ABC News’ Diane Sawyer Talks to President Bashar al-Assad About Iraq and Mideast Peace

ABC News' Diane Sawer is back in Damascus where she interviewed President Bashar Al-Assad.

You can watch the video of the interview online on ABC here. A second video segment contains Diane's personal questions, such as "what's on Bashar's iPod", if you are interested to know.

And a third report titled Damascus: cultural crossroads

ABC News' Diane Sawyer Talks Exclusively to President Bashar al-Assad About Iraq and Mideast Peace

Feb. 5, 2007 — – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a 41-year-old doctor, is the son of the legendary Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, who negotiated with five American presidents.

Many in diplomatic circles believe that this quiet man may be the best hope for the United States to broker peace with insurgents in the Middle East.

In a significant moment, Assad told ABC News' Diane Sawyer that he was ready to talk to the United States, but that it must be in public — and that because the situation was so dire, the time to talk was now.

So far, the administration has refused to engage in talks with Syria.

Below is the transcript of Sawyer's exclusive interview with Assad.

Watch "Good Morning America" Tuesday for more of Diane Sawyer's report from Syria.

Sawyer: Your excellency, thank you so much for letting us come.

Assad: You're most welcome Miss Sawyer here.

Sawyer: There are a chorus of voices in the United States saying that talking to Syria is the way to end the war in Iraq. Can you stop the violence in Iraq?

Assad: First of all, the problem in Iraq is political, and talking to Syria as a concept means talking to all the other parties inside Iraq and outside Iraq. We're not the only player. We're not the single player, but we are the main player in this issue, and our role is going to be through supporting the dialogue between the different parties inside Iraq with the support from the other parties like the Americans and the other neighboring countries and any other country in the world. So that's how we can stop the violence.

Sawyer: Are you waiting to hear from the Americans? Why not begin it now?

Assad: We are hearing, but we don't expect that much. We don't expect that they're going to. After nearly four years of occupation they haven't learned their lesson, they haven't stopped the dialogue. I think it's too late for them to move toward that.

Sawyer: Too late?

Assad: That does not mean we cannot turn the tide, but it's too late because Iraq is heading toward the chaos for civil war. So maybe this is the last chance that we have now to start helping Iraq.

 

'What's the Benefit of Democracy When You're Dead?'

Sawyer: The Americans, of course, would say that they are not the occupying force, that they are in fact a force trying to regain security so that American forces can go home.

Assad: Militarily, yes. But politically, no, because they are responsible for the political situation and they haven't embarked any policy inside Iraq here. They only talk about sending more troops or less troops. They only talk about troops and power, not about political process.

Sawyer: Because Americans would say they voted, they now have the beginning of democracy there.

Assad: What's the benefit of democracy if you're dead? Now after the war, more than 700,000 Iraqis were killed. So is it democracy for killing or for having better standard of life? For starvation? For insecurity? For all this? So democracy is a tool to have a better life.

Sawyer: What would happen? Then talks take place.

Assad: Yeah.

Sawyer: You, Iran, the neighboring countries?

Assad: Yeah.

Sawyer: So the influence of the neighboring countries can create a cease-fire?

Assad: Yes, this is something mainly that they don't understand. It doesn't matter how strong economically or what army you have, it's a matter of credibility. We have credibility. We have good relations with the other factions. They should trust you to be able to play a role.

We have this good relations with all the parties, including the parties participating in this government and the other who oppose this political process. So that's how we can help. As Syria. Maybe other countries as well.

Sawyer: You are reported to have said, when American congressmen came here before the war in Iraq, "You will ultimately lose." … That you said, "You will win the war but you will sink in a swamp."

Assad: Exactly. That's what I said — many times to many Americans and to the British officials: There is no doubt you are going to win the war, but after the war, you are going to be sinking in the mud, and nobody can help you. You are going to help us people to extract us from the quagmire, but it's going to be very difficult. And events proved that what we said in Syria was right.

Sawyer: On the current course, what do you think will going to happen next in Iraq?

Assad: Next? Whether it's a budding civil war or a full-blown civil war, it doesn't matter what the definition. It's like domino effect, it's going to affect the whole Middle East in general, and this means it's going to affect the rest of the world.

Sawyer: One of the things that Americans have been told is that Syria wants to fuel the fire and then put the fire out at the same time. And we are told that one of the reasons that there are violent insurgents in Iraq is that they're able to come through 376-mile border and that you give permission for terrorists to come down through the border into Iraq.

