Sunday Times: Mr. President your recent offer of political dialogue was qualified with a firm rejection of the very groups you would have to pacify to stop the violence: the armed rebels and the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition alliance.
So in effect you are only extending an olive branch to the loyal opposition, mostly internal, that renounce the armed struggle, and who effectively recognizes the legitimacy of your leadership, who are you willing to talk to, really?
President Assad: First of all, let me correct some of the misconceptions that have been circulating and that are found in your question in order to make my answer accurate.
Sunday Times: Okay.
President Assad: Firstly, when I announced the plan, I said that it was for those who interested in dialogue, because you cannot make a plan that is based on dialogue with somebody who does not believe in dialogue. So, I was very clear regarding this.
Secondly, this open dialogue should not be between exclusive groups but between all Syrians of every level. The dialogue is about the future of Syria. We are twenty three million Syrians and all of us have the right to participate in shaping the country’s future. Some may look at it as a dialogue between the government and certain groups in the opposition – whether inside or outside, external or internal -actually this is a very shallow way of looking at the dialogue. It is much more comprehensive. It is about every Syrian and about every aspect of Syrian life. Syria’s future cannot be determined simply by who leads it but by the ambitions and aspirations of all its people.
The other aspect of the dialogue is that it opens the door for militants to surrender their weapons and we have granted many amnesties to facilitate this. This is the only way to make a dialogue with those groups. This has already started, even before the plan, and some have surrendered their weapons and they live now their normal life. But this plan makes the whole process more methodical, announced and clear.
If you want to talk about the opposition, there is another misconception in the West. They put all the entities even if they are not homogeneous in one basket – as if everything against the government is opposition. We have to be clear about this. We have opposition that are political entities and we have armed terrorists. We can engage in dialogue with the opposition but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists; we fight terrorism. Another phrase that is often mentioned is the ‘internal opposition inside Syria’ or ‘internal opposition as loyal to the government.’ Opposition groups should be loyal and patriotic to Syria – internal and external opposition is not about the geographic position; it is about their roots, resources and representation. Have these roots been planted in Syria and represent Syrian people and Syrian interests or the interests of foreign government? So, this is how we look at the dialogue, this is how we started and how we are going to continue. Continue reading