Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said in an interview Thursday with Greek newspaper Kathimerini that he is not interested in meeting President Donald Trump to discuss an end to the civil war in his country because Trump has no real power in the United States.
According to an English-language transcript of the interview posted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the Kathimerini interviewer asked Assad if, in light of President Trump’s scheduling an in-person meeting with North Korean dictator (and Assad ally) Kim Jong-un, Assad would be interested in a similar encounter.
“The first question you should ask, whether to meet or to make contact or whatever, what can you achieve?” Assad asked. He accused Trump of having lied about his intentions regarding Syria during the 2016 campaign – “What can we achieve with someone who says something before the campaign, and does the opposite after the campaign, who says something today, and does the opposite tomorrow, or maybe in the same day?” – and further denied that Trump has any power.
“We don’t think the president of that regime is in control,” Assad said, referring to the United States. “We all believe that the deep state, the real state, is in control, or is in control of every president, and this is nothing new.”
Assad added that the President of the United States has not had any real power “during the last 40 years, at least since Nixon, maybe before, but it’s becoming starker and starker, and the starkest case is Trump.”
The remark was not the first time Assad claimed President Trump was not making foreign policy decisions for the United States. Following Trump’s first airstrikes against the Assad regime, a response to reports that Assad had once again used chemical weapons against civilians and violated international law, Assad insisted Trump had no place in the decision-making process that led to that attack.
“The president is only one of the performers on their theatre, if he wants to be a leader, he cannot,” Assad said at the time. “He wanted to be a leader, Trump wanted to be a leader, but every president there, if he wants to be a real leader, later he’s going to eat his words, swallow his pride if he has pride at all, and make a 180 degree U-turn, otherwise he would pay the price politically.”
“It’s not about the President of the United States — it’s about the regime and the Deep State, or the deep regime in the United States,” he added, warning that the “Deep State … is still the same, it doesn’t change.”
Kathimerini brought up the possibility of meeting with Trump in the context of the president’s insulting tweets. Just as Trump had joked online that he would “NEVER” call Kim Jong-un “short and fat,” Trump had referred to Assad as an “animal.”
“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump said on Twitter in April.
Speaking to the Greek newspaper this week, Assad chided Trump for lack of civility.
“Actually, when you are in that position, I mean president of a country, you have first of all to represent the morals of your people before representing your own morals. You are representing your country. Question: does this language represent the American culture?” Assad asked.
“This is very bad, and I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a community in the world that has such language,” he continued, adding, “Personally, I don’t care, because I deal with the situation as a politician, as a president.”
Assad also once again rejected reports of his repeated use of chemical weapons against Sunni civilians as “completely fake” and explicitly defined the United States military as a terrorist organization.
“First of all, we are fighting the terrorists, and as I said, the terrorists for us are his [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s] army, they are the American army, the Saudi army,” Assad said. “Forget about the different factions and who is going to finance those factions; at the end, they work for one agenda, and those different players obey one master: the American master.”
Assad accused Erdogan of working for the United States despite launching a military campaign, “Operation Olive Branch,” against the American allies in Afrin, northern Syria. The Afrin area is part of Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan, and home to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), one of America’s closest allies against the Islamic State. Erdogan considers the YPG a terrorist organization.
The Americans, Assad continued, “helped ISIS escape from Raqqa, when they helped them, and it was proven by video, and under their cover, the leaders of ISIS escaped Raqqa, going toward Deir Ezzor just to fight the Syrian Army.” Assad has repeatedly claimed the United States created and funded the Islamic State to generate “chaos” in the region, an allegation repeated often by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Assad’s closest ally.