What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Why Assad sees an opening for dialogue with the U.S.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sat down for an interview with PBS host and CBS News anchor Charlie Rose on Thursday in Damascus. Assad denied reports of chemical weapon use by his military and signaled openness to dialogue with the United States. Rose joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what he learned in the interview and the state of Damascus today.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The war in Syria entered its fifth year earlier this month, and despite predictions years ago of his demise, the country's president, Bashar al-Assad, is still standing in Damascus.

    PBS host and CBS News anchor Charlie Rose traveled to the Syrian capital and talked to the leader yesterday about the war and the region's instability.

    Assad told Rose that he is open to a dialogue with the United States, and he also dismissed accusations that his army has used chemical weapons.

    CHARLIE ROSE, PBS & CBS News: The weapons of war that have been used that most people look down on with great — one is chlorine gas.

    They believe it has been used here. They have said there is evidence of that. And they would like to have the right to inspect to see where it's coming from.

    As you know, barrel bombs have been used, and they come from helicopters. And the only people who have helicopters is the Syrian army. And so those two acts of war…

  • PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria:

    Yes.

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    … which society looks down on as barbaric acts…

  • PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD:

    Let me fully answer this. This is very important. This is part of the malicious propaganda against Syria.

    First of all, the chlorine gas is not a military gas. You can buy it anywhere.

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    But it can be weaponized.

  • PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD:

    No, because it is not very effective. It is not used as military gas. That is very self-evident.

    Traditional arms is more important than chlorine. And if it was very effective, the terrorists would have used it on a larger scale. Because it is not effective, it is not used very much.

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    Then why not let somebody come in and inspect to see whether it's been used or not?

  • PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD:

    Well, we allow…

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    You would be happy for that?

  • PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD:

    Of course. We always ask a delegation, impartial delegation, to come and investigate.

    But, I mean, logically and realistically, it cannot really be used as military. This is part of propaganda, because, as you know, in the media, when it bleeds, it leads. And they always look for something that bleeds, which is the chlorine gas and barrel bomb.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Some of the interview can be seen on Sunday night on CBS' "60 Minutes." All of it will appear Monday evening on PBS' "Charlie Rose."

    And to tell us more about his experience interviewing President Assad, Charlie Rose joins me now.

    Charlie, welcome back…

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … after what sounds like a pretty grueling trip over and back in just a matter of a day or two.

    Why do you think President Assad agreed to talk right now? What do you think they're trying to get across?

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    He believes now that the rise of ISIS has caused the United States and others to make him not the priority, the overthrow of him or his departure from power, but, somehow, building some effort against ISIS.

    So I think he thinks it's timely there. So I think he wants to reach out and say, circumstances have changed, and I'm open to a conversation.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you were telling me he's about to have talks in Moscow, that the Russians play — could play a key role here?

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    The Russians indeed can play a key role here.

    They have great interests in at least Syria and have had, as do the Iranians — and the Iranians have given a lot of support. And, in fact, Hezbollah came in and really saved the day for him at a time that his regime was tottering.

    He said to me he's optimistic about the possibilities coming out of sort of the statements that Secretary Kerry started, this new round of intense focus.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Charlie, it also sounds like he worked really hard to defend himself when you asked him about the chlorine gas, when you asked him about the barrel bombs.

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    At one point, he said: We wouldn't be trying to kill our own people when we're trying to win hearts and minds.

    But doesn't that just fly in the face of objective evidence?

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    Yes, it does, absolutely.

    Most of the civilian casualties have come from — not from, say, ISIS, but most of the civilian crisis — civilian casualties have come from other means. And, clearly, there are serious international accusations against his government. And some people who you say — when you say accusations, say that's crazy. Why is it an accusation? It's a fact.

    Barrel bombs have been dropped. He's the only person, his army, that has helicopters and the capacity to drop these barrel bombs. He got into this discussion with me about, we don't know what barrel bombs mean. And I simply said, it's a barrel with things that explode and kill a lot of civilians.

    And he also, Judy, in an interesting way has enormous things to say that are critical of Saudi Arabia, which has been supporting people on the ground against him, as has the Qataris. He was very accusatory against Turkey, because a lot of the people who are coming into Syria to fight against him, he believes, come through the Turkish border.

    And he talked about Erdogan, the president of Turkey, as being simply, in his own way, very much in kin to the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Last thing, Charlie, how did you find him personally? And how did you find Damascus? You had to make the trip from across the border.

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    As we drove with two other CBS colleagues from Beirut, took us about, I would say, you know, 2.5 hours to make the trip, you didn't hear as many explosions in Damascus as I did in 2013, when I was there.

    It was quieter. You see people outside engaged in the parks, you know, talking to each other. At the same time, you see military people everywhere. You know that there is a kind of on-alert circumstance in Damascus.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Charlie Rose, we will look for the entire interview on "Charlie Rose" on PBS on — on Monday night. Thank you.

  • CHARLIE ROSE:

    Thank you, Judy. A pleasure to be with you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest