, by the sound of it. Won’t that defeat the whole idea of a peace process with those opposition forces who are occupying half of Aleppo?
My friend, in Aleppo, most of the armed groups are not opposition. They are either mercenaries hired by the Gulf state’s money. They call them jihadist – you know that very well. They call them rebels, they call them revolutionaries, they call them even Syrian moderate opposition while they are foreigners and mercenaries.
BASHAR JAAFARI: My friend, in Aleppo, most of the armed groups are not opposition. They are either mercenaries hired by the Gulf state’s money. They call them jihadist – you know that very well. They call them rebels, they call them revolutionaries, they call them even Syrian moderate opposition while they are foreigners and mercenaries. So most of those armed groups deployed in Aleppo and fighting the Government are nothing but terrorists. There is a slight margin of those people, of those fighters in Aleppo that you may consider opposition and I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about the big part of those who are fighting the Government in Aleppo and its surroundings and they are nothing but international terrorists coming into Syria through our border with Turkey. So Turkey should be held accountable for facilitating the access of these terrorists to inside Syria.
TONY JONES: OK. The peace plan that’s been signed up to by Russia, Iran, the US and many others puts it forward that there should be an establishment of a transitional government, that after 18 months of that transitional government there should be elections, including for the President. Will President Assad stand aside from the transitional government as the opposition is demanding or will he insist on being a part of it and possibly even leading it as President?
Resolution 2254 does not say anything about President Assad to be removed or to step down… it is not a Syrian-Syrian war. It is Syria fighting an international war by proxies on the Syrian soil.
BASHAR JAAFARI: No, I think you are anticipating on the results and outcomes of the Syrian-Syrian talks. We don’t anticipate, number one. Number two, the Resolution 2254 does not say anything about President Assad to be removed or to step down. Number three, the – what you have called Syrian national transitional body, we are not dealing with this kind of terminology anymore because in the 2254 we have the terminology of governance. We are not speaking anymore about what you – about the terminology that you used a few minutes ago. So we are ready to engage into the Syrian-Syrian talks without any foreign interference, without any preconditions or prerequisites to find out or to reach a Syrian-Syrian solution to this – to the Syrian part, Syrian side of the Syrian crisis, because in Syria, you have a huge international war by proxies. The CIA has its proxies, the Pentagon has its proxies, the Israelis have their proxies, the Saudis, the Turks, the Qataris have their proxies, the French have their proxies and all kinds of these international mafia is fighting in Syria, killing the Syrian people for – in favour of foreign agendas. So it is not a Syrian-Syrian war. It is Syria fighting an international war by proxies on the Syrian soil.
TONY JONES: Alright. Well let’s talk about what some Syrians in the opposition are saying and particularly we can point to the head of the High Negotiations Committee, Mohammed Alloush. He says the transitional period can only start after the fall of Bashar al-Assad or his death – or his death. Is the future – is the future – is the future of these peace talks going to depend on whether Assad stays or goes?
… we don’t have yet in Geneva all the Syrian oppositions, meaning that the special envoy did not yet fulfil the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254, which stipulates that the special envoy should gather the broadest spectrum of Syrian oppositions.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Well number one, we – we haven’t yet – we don’t have yet in Geneva all the Syrian oppositions, meaning that the special envoy did not yet fulfil the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254, which stipulates that the special envoy should gather the broadest spectrum of Syrian oppositions. This, we don’t have it yet in Geneva. This is number one.
Number two, this guy you have just named – pronounce his name, is nothing but a terrorist. He’s shelling Damascus, he’s killing students at the university and he belongs to a terrorist faction called Jaysh al-Islam. And this is why we objected to his participation at the talks in the first round. Now he is, through his statement, through this kind of irresponsible statement, he is inciting to terrorism in violation of Security Council resolution relevant to the issue of combating terrorism. Here I mean 1924, 1989, 2178 and 2199. So he is violating the Security Council resolutions en bloc, en bloc, and nobody is holding him responsible for what he is saying. By calling for the assassination …
TONY JONES: Ambassador, it’s – it isn’t – it isn’t only him, of course.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Give me one minute, please. Give me one minute. Give me one minute.
TONY JONES: Yes, OK. Alright.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Let me finish. Let me finish, please. By calling for the assassination of a head of state, that means he is a terrorist and he is calling – he is presenting himself as a terrorist. You may not be part of political talks aiming at bringing a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis and at the same time act as a thug and mobs.
TONY JONES: OK. So are you proposing – I mean, you’ve put forward a document entitled Basic Elements for a Political Solution. That is your document, your negotiating team’s document.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Indeed. Indeed.
TONY JONES: Are you proposing in that document that President Assad remain in charge of a transitional government for this transitional period that we’re talking about?
BASHAR JAAFARI: If you jump to this conclusion easily then why we are at Geneva? Why are we here? You are anticipating on everything. We are here to engage into a political process between the Syrians themselves. We don’t need to hear from anybody from outside how to proceed and how to form our national unity government, how to reconcile ourselves with the oppositions in plural. Here we are not talking about one faction. We are talking about all the oppositions in plural. So the future of Syria should be decided by the Syrians themselves. This is what the resolution says: Syrian-led political process without any foreign interference and without any preconditions. Everybody should understand the meaning of this magic sentence in the Resolution 2254.
