On May 26, Charlie Rose taped an hour-long interview in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, view here, which is well worth viewing in its entirety. The interview offers a rich tour d’horizon of the region, including Arab-Israeli issues, Iraq, Lebanon, America’s regional role, and the challenges of maintaining a secular state in today’s Middle East. It is also something of a tour de force for President Assad. Of course, the interview dealt with Iran, as well. We highlight below some excerpts from the interview that focus on Iran, and are very much in line with our own conversation with President Assad in February.
When asked about the Middle East’s emerging “northern tier”—Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—Assad responded:
“Normally you should have good relations with your neighbors, something we’ve learned from our experience during the last decades. We’ve been in conflict, Syria and Turkey, Iraq and Turkey, and other countries. What did we get? Nothing. We’ve been losing for decades. We have learned here in the last decade that we have to turn the tide, so everybody is going for good relations with the other, even if he doesn’t have the same vision or they—even if they disagree about most of the things, not some things. So, this relation, Syria/Iraq, we are neighbors. Syria/Turkey, we are neighbors. We’ll affect each other directly. Iran is not my neighbor, but at the end, Iran is one of the big countries in the Middle East, and it’s an important country, and it plays a role and affects different issues in the region. So, if you want to play a role and help yourself and save your interests, you should have good relations with all these influential countries. That’s why this relation, I think, is very normal.”
When Charlie Rose pressed the point that there are many in America who would like to “put some distance” between Syria and Iran, Assad pushed back:
“They contradict themselves. They talk about stability in the region. Stability starts with good relations. You cannot have stability and have bad relations.”
Assad then reiterated what he had said to us about Iran’s posture vis-à-vis the Middle East peace process:
“Sometimes they talk about the relation between Syrian and Iranian relations and the peace. That’s not true. That’s not realistic because Iran supported our efforts to achieve, to get back our land through the peace negotiations in 2008 when we had indirect negotiations in Turkey.”
Clearly struck by the significance of this statement, Rose drew President Assad into a remarkable exchange.
“Rose: Let me underline that. You believe that Iran, even though it says that it does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, when you, through Turkey, were trying to negotiate with the Israelis, the Iranians were supportive of that.
Rose: And so you’re saying actions speak louder than words.
Assad: Exactly. That’s what I mean. I feel that they said it in words, they say publicly we support you. They said it twice during negotiations, and formally. So you cannot see with one eye.”
This interview also provides powerful confirmation for Flynt’s asssesment of Bashar’s potential to emerge as a major regional leader, as presented in Flynt’s 2005 book, Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial by Fire. At that time, Flynt was criticized in some quarters as being an “apologist” for the “Assad regime”–just as we are criticized in some quarters today for being “apologists” for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the “Iranian regime.” But, as with Syria, truly objective analysis of the Islamic Republic’s politics and foreign policy has been and will continue to be proven right.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett