September 17th, 2011

Syrian Ambassador to U.S. Speaks Exclusively to CNN

In his first television interview since the uprisings in Syria began, Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Moustapha spoke exclusively to CNN’s Hala Gorani Friday.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Imad Moustapha tells CNN Syria faces “a massive campaign of disinformation and lies”
  • He says the government is not killing its citizens
  • Islamic factions are looking to incite civil war, Moustapha says
  • The United Nations says more than 2,500 people have died in Syria at the hands of the regime

Read the full CNN Wire story here.

Full transcript after the jump.

HALA GORANI, HOST OF CNN’S INTERNATIONAL DESK:  We start this hour with Syria and a CNN exclusive. The uprising in Syria has raised — raged on now for six months.  It’s been violently crushed week after week by the Syrian military, with bullets, and in Syrian prisons with torture.

Nevertheless, the opposition’s push for more freedom and a new government continues.

(VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI:  These pictures from the suburb of Duma, near Damascus.  Demonstrators showing defiance of their president, Bashar al-Assad.  And this, just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of videos posted on YouTube, which CNN cannot independently verify.

But this is the way Syrians who are pushing for change are getting their story out.

I reported from Damascus for several weeks in June.  But since then, as the regime has grown more brutal in its tactics, according to eyewitnesses, activists, foreign journalists have not been allowed back inside Syria.  And senior government officials have rarely given interviews.

But just a short time ago, I sat down with Syria’s ambassador to the United States right here in Washington.

It’s an interview you won’t see anywhere else.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI:  Twenty-six people, according to several sources, have died — protesters — across the country in Syria, killed in demonstrations.

IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES:  Absolutely not.

GORANI:  Why is that crackdown continuing in Syria?

MOUSTAPHA:  Absolutely not.  These are blatant lies.  People — I — I have challenged Reuters, the editor-in-chief of Reuters.  I told him, every day, every day, Ramni Nacliv (ph), from Beirut, which called Reuters, that he will tell you guys, today, 13 persons died.  Not a single person died today in Syria except one policeman that was shot.

GORANI:  Well, we would love to be able to go check for ourselves, but we can’t…

MOUSTAPHA:  He…

GORANI:  — because we’re not given visas to go report from inside Syria.

MOUSTAPHA:  You were given a visa and you did report.

GORANI:  For one week…

MOUSTAPHA:  You know that.

GORANI:  — in June.

MOUSTAPHA:  Yes.

GORANI:  But since, we have not been able to do that.

MOUSTAPHA:  OK.  Many other reporters have been reporting from inside Syria.  And there are foreign reporters.  But here is the story.  You asked me a question.  You need to hear the answer.

People — people give numbers in — in — in a very, very unrealistic way.  Those numbers are never substantiated, because this is what suits the Western media here.  At least out of the list that was announced by the so-called activists in Syria, that — of the — the — the killed people, 500 — at least 500 have come out and said we — we read our names in the — in the lists of the killed and the fallen, we are alive and kicking.  These are blatant lies.

GORANI:  So, I personally want to start by asking you about today.  Twenty-six people, according to several sources, have died – protesters — across the country in Syria, killed in demonstrations.

IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES:  Absolutely not.

GORANI:  Why is that crackdown continuing in Syria?

MOUSTAPHA:  Absolutely not.  These are blatant lies.  People — I — I have challenged Reuters, the editor-in-chief of Reuters.  I told him, every day, every day, Ramni Nacliv (ph), from Beirut, which called Reuters, that he will tell you guys, today, 13 persons died.  Not a single person died today in Syria except one policeman that was shot.

GORANI:  Well, we would love to be able to go check for ourselves, but we can’t…

MOUSTAPHA:  He…

GORANI:  — because we’re not given visas to go report from inside Syria.

MOUSTAPHA:  You were given a visa and you did report.

GORANI:  For one week…

MOUSTAPHA:  You know that.

