Al-Assad: I’m not a king

Al-Assad: I’m not a king

Al-Assad: I’m not a king

Syrian President Assad speaks to Barbara Walters in an interview aired yesterday, in this photo taken from ABC news.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has defiantly rejected any suggestion that he has ordered a crackdown against his people, saying during a rare interview yesterday that he was not “king or head of the military.”

Speaking to ABC’s Barbara Walters in a interview that aired yesterday, al-Assad said he had not given any command “to kill or be brutal.”

“They’re not my forces,” al-Assad said when asked if Syrian troops had cracked down too hard on protesters. “They are military forces [who] belong to the government. I don’t own them. I’m president. I don’t own the country.”

As president, al-Assad is the commander of Syria’s armed forces, the Associated Press reported yesterday. “We don’t kill our people … no government in the world kills its people unless it’s led by a crazy person,” al-Assad said. “There was no command to kill or be brutal. Every ‘brute reaction’ was by an individual, not by an institution, that’s what you have to know.”

Walters asked Assad if he regretted the violence that has wracked his country, left thousands dead and made Syria a pariah state.

“I did my best to protect the people,” he said. “I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people. So it’s not about [being] guilty,” he said. “Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not vice versa.”

Walters asked al-Assad about the case of Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy killed after being detained by Syrian forces. Assad denied the boy had been tortured. “No, no, no. It’s not news. I met with his father, the father of that child and he said that he wasn’t tortured as he appeared in the media,” he said.

 “If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position,” he said. “Syria is not easy ... it is a very difficult country to govern if you don’t have the public support,” al-Assad said according to the Associated Press.

Asked about the recent United Nations warnings on the crackdown, the president said, “Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?” The country’s ambassador to the U.N. is “playing the game although he does not believe in it,” he added.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, meanwhile, said al-Assad was trying to shirk responsibility. “I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game but also some sort of claim that he doesn’t exercise authority in his own country.”

Al-Assad said he was introducing reforms and elections, starting with local elections this year. The vote on his presidency is not scheduled until 2014, a wait that may be too long for Syrian dissidents. But the elections cannot be rushed, Assad said.

“We never said we are democratic country … We are moving forward in reforms, especially in the last nine months … It takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be a full-fledged democracy,” al-Assad said.
The president also said the threat of sanctions did not worry him. “We’ve been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It’s not something new. We’re not isolated.”