On March 25, 2016, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Syrian regime and to Hizbullah, posted statements made by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad at the Arab and Islamic Assembly for Supporting the Resistance Option, held in Damascus on March 19-20. According to the daily, Assad rejected any possibility of reaching a political solution with the opposition delegation of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) to the Geneva talks, saying that the real way to resolve the crisis is by defeating "terrorism" on the battlefield. It should be noted that Assad has clarified in the past that a terrorist is anyone bearing arms against the regime and that the HNC delegation, which includes representatives of armed opposition groups, is a delegation of "traitors and terrorists."
These statements - made while indirect talks were taking place in Geneva between the Syrian regime and opposition delegation, mediated by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and sponsored by the U.S. and Russia - show that Assad is sticking to the hardline position he took before the start of the recent round of indirect negotiations, which commenced in Geneva on March 14. This raises doubts regarding the seriousness of the regime and the effectiveness of the talks. The same hardline position has also been evident in statements by Syrian regime officials before and during the talks. For example, on March 12, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem said that the issues of the presidential elections and of President Assad's status in the interim stage would not be discussed in the talks at all, and that the interim stage would involve no change in Assad's status.
It should be mentioned that, several hours after the publication of the Al-Akhbar report about Assad's speech, his office denied the statements that had been attributed to him. The denial may stem from concerns about possible international criticism of his statements, in particular from Russia, who is a sponsor of the Geneva talks.
The following are translated excerpts from Assad's speech as reported by Al-Akhbar.
Bashar Al-Assad (image: Sana.sy)
The Syrian Opposition Is Managed From Turkey, Saudi Arabia And Qatar; Negotiating With It Is Pointless
"There is no chance of [reaching] political solution with this opposition. With terrorism there is no solution other than confrontation and victory. The real chance [for a solution] lies in defeating the forces of terrorism militarily and in promoting the rationale of [internal] ceasefires in Syria. As for shaping the regime, its apparatuses, its structure and its future - these are issues that only the Syrians will decide. Defeating terrorism will prepare the ground for a political solution that will be put to a referendum by the Syrian people.
"We believe in a political solution, but such a solution requires dialogue with elements capable of taking a decision. This opposition is managed from Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It has no political plan and its components are divided on every issue. Hence, dialogue with them is pointless and there is little chance of reaching a solution with them. Today we are conducting a dialogue with (UN Envoy Staffan) de Mistura, who coordinates with the masters of [the Syrian opposition]. In practice, the dialogue is with de Mistura. The real solution lies in uniting efforts against the terrorist groups and promoting the rationale of [local] ceasefires [in Syria]. We will not dialogue with terrorism. The only solution is to defeat it militarily, and the war against it indeed continues. 62,000 people who, before the outbreak of the events [in Syria], were fugitives from justice have found shelter within terrorist groups, and we are trying to bring them back [into the fold] by means of a general amnesty. Our uncompromising campaign continues, and nothing will delay it. The goal at the moment is [recapturing] Palmyra due to its strategic importance as a key region. [Liberating] it will be a prelude to liberating other areas."
The Russian Withdrawal Is Better Described As A Downsizing Of The Russian Forces In Syria
SUPPORT OUR WORK
"Our relations with Russia are excellent. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a historic leader and a true ally whom we deeply trust. He will not hesitate to take any action that serves [the cause of] Syria's unity. He handled the military and political issues with skill: he extended military aid to our army and [then], with a ceasefire, put everyone to the test [to see] who supported terror and who was against it. We have no differences with Moscow, and we had understandings with Putin from the start regarding all the possibilities. The Russian withdrawal was coordinated [with us] well in advance, and is better described as a downsizing of the Russian military forces [in Syria]. It was a downsizing of the extra strategic force that was brought in when a military confrontation with Turkey and NATO seemed likely. Once this [scenario] became less likely, the forces not necessary for our ongoing war against terror were withdrawn. The downsizing of the Russian force helped the U.S. get a better picture of Russia's role [in Syria]."
Our Situation Is Much Better Than It Was
"The military aid to our army is extensive, and the coordinated air [campaign] continues. In contrast to what the biased media constantly reiterates, our situation today is far better than it was, thanks to the help of our Russian allies, our Iranian friends and our brothers in the resistance [i.e., Hizbullah]. Our situation is better, our people are showing perseverance, and our army has an excellent national doctrine for defending Syria against terror."
The Kurdish Federation In Northern Syria Is Illusory; Partition Of Syria Is Out Of The Question
"We will defend every grain of Syrian soil, for it is the property of the Syrian people. Partitioning Syria is not an option and is not subject to discussion. This is imaginary and pointless talk. As for the aspirations of some Kurdish leaders, they are harboring illusions, or else are unfamiliar with the facts regarding the history of the Kurdish presence in Syria. After the historic defeat of the external conspiracy that targeted Syria, the U.S. and its allies are now trying to exploit the Kurdish issue to their advantage, but they will never succeed. In the region where the federation has been declared, the number of Kurdish Syrians does not exceed 23%, and that is what makes this federation an illusion."
The Arab League Does Not Serve he Arab Interest, Certainly Not The Palestinian Interest
"[The fact that] we have distanced ourselves from the Arab league does not sadden us. It always aggravated us to participate in [Arab League] summits that took decisions against our [Arab] peoples. The first time I took part in Arab League summit I discovered that it is a tool operated from the outside, aimed at thwarting any action that serves the Arab interest. In 2000, for example, instead of supporting the Palestinian intifada they supported [Saudi] King 'Abdallah's peace initiative. At every summit they left the issue of the political solution [in Palestine] on the agenda, at the expense of the Arab rights, and today they have begun declaring explicitly that they have enlisted in the service of the Zionist plan and are explicitly speaking of maintaining ties with it."
Hamas Serves Partisan And Sectarian Interests, Not Palestinian Ones; We Were Wrong To Support It
"Initially, under the influence of Turkey and the media, we made the mistake of giving first priority, in supporting the Palestinians, only to Hamas and to [its leader] Khaled Mash'al. We learned a lot from that experience, [and today we realize] that the Palestinian people and their cause are not confined to one faction - especially now that the developments since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring have pushed the Palestinian issue to the bottom of the Arab peoples' consciousness. We honor every Hamas resistance [fighter] who is acting against the Israeli enemy, and we will always extend our hand to them and to any new political leadership. [But] as for the current leadership, it is managed by external forces. We never imagined that any Palestinian faction would prefer partisan or sectarian interests over the interest of Palestine. Sadly, Hamas' leadership has relinquished [the interests that] help Palestine in favor of partisan or sectarian interests. Our great hope is the Palestinian intifada, its free fighters and its brave youths."
Our Relations With Egypt Are Excellent And With Many Arab States Good; There Is Secret Dialogue With Gulf States
"Our relations with Egypt are excellent and we maintain steady contact with it, for purposes of coordination. Even during the time of (previous Egyptian president Muhammad) Mursi our security coordination [with Egypt] was excellent. We understand the position of our Egyptian brethren, considering to their economic situation, and we understand the pressures they are under. Since the moment the Muslim Brotherhood took power [in Egypt] we understood the magnitude of its conspiracy against us. The ousting of Mursi by means of an impressive popular intifada reassured [both] ourselves and Egypt. Our relations with many Arab countries are good. There are countries with whom we cooperate in the fight against terror, such as Egypt and Tunisia, and there are countries with whom we are holding secret dialogue, some of them Gulf countries that suffer more [than other countries] from the Muslim Brotherhood."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6322, In Recent Speech, Assad Expresses Confidence In Regime's Victory, Says Crisis Will Be Resolved Through War On Terror, Local Ceasefires, February 24, 2016.
 SANA (Syria), March 12, 2016.
 Champress.net, March 25, 2016.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 25, 2016.