Dr Bashar al-Jaafari is the Syrian UN ambassador. In this interview he refutes the ABC-US-NATO line that Tony Jones runs on Syria. Among other things, he says, "Number one, we are not regime. In Syria, there is no regime. There is a government. We are the legitimate government." Bashar al-Jaafari was present when independent international witnesses delivered their (positive) reports on the conduct of the Syrian elections of June 2014 (video included).
ABC Lateline’s Tony Jones speaks with Dr Bashar Jaafari, Syrian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, as he attends the UN-brokered Syrian peace talks as the lead negotiator for the Syrian government.
Dr Bashar Jaafari is the Syrian Government’s representative at the United Nations. He’s also a central figure at the peace talks and he joins us live from Geneva.
Thanks for being there, Ambassador Jaafari.
TONY JONES: Now with Vladimir Putin withdrawing most of his forces, can President Assad hope to remain in power without Russian military support?
TONY JONES: OK. Well, ambassador, you are there in Geneva to talk peace with your delegation. President Assad in a recent interview said he would one day take back all of the territory that he lost during the conflict. Does your president still believe there is a military solution in Syria?
TONY JONES: OK, I’ll come to that in a moment, but the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, quite clearly understood what President Assad was saying as being that there will be more fighting in the future, that he would fight to take back all that land and he said quite clearly a message to your President that this was something that Russia would not accept.
TONY JONES: But ambassador, …
TONY JONES: … can I just – can I – sorry, ambassador – ambassador, can I just interrupt you there just for a moment because on this program just last month President Assad’s advisor Dr Bouthaina Shaaban told us that liberating the people of Aleppo was the most important thing, that Aleppo would have to be liberated and brought back under Syrian regime control in order for there to be any peace. Is that still true?
TONY JONES: But ambassador, the point about Aleppo – the point about Aleppo is that you regard the opposition forces in Aleppo as terrorists and therefore reserve the right to continue military engagement against them, by the sound of it. Won’t that defeat the whole idea of a peace process with those opposition forces who are occupying half of Aleppo?
TONY JONES: OK. The peace plan that’s been signed up to by Russia, Iran, the US and many others puts it forward that there should be an establishment of a transitional government, that after 18 months of that transitional government there should be elections, including for the President. Will President Assad stand aside from the transitional government as the opposition is demanding or will he insist on being a part of it and possibly even leading it as President?
TONY JONES: Alright. Well let’s talk about what some Syrians in the opposition are saying and particularly we can point to the head of the High Negotiations Committee, Mohammed Alloush. He says the transitional period can only start after the fall of Bashar al-Assad or his death – or his death. Is the future – is the future – is the future of these peace talks going to depend on whether Assad stays or goes?
TONY JONES: Ambassador, it’s – it isn’t – it isn’t only him, of course.
TONY JONES: Yes, OK. Alright.
TONY JONES: OK. So are you proposing – I mean, you’ve put forward a document entitled Basic Elements for a Political Solution. That is your document, your negotiating team’s document.
TONY JONES: Are you proposing in that document that President Assad remain in charge of a transitional government for this transitional period that we’re talking about?
TONY JONES: So without any preconditions, does that mean that you – your own delegation would, at some point, contemplate the possibility of President Assad stepping aside from the presidency to help create an atmosphere of peace?
TONY JONES: So, does that mean you are open to the possibility of President Assad stepping aside?
TONY JONES: So does that include – does that include Russia, which of course is probably the most significant player outside of the Syrian delegations at these talks and it appears that there are serious reports now in fact that Russia is unhappy with the Syrian Government’s intransigence over the future of President Assad. They are prepared, so it is said, to offer him safe haven in Russia if he chooses to leave.
TONY JONES: As we’ve seen – ambassador, as we’ve seen, the Syrian people are terribly divided. The country itself is split into a number of sections which may never be reconciled. Is one possibility that Syria must inevitably become three separate, possibly more than three separate, nations?
TONY JONES: Ambassador, you wouldn’t have a civil war in Syria if there wasn’t a significant proportion of your population that believed that President Assad is a dictator who has been repressing them for many years. So I’m asking you simply because I know that you know him: does President Assad personally believe that he can re-establish himself in power after five years of bitter conflict?
TONY JONES: And very briefly – I know you’ve got to go, ambassador. Very briefly, this question about President Assad, does he personally believe that he can maintain himself in power after all this conflict?
TONY JONES: Ambassador Jaafari, we know that you need to race off to these talks and to other events.
TONY JONES: We thank you very much for taking the time to give us your perspective. Thank you.