TONY JONES: So without any preconditions, does that mean that you – your own delegation would, at some point, contemplate the possibility of President Assad stepping aside from the presidency to help create an atmosphere of peace?
BASHAR JAAFARI: Nobody has any right to anticipate on the final outcomes of the Syrian-Syrian talks. Any precondition is in itself a violation of the references of the Resolution 2254. So, nobody has the right to interfere into our domestic affairs and say who should govern Syria and who should be the president.
TONY JONES: So, does that mean you are open to the possibility of President Assad stepping aside?
BASHAR JAAFARI: I am not misinterpreting anything of what I have just said. I am saying that the future, our own future should be decided by the Syrians themselves. President Assad is not part of the resolution – the destiny President Assad is not part of the – of Resolution 2254. There is nothing in this literature and rhetorics and references adopted by the Security Council or the Vienna Declaration or the Munich Declaration that indicates anything about changing the President or changing the Government. Nobody has the right to change anything in Syria but the Syrians by themselves. We are not Somalia, we are not Libya, we are not Iraq, we are not Sudan. We are Syria.
TONY JONES: So does that include – does that include Russia, which of course is probably the most significant player outside of the Syrian delegations at these talks and it appears that there are serious reports now in fact that Russia is unhappy with the Syrian Government’s intransigence over the future of President Assad. They are prepared, so it is said, to offer him safe haven in Russia if he chooses to leave.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Sir, this is a wrong question. With all due respect, you cannot pose any kind of such, you know, question. You are yourself now misleading the public opinion by even providing such a scenario. Any – any scenario aiming at tailoring the future of Syria by foreigners is not acceptable by the Syrians. Number one.
Number two, when you say that the Syrian people is – are asking this or that, did you consult the Syrian people? Did you organise a referendum? Did you seek the opinion of the Syrian people? How could you say that you are saying this on behalf of the Syrian people while you are not Syrian and you were not in Syria and you did not consult the Syrian people? Please, let us be responsible while using the terminology. The Syrian people is not a foreign matter. The Syrian people is a domestic matter for the Syrians themselves. Thank you so much.
TONY JONES: As we’ve seen – ambassador, as we’ve seen, the Syrian people are terribly divided. The country itself is split into a number of sections which may never be reconciled. Is one possibility that Syria must inevitably become three separate, possibly more than three separate, nations?
…[the partition of Syria] divided or separated into three or four or five, whatever, mini-states. That will never happen because we are a responsible government and we are implementing the Constitution.
BASHAR JAAFARI: That will never happen, Sir. Take it from me, that will never happen. Once the Europeans and the Americans will leave their sanctions – economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian people, the Syrian people will not leave Syria. Once the so-called international community will take responsible steps to combating terrorism and make – exert pressure on the Turkish Government to stop these flows of terrorists crossing the border from Turkey inside Syria, Syria will be much better. Once the so-called international community will help Syria to overcome the burdens of combating terrorism, Syria will be much, much better. So there are important conditions that we need to fulfil if we really want to help the Syrians and to help Syria not being divided or separated into three or four or five, whatever, mini-states. That will never happen because we are a responsible government and we are implementing the Constitution. We have the duty to protect our country from all these hyenas and thugs and mobs. Thank you.
TONY JONES: Ambassador, you wouldn’t have a civil war in Syria if there wasn’t a significant proportion of your population that believed that President Assad is a dictator who has been repressing them for many years. So I’m asking you simply because I know that you know him: does President Assad personally believe that he can re-establish himself in power after five years of bitter conflict?
My friend, there is no civil war in Syria.
BASHAR JAAFARI: My friend, there is no civil war in Syria. I would strongly advise you and refer you to the WikiLeaks documents. The WikiLeaks documents prove that Washington instructed its ambassador in Damascus since 2004 to topple the Syrian Government by force. So please go back to the American documents called WikiLeaks and you will see that what we are suffering from nowadays was concocted since 2004, after the occupation of Iraq. Thank you so much.
TONY JONES: And very briefly – I know you’ve got to go, ambassador. Very briefly, this question about President Assad, does he personally believe that he can maintain himself in power after all this conflict?
BASHAR JAAFARI: The Syrian people will maintain him in power if the Syrian people wish to do so. It is not the business of foreigners to decide for the future of our president. It is a matter that is relevant to the – the will of the Syrian people. Of course it is a Syrian matter that will be decided by the Syrian people. So just give us a chance. Lift the sanctions, stop the terrorists from crossing the border from Turkey and Jordan and Israel, stop this support to the so-called moderate Syrian opposition while they are all foreigners and mercenaries, stop arming these terrorists and you will see that Syria will be much better and we will get back to you in a much better and fresh shape. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
TONY JONES: Ambassador Jaafari, we know that you need to race off to these talks and to other events.
BASHAR JAAFARI: I need – I need to leave, indeed. I need to leave.
TONY JONES: We thank you very much for taking the time to give us your perspective. Thank you.
BASHAR JAAFARI: Thank you.
Slightly edited by TS for grammar