GORANI:  — in June.

MOUSTAPHA:  Yes.

GORANI:  But since, we have not been able to do that.

MOUSTAPHA:  OK.  Many other reporters have been reporting from inside Syria.  And there are foreign reporters.  But here is the story. You asked me a question.  You need to hear the answer.

GORANI:  Sure.  Go ahead.

MOUSTAPHA:  People — people give numbers in — in — in a very, very unrealistic way.  Those numbers are never substantiated, because this is what suits the Western media here.  At least, out of the list that was announced by the so-called activists in Syria, that — of the

— the — the killed people, 500 — at least 500 have come out and said we — we read our names in the — in the lists of the killed and the fallen, we are alive and kicking.  These are blatant lies.

This is the problem we are facing today in Syria — a massive campaign of disinformation and lies.

GORANI:  OK, again, I need to ask you, if we cannot go in and substantiate these numbers — prove them or disprove them, in fact — how can we — who can we believe?

Why won’t the government let us in?

MOUSTAPHA:  You were invited.

Did you report a single story about the atrocities and the massacres committed by the so-called…

GORANI:  I…

MOUSTAPHA:  — per — peaceful protesters?

GORANI:  I was invited in but…

MOUSTAPHA:  If you…

GORANI:  — not allowed to circulate…

MOUSTAPHA:  — credibly…

GORANI:  — inside of Syria.

MOUSTAPHA:  Historically…

GORANI:  Yes…

MOUSTAPHA:  — unprecedented brutality that is being committed right now in Syria against innocent people, against civilians, against policemen and against the Syrian military never reported, never.  And even when we provide you with evidence, we give you videotapes, we ask you to interview their families to substantiate the stories, the Western media…

GORANI:  That…

MOUSTAPHA:  — categorically refuses to…

GORANI:  — I have to say…

MOUSTAPHA:  — air this.

GORANI:  — that’s not true at all.  We have reported on the deaths of security forces.  And we know that any of the people who have been killed over the last several months have been security forces.  But a large number have also been civilians, demonstrators, pro-democracy activists and children.

Amnesty International is saying more than 120 children were killed.

How are they armed terrorists?

MOUSTAPHA:  Many of those children happened to be families of military men and of policemen that were brutally murdered.  Now, it’s not only the murder, it’s what happens after their brutal killing.  They dismember their bodies.  Even a family — a family in of mine, a relation to me, OK, he was not only shot, but he was divided into three pieces and his core was sent to his wife — three pieces.

Three of my friends were also murdered.

What I’m trying to tell you is what’s happening today in Syria is similar to what has happened in Iraq when brutal groups will attack, Sunni groups, Sunni mosques and Shiite mosques so that they will incite civil war in Iraq.

GORANI:  Who…

MOUSTAPHA:  This is…

GORANI:  — who are these armed gangs…

MOUSTAPHA:  They are…

(CROSSTALK)

MOUSTAPHA:  They are well known.

GORANI:  Yes.

MOUSTAPHA:  We have published their names, their photographs.  These are the leaders of what you would love to call the leaders of Syrian democracy and freedom…

GORANI:  And what’s the (INAUDIBLE)?

MOUSTAPHA:  Here are they.  The first one is the Islamic emir of Hamas, the — the third one is the — is the — the leader of the Freedom and Democracy Movement in Syria.  Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, three way — three days ago, gave a speech in which he emphasized two things.  He was bragging about September 11th.  And he was asking the Mujahedeen of the Islamic world to go and join their Syrian Mujahideen brothers to fight against…

GORANI:  So you are saying…

MOUSTAPHA:  — the Syrian regime.

GORANI:  — you are seeing that what’s happening in Syria is some fundamentalist Islamist extremist armed movement that is trying to destabilize the country?

MOUSTAPHA:  If you are talking about the armed groups…

GORANI:  Yes.

