Speaking to Yahoo News’ Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff, 51-year-old retired physician Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected the idea of creating safe-zones in Syria to stop the flow of refugees to neighboring countries and Europe. Since the war began March 15, 2011, Syria’s seen at least 12 million citizens flee the country. Al-Assad told Isikoff it would be far better for Syrians to return to Syria once the six-year-old Saudi proxy war ends, something he’s hopeful about since Trump took office. Unlike the past belligerent rhetoric coming from Damascus about the U.S., al-Assad made clear he liked Trump’s approach, essentially backing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt with menacing air-power to reinstate Syrian sovereignty over its territory. Safe-zones in Syria were backed by former Democratic nominee Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Hillary saw eye-to-eye with Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who pressed former President Barack Obama to implement a no-fly zone Oct. 12, 2016, urging Barack, if necessary, to shoot down Syrian and Russian warplanes. McCain’s plan was so ominous it prompted former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir to warn the world of WWIII. Calling safe-zones “not realistic at all,” al-Assad told Isikoff the way forward to get rid of all terrorists in Syria, including the ones backed by Obama and McCain. “So, if you want to start genuinely as United States to [defeat the Islamic State] it must be through the Syrian government,” said al-Assad, not realizing that his government has become a pariah state. Operating in a vacuum, al-Assad doesn’t see that, even if he stays in Damascus, Syria’s borders will never be the same.
With Russian air power and Iranian ground support, al-Assad’s managed to rid Aleppo Dec. 23 of Saudi-U.S. opposition groups. While that’s a start, al-Assad knows he’s got terrorist groups parked all over Syria. If he really wanted to stay in power, stabilize Syria and have a future, he’s cut a deal with U.S.-backed Kurdish Protection Units [YPG], currently active in Syria with U.S.-backing to retake Raqqa, home to the Islamic State of Iran and Syra [ISIS] headquarters. Al-Assad’s in no position to tell the U.S. or European Union what to do to defeat ISIS. President Donald Trump’s in no position to join al-Assad for anything at this point. Al-Assad expressed cautious optimism that Trump would stop backing Saudi proxy groups to topple his Shiite government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov should sit down with al-Assad and give him a dose of reality.
Letting al-Assad stay in Damascus is a major concession for any of the various groups battling him for the last six years. Putin has an ax to grind in Syria, leasing the Tartus naval base, home to Russia’s Mediterranean fleet. If Putin and Lavrov can get Trump to end Obama’s failed Syrian policy, it would be a step in the right direction. Al-Assad’s long-term survival depends on the Kurds, whose powerful Peshmerga militia can help keep Saudi-backed terror groups out of Syria. “We are here, we are Syrians. We own this country as Syrians, nobody else,” al-Assad told Isikoff, showing the kind to blindness that led to his dilemma. If al-Assad doesn’t look to partner with the U.S. and the Kurds, his sovereign land will continue infested with terror groups. “So, you cannot defeat the terrorism without cooperation with the people and the government of Syria,” said al-Assad.
Granting Yahoo News the exclusive interview, al-Assad is reaching out the United States. With al-Assad called a mass murderer by McCain and other Capitol Hill war hawks, they’d have a seizure if newly minted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reached out to al-Assad. Before the U.S. can reach out to al-Assad, Trump must break opposition from McCain about opening new doors with Moscow. McCain acts like he sets U.S. foreign policy from the Senate Armed Services Committee. If there’s going to be any progress on restoring U.S.-Russian relations, McCain has to get out of Trump’s way to improve ties with Moscow. Once ties are improved with Moscow, new doors will open in Syria, Iran, North Korea and other hot-spots around the globe. Al-Assad’s only hope for long-term survival is watching Trump and Putin pursue an era of cooperative U.S.-Russian relations.
Responding the Isikoff’s question about returning Syrians, al-Assad bristled about the reasons for the mass exodus out of Syria. “The first thing you have to ask: Why were they displaced?” al-Assad asked. “If you don’t answer that question, you cannot answer the rest . . . ” referring to the March 15, 2011 Saudi-U.S.-funded proxy war that’s killed over 400,000 Syrians, displacing 12 million more to neighboring countries and Europe. Syria’s refugee crisis, the worst since WWII, drove the U.K. out of the European Union June 23, 2016. Al-Assad blames Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Turkey for fueling the terrorist insurgency that’s spread, death, destruction and terrorism to Syria. Al-Assad expressed hope that Syrians would return once they know their country is no longer under siege by foreign terror groups. Granting the Yahoo interview, al-Assad hopes to reach out to the Trump White House.