In his first English-language TV interview since the uprising began, Bashar Al-Assad has been speaking to ABC’s Barbara Walters.
A lot of headline writers have focussed on his statement that he doesn’t ‘own the country,’ and that he wasn’t in command of the army. This is taken out of context – watch the video, he was simply correcting Walter’s question where she seemed to imply that the army was his private militia. Rightly or wrongly, he wanted to make clear that the army wasn’t a personal institution, but a state one.
Here’s my transcription of the most important parts:
“It’s important how the Syrian people look at you, not how you look at yourself,” he says. “So I don’t have to look at myself.”
Confronted with the death of Hamzeh Al-Khateb, Al-Assad says: “No, no, no, I met with his father and he says he wasn’t tortured.”
“Many people criticised me, did they kill all of them? Who killed who? Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not vice versa.”
When asked about the death of singer Ibrahim Qashoush: “I don’t think he’s famous, I don’t know about him.”
On the army’s brutality: “They are not my forces, they are military forces belonging to the government. I don’t own them [laughing], I’m president. I don’t own the country.”
“There was no command to kill or to be brutal.”
“We don’t kill our people, no government in the world kills its people unless it’s lead by a crazy person.”
On UN allegations of crimes against humanity: “I would say send us the documents and the concrete evidence that you have, and we’ll see if they are true or not. [The UN has sent us] nothing at all.”
“Who said the UN is a credible institution. [Having an ambassador there] is a game we play, it doesn’t mean we believe in it [laughing].”
On being a president for life: “It’s about public support, so when I feel that the public support has declined, I won’t be here [as president]. That’s conclusive.”
Do you feel guilty? “[Laughs] I did my best to protect the people, so you can’t feel guilty when you do your best.”