MOUSTAPHA:  — absolutely.  If you are talking about peaceful protesters, as of day one — and let me repeat this and I will continue repeating this until the Western media reaches a tipping point that it starts understanding this.

We believe that their demands are legitimate and we are addressing their demands in a comprehensive way.  Here is my challenge to those guys who are criticizing us.  Syria is implementing, right now, as we speak, unprecedented political reforms.  By the time — I — I believe by February next year, the — the political scene in Syria will be unparalleled across the Arab world.

And here is a challenge to the United States of America.  Go to your friends that you usually offer them military protection and you build military bases in their lands and — and ask them to follow the good example that we are going to challenge the rest of the Arab world with.

GORANI:  One of you — one of the things you said in a radio interview a few days ago is that not a single demonstration in Syria has started from anywhere other than a mosque.

MOUSTAPHA:  (INAUDIBLE) mean…

GORANI:  Now, I was in Syria in June, as you know.

MOUSTAPHA:  Yes.

GORANI:  And that’s not true.

MOUSTAPHA:  It is true.

GORANI:  There were demonstrations at Damascus University.

MOUSTAPHA:  That’s absolutely untrue.  No.

GORANI:  In Aleppo University there were demonstrations.  A Sky News team filmed a demonstration in Aleppo that started nowhere near a mosque.

MOUSTAPHA:  It’s untrue.  Everybody knows if they’re in Syria…

GORANI:  Why would everyone be lying…

MOUSTAPHA:  No, it’s — they are not lying.  Look…

GORANI:  — about Syria?

MOUSTAPHA:  — look, look, look…

GORANI:  I don’t understand.

MOUSTAPHA:  — look, look, this is — let — let us be respectful and reasonable.

GORANI:  OK.

MOUSTAPHA:  Everybody knows — everybody in Syria and outside Syria — that religious groups have started those demonstrations from mosques.  Every Friday, it is the day in which people fear for their lives in Syria.  Even the clergymen in Syria are saying — are saying publicly, are condemning the fact that fanatics have changed some of the mosques.  Not every mosque.  Not every mosque in Syria did witness a demonstration.

It’s — I would say out of the eight — 3,000 or 4,000 mosques in Syria, 70 or 80 mosques were the epicenter of those demonstrations.

Now, what I want to say is — is the following.  If people are really — and this is the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people — are really about political reforms, about a multi-party system, about transparent, free, democratic elections, this is the way ahead for Syria.  If they are about their — their ideology…

GORANI:  You’ve giving me this paper with…

MOUSTAPHA:  — (INAUDIBLE) brutality…

GORANI:  — with names…

MOUSTAPHA:  — with their names.

GORANI:  — and pictures…

MOUSTAPHA:  Google them.  They are all — they are all on — on the Web.

GORANI:  Listen…

MOUSTAPHA:  They don’t hide themselves, by the way

GORANI:  No.  And I will.

MOUSTAPHA:  (INAUDIBLE).

GORANI:  And I will.  But I can tell you about people I’ve met in person.  I mean I don’t need to look at the — at the — I can tell you I’ve met demonstrators that have protested that are so afraid for their own safety because they say they’re wanted by security forces that they’re now in hiding, others who say you can interview me, but you need to blur out my face because my friend was taken into custody…

MOUSTAPHA:  Look…

GORANI:  — and tortured.

So are you saying…

MOUSTAPHA:  If you are..

GORANI:  — that these people are all…

MOUSTAPHA:  No, look…

GORANI:  — (INAUDIBLE).

MOUSTAPHA:  What I am saying is the following.  If you are in opposition in Syria and you are about political opposition, about opposing every policy of the Syrian government, you are OK.  You are welcome.  The new laws in Syria would allow you to form your own political party.  The new media law is the most liberal law today in the whole Arab world.

GORANI:  OK.

