In a February 15, 2016 speech to representatives of Syria's Central Bar Association and affiliated regional councils, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad addressed the current crisis in Syria and the ways to resolve it. He presented his vision for resolving the crisis, which includes giving priority to the fight against terror and promoting intra-Syrian dialogue, while stressing that only the Syrian people is entitled to determine its future and that the political process must proceed alongside the military campaign against terror. He also stressed that the transitional phase must be in accordance with the present Syrian constitution.
Assad said that the opposition delegation formed by the High Negotiations Committee in Riyadh was a delegation of "traitors and terrorists" nominated by Saudi Arabia. Hence, he said, any negotiation with it is actually negotiation not with Syrian elements but with Saudi Arabia, which would yield no results. Addressing the efforts to reach an imminent ceasefire, Assad said that chances of this were small, and also clarified that such a ceasefire would not mean the cessation of all hostilities, but rather a cessation to reinforcing and arming the terrorists. He clarified further that terrorists are all those who bear arms against the regime, not just those whom the U.N. has designated terrorists.
In response to reports about a possible Saudi-Turkish ground operation in Syria, Assad said that it was the U.S., rather than Saudi Arabia or Turkey, who would decide this. As for the presence of Russian and Iranian forces in Syria, he stated that these forces were helping the Syrian army make headway but were not taking its place. Assad expressed confidence in his victory, and emphasized that a resolution to the crisis would be achieved by persisting in the war on terror while achieving local ceasefire agreements, which, he said, have so far proven to be effective.
The following are excerpts from his speech.
Image: SANA (Syria), February 15, 2016
The West Is Supporting Terror; Political Process Must Proceed Alongside Fight Against Terrorism
"The main action of Western [countries] recently has been to support terrorism. This was clear, as we have said, but at the same time, their main game has been a political game that has lasted to this moment. They called it 'the political solution,' [while] I called it the political process, considering that there is no such thing as a military solution or a political solution. There is a solution to the problem [that includes] a political process and a struggle against terrorism.
"They [the West] called it 'the political solution' for several reasons. First, by using the term political solution they wished to create the impression, primarily in public opinion in their own countries, that they are nations that act peacefully and have policies that are nonviolent and do not strive for war or destruction. [They wanted to show] that they stand with groups who operate peacefully inside Syria and with the Syrian people in favor of a democratic or peaceful solution. At the same time, [they also] used this track to cover for their Syrian agents, by [portraying them] as a group of statesmen who operate peacefully and wish... to help the Syrian people break free of oppression, killing, lack of democracy, regime monopoly, and [other Western] talk that you are closely acquainted with...
"The dangerous thing about this [Western] proposal is that one of its goals is to make the Syrian people feel like there is always a way out from the crisis. Any person, when told: 'There is a military solution and a political solution, which do you choose?' will say 'I choose the political solution, in order to stop the bloodshed and minimize losses, [so] why go with the military solution?' He subconsciously says that the latter solution, the political one, comes at the expense of the former [the military one], but he is unaware that they are concurrent solutions. [The West is actually saying:] We will continue to support terrorism, but at the same time, you must make concessions on the political track. Initially, many were deceived by this proposal. Despite being aware of all these bad intentions, we responded to all political initiatives in order to thwart them and to prove to the Syrian citizen that they [the West] are liars and cheaters..."
Fighting Terrorism Is The Priority; Syrian People Will Determine Its Own Fate
"Whether or not we were present [in conferences regarding Syria], we were [always] concerned with two matters: First, prioritizing the fighting against terrorism... As far as we are concerned, fighting terrorism is the first priority and this will not change, not now or in the future. Second, without addressing Security Council Resolution 2254 or the Geneva I communique, our concern out of all this is that the decision is in the hands of the Syrian people, obviously in addition to Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is an obvious matter that was decided and is mentioned in these resolutions, and despite this, they [the West] set all this aside and say, for instance, that a 'transitional governing body' [should be established]. What is the meaning of this contradiction? Either we decide what we want or the West decides what it wants. There cannot be two contradictory decisions or contradictory clauses within the same resolution. In effect, all these resolutions are the result of arrangements made in an international conflict between two axes: An axis that wants to affirm international legitimacy based on the UN Charter, and an axis that desires hegemony - obviously the West - which ignores all these treaties. Due to this reason, we see contradictory matters in all these resolutions.