Assad: First of all, they have to stop looking for scapegoats and whipping boys, this administration. And there's a logical answer: We cannot stoke the fire and then extinguish it. If you stoke it, it will burn you. So if we have this chaos in Iraq, it will spill over to Syria and to other countries, so saying this, like saying that the Syrian government is working against the Syrian interest, this is impossible.

We have a guard, a special border guard, since 1975, and we supported this guard recently to make more control. But this is not enough. You need Iraqi or American partner on the other side.

Sawyer: But in America they believe that you are all powerful, and you say the word and the border will stop.

Assad: Powerful is different from being omnipotent — power that you can control everything completely. You cannot control your border with Mexico, can you? You're the greatest power in the world, you cannot control it with Mexico, so how do you want Syria to control its border with Iraq?

 

'Administration. … Not Interested in Peace at All'

Sawyer: Did you watch the execution of Saddam Hussein?

Assad: Yeah. … I watched it. And, uh, you want to know my opinion? Actually, I can not give you personal opinion, because now I'm speaking formally and I have to be of the opinion of the government. We didn't take any stand against it, but he's a war prisoner. How could the Americans hand him over to another authority, which is not independent? So how could the trial be or called or described as fair and independent? This is a legal point of view.

Sawyer: Some have written in America that rulers in this part of the world look at Saddam Hussein and say, "That could be me, I'm next."

Assad: Because there's no rules, and there's no law and there's no independence, anybody could be next — not only by the execution, but by killing in general. When you talk about next, every day in Iraq you have dead people, you have explosions, you have killing. So it's going on anyway, so anybody could think that he's next whether by execution or whether it's by assassination or by suicide bombers.

Sawyer: After Sept. 11, Syria was very helpful to the United States, we are told, in supplying intelligence about terrorism in the world. Do you know now where Osama bin Laden is? Is he alive?

Assad: We don't know. If you don't know, how could we know? You have all this intelligence so we're.

Sawyer: Are you ready to resume terrorism information to the United States?

Assad: We used to think that it's like the Internet, it doesn't have borders. It hits anywhere. So what hits in the West or the East, someday will hit in the Middle East. So we have to, and we are willing to cooperate with the rest of the world regarding terrorism.

Sawyer: When I was here before and I interviewed your father and I asked him about then-President [George H.W.] Bush. And he said to me, "President Bush is a man who feels he wishes to achieve peace and is seriously attempting to bring that wish to life."

Sawyer: Describe the current President Bush to me in your view.

Assad: I'd rather give objective view. … I've never met him personally to describe him, but what I know about this issue that this administration, in general, are not interested in peace at all. This administration is not willing to achieve peace. They don't have the will, and they don't have the vision. This is, in brief, what I know about this administration not about the president in particular.

Sawyer: Who do you admire the most in the world?

Assad: That's a very difficult question. The prophets, all the prophets. The three prophets — Moses, Jesus and, of course, Muhammad.

Sawyer: And is there anyone operating on the world stage today that you admire? Any leader, any diplomat?

Assad: Maybe Bush, the father, because of his will to achieve the peace in the region. Of course, President Clinton, he has the same will, and he is admired in our region and respected.

Sawyer: And, Mrs. Clinton?

Assad: I've never met her. I don't know a lot about her.

Sawyer: So you're not endorsing her for president?

Assad: We'll see if she becomes president. … We'll see what her polices are.

 

Comments (22)


1. Gibran said:

Oh yes! It is very clear now even to the political novice! Bashar is afraid of getting his fingers burned and has the courage to blame it on US ‘errors’ – typical Syrian tactic of jumping ahead to avoid accountability. Was he not advised repeatedly to refrain from playing the role of the arsonist? Whatever happened to that Syria accountability act, now is the time to rigorously enforce it and perhaps expand its mandate. Who will care to save him? The only suitable remedy would be for him to sit in the corner just like a bad student (that’s at least how he looks in the interview) with his hands folded and waiting for punishment.

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February 5th, 2007, 8:16 pm

 

2. Innocent_Criminal said:

Gibran,

What the hell do you mean by “arsonist” mean? If you mean interfere in other countries business to push their agenda then why don’t you dare to make the same accusation about the Americans, French, Saudis etc.

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February 5th, 2007, 8:33 pm

 

3. MSK said:

Dear Alex,

what did you think of the interview? I was very disappointed by D. Sawyer’s low performance. It was a cutesy interview, no real questions.

And B. al-Assad looked like he didn’t understand a number of questions, like the one on “That could be me.” re: Saddam’s execution.

The transcript doesn’t do the interview any justice. One has to watch the video or at least hear the audio track.

Al-Assad came across like a kid at times, not like a statesman leading an important country.

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 5th, 2007, 8:36 pm

 

4. Atassi said:

The Sanctions and the Syrian accountability acts only hurting ordinary Syrian citizens, Assad & companies are doing just fine with it, trust me on this one it’s a known fact.
The one working against Assad is the “isolation card”It’s driving them to the wall…

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February 5th, 2007, 8:37 pm

 

5. Alex said:

MSK

I agree he looked more like he used to in his earlier interviews few years ago.

Lately, on Charlie Rose and on the BBC interviews he acted more seriously.

Blame it on Diane Sawyer .. she made even his father smile and almost joke when she interviewed him in the 90’s. When she goes to Damascus she sends very positive reports … see the third video I linked. (the Damascus one)

Bashar missed a coupe of the questions, true. But he answered the rest well and as usual, when he talks to the Americans he wants to show that he is not the “axis of Evil” monster that president Bush refuses to call or visit.

So it is very much intentional, plus Diane’s pleasant tone of voice (which I like too!)

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February 5th, 2007, 8:45 pm

 

6. Gibran said:

INNOCENT_CRIMINAL,
I would very glad to answer you. But first, please explain to me why you are so upset? And please do so without sounding so nervous.
Atassi,
If sanctions are hurting ordinary Syrians, then let them rise and remove the regime.

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February 5th, 2007, 8:50 pm

 

7. MSK said:

Dear Alex,

I watched all 3 videos (& immediately put the links up on Rime’s blog).

But then, the interview was on “Good Morning America”, so it was all about likeability. And, yay, he has Faith Hill on his I-Pod! Although, I was immediately thinking, “Oh no, now they’re gonna have to publicly distance themselves and say things like ‘If I knew that the Syrian leader was gonna put it on his I-Pod, I’d’ve never produced this song!”

But his giggle when he said “The prophets, all the prophets.”??? What was that all about?

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 5th, 2007, 8:52 pm

 

8. Alex said:

The Giggle!

I don’t know! … It says “don’t look surprised, we can talk about this one for hours”

MSK .. Bashar will probably never develop the same mesmerizing stare that Hafez had. Go back to the transcript of the interview and everything would be just fine

🙂

by the way are you sure you watched the same third clip I’m talking about? .. not the one with the three young Syrians

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February 5th, 2007, 9:01 pm

 

9. Innocent_Criminal said:

Well I am simply sick and tired of people trying to make Syria and Iran’s attempt to exert their own influence on the region as something so evil and unique. This is not a fight between good vs. evil and each country uses what tools and assets it has to push its own agenda. Especially in a region like ours. So can you please answer my question?

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February 5th, 2007, 9:06 pm

 

10. Atassi said:

Alex,
you said “when he talks to the Americans he wants to show that he is not the “axis of Evil” monster that president Bush refuses to call or visit”.

I think it’s more like this man was trying to experiment with a defenses strategy for the upcoming international tribunal

“declare insanity”

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February 5th, 2007, 9:09 pm

 

11. Alex said:

🙂

Atassi my friend, there is nothing we can do about it … I prefer to see a young lady and you see an ugly old woman.

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February 5th, 2007, 9:21 pm

 

12. MSK said:

Dear Alex,

gotcha – different 3rd video. Now watched it.

“Women bare-headed in Armani” – yeah, those are ‘regular Syrians’ … 😉

And OF COURSE “Fulla” had to be shown … (Does anyone buy this doll? What’s the reception of Fulla among Syrians?)

Gakh, Sawyer is really getting on my nerves. “Oh my, it’s like the United Nations of Religion!” – Can someone PLEASE point out to her that for Muslims, Jesus is a MUSLIM prophet, and that THAT is the reason he’s in those pictures!

Ma’alula is always fun, as long as you don’t drink the local wine …

“Damascus, where last century Lawrence of Arabia came to plot his counter-attack on the Germans” … Must. Not. Scream. Out. Loud. She. Is. Just. A. Journo. Whose. Assistants. Can’t. Even. Do. Simple. Research.

So, yes … I saw the 3rd video now. And I do salute her efforts to portray Damascus/Syria in a humane way, I really do.

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 5th, 2007, 9:26 pm

 

13. Gibran said:

INNOCENT_CRIMINAL,
No one but you mentioned good and evil so far on this thread. So What kind of answer are you looking for? Tools can be used constructively or destructively. So far, your countries have used them destructively. Is that why you brought Evil and Good into the discussion?

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February 5th, 2007, 9:28 pm

 

14. Alex said:

MSK,

You know Diane wanted to show that long time ago Damascus was related to efforts to fight the “Evil” Germans …you know, as another part of the whole effort in her trip to change Syria’s “evil” perception.