MOUSTAPHA:  This is — I — I am denying it.  This is new.  It was not the case before.  But this is the new reality in Syria.  We have announced town hall meetings, town hall style meetings across Syria for a national dialogue that has been attended by the opposition.  And the sort of things they are saying is something that has — I have never ever heard before inside Syria.

I’m telling you how the reality is changing and how the context is changing.  We are having a new election law and we are having a new — a new part.  We — the new party law has already been issued.  Next February, we are having a multi-party, democratic, transparent election.  Let the representatives of the Syrian people, who will be elected, let them decide what they want for Syria, not those who hide their faces and tell you stories.

GORANI:  They may hide their faces because, like Guyak Matar (ph), you heard of his story, a young 26 -year-old who was in hiding, who was eventually taken into custody and then his body was then recovered by his family…

MOUSTAPHA:  Well, look, I told you this…

GORANI:  — after having been in custody…

MOUSTAPHA:  — and I am repeating it.

GORANI:  — for a week.

MOUSTAPHA:  Terrible atrocities, unknown in the history of Syria, a very civilized country, have — have been committed in the last six months.  This is similar to what has happened in Iraq.

Why on hell would the Syrian security abduct a person, kill him and then give his body, dismembered and — and eviscerated — to his family and tell them we did it?

GORANI:  Well, human…

MOUSTAPHA:  Be careful.

GORANI:  — human rights groups just say…

MOUSTAPHA:  Be careful.

GORANI:  — that’s to intimidate others…

MOUSTAPHA:  Those who — no.

GORANI:  Has that not happened in Syria?

MOUSTAPHA:  Absolutely — why do we want to intimidate peaceful protesters when we are telling them…

GORANI:  (INAUDIBLE).

MOUSTAPHA:  — we are telling them the Syrian — the new Syrian laws allow for peaceful demonstrations.  We — you are allowed to have your political parties.  You can express your oppose — opposition opinions on Syrian TV or everywhere you want…

GORANI:  So this young man who was killed…

MOUSTAPHA:  — and you can go to elections.

And you believe we go and kill him?

GORANI:  Yes.

MOUSTAPHA:  Just to target…

GORANI:  So you’re saying this young man was not killed by security…

MOUSTAPHA:  No.  This man was killed…

GORANI:  — forces (INAUDIBLE)?

MOUSTAPHA:  This man was killed by groups that want to further tarnish the image of the Syrian government because they believe this is their historically unprecedented opportunity, hmmm, to attack the Syrian government and topple it, for reasons that are well known to almost everybody.

GORANI:  So you’re saying there are no instances in Syria over the last six months…

MOUSTAPHA:  What…

GORANI:  — where activists or demo — democracy protesters have been killed by security forces?

MOUSTAPHA:  What I am saying is Syria has appointed a judicial commission.  And they are — they are publicized across Syria.  Every single family, every single person that has a…

GORANI:  Yes.

MOUSTAPHA:  — a complaint or that has been mistreated or that has lost a dear one should go there.  And there is a commitment from President Assad that they — these incidents will be fully investigated.

However, the question to you is…

GORANI:  So you’re saying…

MOUSTAPHA:  — who will…

GORANI:  — yes or no to…

MOUSTAPHA:  — who will hold accountable…

GORANI:  — that question?

MOUSTAPHA:  — those criminals who are committing atrocities…

GORANI:  Yes.

MOUSTAPHA:  — across Syria, including killing children and — and women.

GORANI:  But are you saying yes or no to the question, have security forces killed demonstrators and activists in the streets…

MOUSTAPHA:  What I am saying…

GORANI:  — in the last few months.

MOUSTAPHA:  — what I am saying is very clear.  The — the government of Syria does not approve of this.  And we, everyone who has — who has wrongfully committed a crime will be held accountable.  The challenge is not those guys, because those guys can be brought to court.

The challenge is how an we address those fanatic Islamic groups, the same groups that are — are — are bragging about September 11th and are calling the Mujahideen of the Islamic world to come to Syria.

END