"Without addressing all the clauses, what interests us is the sovereignty of the Syrian people. Therefore, we will not carry out any move on our part unless it is based on this principle... There may be some Syrian-Syrian dialogue to reach a certain result, but if this result harms the constitution and exceeds the government's authority, there will be no choice but to conduct a referendum so that every Syrian citizen can have a say in this matter.
"The issue is not as they wish to portray it - between the [Syrian] government and opposition groups - but rather between the entire Syrian people and the others, whomever they may be - terrorists, agents, opportunists. This is a national matter..."
Any Transitional Phase Must Be In Accordance With The Current Constitution
"Any transitional phase must be conducted in accordance with the current [Syrian] constitution. The [West's] intention in establishing a transitional governing body is to deviate from the constitution and abolish it, thereby creating chaos. What governs a country, any country? What governs society or guides it? The constitution. When the constitution is abolished and a [different] body is set up [in its place], society is necessarily managed in accordance with the character of that body or of its members, who are committed to their own narrow interests, and in practice [are committed] to orders they receive from the outside. Hence, the entire process must be conducted in accordance with [the current] constitution, and the current constitution must be upheld until, by means of dialogue or by means of some future body, we reach a new constitution and the Syrian people vote on it, as happened three or four years ago in the case of the present constitution. At that point we will adopt the new constitution..."
A Ceasefire Means Ceasing Support For Terrorists; Anyone Bearing Arms Against Us Is A Terrorist
"The additional point being discussed right now is the ceasefire. When does the West speak of a ceasefire? I believe the answer is clear - when the armed groups suffer and the defeats begin. First, [regarding] the terminology - a ceasefire is between armies and countries and not between a country [and] terrorists. Therefore this term is wrong. The term can be a cessation of action or hostilities or something of the sort...
"The ceasefire, or cessation of hostilities, if it is achieved, does not mean the sides will stop using weapons - this is a very myopic interpretation. A ceasefire, first and foremost, means a cessation to reinforcing terrorist [military] positions. We will not permit the transfer of weapons, equipment, or terrorists, and will not allow the improvement and reinforcement of the positions- all this is forbidden...
"Who are the terrorists? This question is now arising. [Some say] there are two organizations or four. The Security Council has designated ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra [terrorist organizations], and there are friendly countries [meaning Russia] who want Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Islam [to be defined this way as well]. For us, as a state, a terrorist is anyone who has taken up arms against the state and against the Syrian people. This issue is non-negotiable... They are all terrorists... until they lay down their arms or until we make an arrangement with them, as is happening [on the ground]."
A Ceasefire Cannot Be Achieved Within A Week
"In the case that a ceasefire is reached with some terrorist groups, and I stress the word terrorist - its purpose will not be [to allow them] to reinforce their positions, but rather to open the door back to the political process... or, at the very least, [to get them] to throw down their arms... Thus far, they have said that they want a ceasefire within a week. Well, who can meet all these conditions or demands within one week? No one. Who will speak to the terrorists? If one terrorist organization rejects the ceasefire, who will hold it accountable? Who will bomb them, as they claim? ... Practically speaking, all this talk is hard [to implement]. But we speak of principles. If all these demands are met, this cessation of hostilities should improve the security situation and bring about reconciliations or arrangements [with fighting groups], or anything else we are currently doing routinely..."