🙂

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February 5th, 2007, 9:34 pm

 

15. MSK said:

Dear Alex,

well … I think she had remembered something about Lawrence of Arabia & wanted to tie him into her story. And “And in 1918 Lawrence of Arabia rode into town together with Faisal Ibn Hussein al-Hashimi and the Arab Army, only to realize that the British had decided that an arrangement with France was more important than one with the Arabs, and thus left the region in disgust” wouldn’t’ve sounded so nice.

At the time, though, there were rather few Germans in the region.

I do get what she wanted to convey and, as I said, I do salute her efforts. Why didn’t she talk about the Syrian martyrs, then, who had been in contact with Lawrence and could thus be called “allies of Lawrence of Arabia against the despotic Ottomans”?

BAD preparation, I tell you …

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 5th, 2007, 9:44 pm

 

16. Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Syria: Al Assad Interview said:

[…] Blogger Joshua Landis, writing in Syria Comment, informs us that ABC News’ Diane Sawyer was back in Damascus where she interviewed President Bashar Al-Assad. Amira Al Hussaini […]

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February 5th, 2007, 10:14 pm

 

17. jr786 said:

MSK,
You brought back a bad memory and gave me a headache. I bought 5 liters of that wine and lugged it back on the bus to Damascus in a plastic jug. Took me a week to get the taste out my mouth; had to throw the jug out. The white wine they make it in Damascus was a little better.

I thought Bash did ok. His riposte about the US not controlling the Mexican border was spot on – can you imagine a reporter posing the question to Bush, i.e. how can you blame the Syrians when you can’t control your own border?

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February 5th, 2007, 10:51 pm

 

18. majedkhaldoun said:

A friend of mine,who sees Asef Shawkat almost daily,mentioned that last year it was reported that Bashar Asad went to the hospital,it was mentioned that it was nervous breakdown,or hyperventilation episode,he said this was not true,however, he said that Bashar is developing Diabetes Melitus,and that he started taking medicine at that time and he developed hypoglycemia,we know that his father Hafez had diabetes.

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February 5th, 2007, 10:58 pm

 

19. Bilal Nawaf said:

Innocent_Criminal,
If you do not think that Syria and Iran’s attempt to exert their own influence on the region as something so evil then how do you see the opposition attempt to destroy Lebanon just to save Bashar’s neck? Isn’t that evil enough? During the July war and a week after the end of the war Mr. Berri was praising Seniora’s government to the point when he said when he visited the Southern Suburb that Seniora will speak on my behalf. Then in 2 weeks the image completely changed and this is due only to a request by Bashar to abolish the International Tribunal. Yes each country uses what tools and assets it has to push its own agenda but the problem with the Syrian Regime is that the only tools he is using are assassinations and creating chaos and the only asset he has is brutality against his own people. Maybe they do not have any other tools left after all the stupid mistakes they have committed.
Anyway the interview is not over and tomorrow there will be more and from what I understood it is going to be even worse that is. People will ask: is it possible to have worst than this? Yes, Bashar have outperformed himself once again. He is getting worst by the day as we see.

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February 6th, 2007, 4:22 am

 

20. ALI Tanous said:

mr Majedkhldoun
so what? this is mother nature that selected him to have these medical issues. so what? are you here to evaluate his health condition or his political capabilities?
regarding your friend that sees Shawkat on daily bases and knowing these fine details, sorry i don’t buy it.

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February 7th, 2007, 3:31 am

 

21. sousan karwashan said:

that is tottaly unfair he was tryin to explan his point of view and all of u are jumpin in his face.

Faith Hill would be honered to have her songs on his I pod , but she doesnt know the real Bashar Al asad becouse of all the wrong stories the usa’s journalisim publish and make him look bad,
forgetting the real bad men who r making themselves peacemakers.
sousan damascus, syria.

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February 7th, 2007, 2:10 pm

 

22. John P.Wallace said:

I would liken Sawyer’s interview with Assad to Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi. Syria is Iran’s pupit, and it’s president or dictator a murderer. He harbours terrorist and sends them into Iraq with arms and explosives everyday to kill our soldiers and the people of Iraq. He was up to his neck in the oil for food scandal, that’s where the pipline goes you know. Some would say he has and is hiding the WMD’s from Iraq. I’m surprised she didn’t wear a berka and bow down to this tin horn despot. The whole thing was sickening,
John P. Wallace
Katy, Tex.
wallace_johnp@yahoo.com

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February 8th, 2007, 3:51 am

 

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