Saudi Arabia And Turkey Cannot Decide On A Ground Incursion Into Syria On Their Own
"The truth is that when we currently discuss whether Turkey or Saudi Arabia will attack [in Syria], this means that we assign great importance to them, as though they were countries with decision-making [powers] and a will [of their own], which can change the map, when in fact they are merely proxies carrying out the orders [of others]. They play the 'mouthpiece' that intends to blackmail us by saying: If we go to another round of talks, if there are no concessions, then there will be a ground incursion. If they were permitted to do this, they would have done so already, at least several months ago. Therefore, we must look at the master of these two countries. Does he wish to enter into such a war between superpowers or not?...This is what we must realize. This [ground] incursion is not [just] seen as part of the Syrian crisis, but rather in a wider context... The Aal Sa'ud family wanted to embark on a picnic in Syria and change matters there. [If they were permitted to do so,] they would have done so long ago. We have nothing to worry about, but, as we say, we must [also] not discount the possibility of foolish acts, since they exist, especially when the fate [of Turkey and Saudi Arabia] depends on solving the Syrian crisis. If there is a solution to the crisis, the political future of these regional groups that are subordinate to the West will end. At the same time, the West has an international agenda that does not enable its subordinate countries to do as they please, but rather only in accordance with its written plan. Therefore, this is a serious matter. It will not be easy to enter such a war, since it will have global implications, not just local ones."
The Riyadh Opposition Delegation Is One Of Traitors And Terrorists; Negotiating With It Is Negotiating With Saudi Arabia
"One question has repeated itself in Syria: Will we agree to negotiate with terrorists? In terms of logic - the raison d'etat and the logic of morals and principles - no country can agree to negotiate with terrorists. Therefore the answer is no. Legally speaking, terrorists should be held accountable... The delegation assembled in Riyadh is a grab bag of traitors and terrorists...
"When we say 'Syrian-Syrian dialogue,' this means that we will negotiate with Syrians who are members of the Syrian people in every sense of the world - those with roots in Syria and not in other countries; [this,] while the delegation we negotiate with includes either terrorists or terrorism supporters. [And indeed,] in Geneva we negotiated with terrorism supporters and not just with traitors. I mean, what's the difference? The results were the same... If we negotiate with the Riyadh delegation, we will [effectively] be negotiating with Saudi Arabia, and therefore we will not discuss the Syrian constitution with it. We might talk to it, for instance, about the Saudi constitution and human rights in Saudi Arabia. We cannot discuss Syria's future with it.
"This depends on the makeup of the opposition. Can the Syrian opposition, in its nationalist sense, take control of the arena? If it can, then we can conduct Syrian-Syrian dialogue. If it cannot, then the main dialogue will remain with groups subordinate to other countries, and will not be Syrian-Syrian. If dialogue is not Syrian-Syrian, we cannot reach true results..."
The Solution Is To Combat Terrorism While Reaching Local Reconciliation Agreements
"Thus far, the practical solution, in addition to the struggle with terrorism that we constantly highlight, is the local reconciliation agreements, which were proven to be largely effective and are currently making headway, not slowly or swiftly, but steadily..."
Iranian, Russian Presence Helps Us Advance But Does Not Come In Our Place; We Will Undoubtedly Win
"Some wish to say that if not for the Russian and Iranian friends, and perhaps some others, standing with us, the state could not stabilize. Undoubtedly, the presence of friends has helped this, but while friends can stand beside us, they cannot stand in our place... If not for our stand as Syrians, [and if not] for the mighty stand of the Syrian army against all these challenges, we could not have stood fast for this entire time in this unprecedented war. In any case, we will undoubtedly win..."
 On these local agreements, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1221, Local Ceasefire Agreements In Syria: Capitulation To Regime's Siege-And-Starvation Strategy Under UN Sponsorship, January 26, 2016.
 SANA (Syria), February 15, 2016.
 The Geneva I communique of 2012 stated that, as part of the transitional phase in Syria, a "transitional governing body with full executive powers" would be established, which would manage the country until new elections are held.