Hassan Nasrallah: I think whenever Trump talks about his intention to withdraw US forces, he is true and sincere. The word “sincere” (applied to Trump) makes you laugh? I mean he is honest with himself (he says what he thinks). During his campaign, he made election promises, and after two years there will be new presidential elections. And everything he has promised to do, he wants to do it. In fact, he already achieved some of his election promises.
One of those promises was: “Why are we sending our children (to fight) abroad and die in a far away region to defend it, to be killed and spend (huge sums of) money?” He stated that the United States spent 7 000 billion…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: 7 trillion dollars.
Hassan Nasrallah: 7 trillion equals 7 thousand billion. And a few days ago, he said: “We spent 7 000 billion, we sent our armed forces, we made all these sacrifices (in the Middle East), and in the end, I have to go to Iraq in secret, at night? This clearly indicates our failure!” So every time (he talks about his desire to withdraw, he is sincere). Even when he said: “If we continue to defend, for example, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, they have to pay for that. If we defend Europe, Europe must pay. If we defend Japan, Japan must pay.”
Obama… sorry, Trump is a charming person! When we listened to Obama, he spoke about human rights, democracy, (free) elections, etc. His attitude and his words were steeped in hypocrisy.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: When he spoke of the Arab Spring…
Hassan Nasrallah: We’ll come back to this point. From day one, all we hear from Trump is “millions, billions, dollars…” I’m relearning English (thanks to him), you see… And “They have to pay, they have to pay, there are both rich and poor people among them, etc.” Very well. That is why he hasn’t respected anyone in his statements. He was very insulting to Saudi Arabia, and in respect to the Gulf countries in general, including his closest allies, such as Europe, Japan and South Korea, (he didn’t spare anyone). As we say in Lebanese, he buried them alive (under his torrent of abuse). He wants everyone to pay all the US expenses, rightly or wrongly, he makes them (spit) money (forcefully), even as he (already) plunders their resources, raw materials, their future, he confiscates their political freedom and imposes them (US) companies, etc., but he doesn’t pay attention to all this. All that matters to him is that he protects them, so they have to pay billions of dollars for this protection. Thus, he is committed to bring his forces out (of Syria, etc.).
What is happening today in Afghanistan? Even today, to prove that we are broadcasting live – but it should be enough that you say so, without need for additional evidence –, the Taliban announced that they and the US delegation led by Khalil Zad Zalmai had met in Doha and had reached a draft agreement, which may be renegotiated if necessary, and which stipulates that within 18 months, all foreign forces should have left Afghanistan. That’s (what) Trump (is doing)! And we must keep this in mind and remind it to the others when addressing Lebanon and the peoples of the region, so they know that the days of US hegemony in our region (are counted).
As I see it, since the day he became President, Trump intends to withdraw the modest US forces present in Syria under the pretext of the international coalition (against ISIS) since the time of Obama. But the advisers surrounding Trump dissuaded him from doing so because of the growing power of Iran, Russia and President Assad (which would be exacerbated if US withdrawed), etc. And they started all over again, and the guy (Trump) stood with patience. He gave them time (to make progress in Syria) but he saw that it was useless. That is why 7 months ago, or so it seems to me, in a speech, he said: “We will leave Syria soon, very soon.”
We are at a time when we must be careful with translations, and ensure that they are accurate, so I asked a (Hezbollah) brother who had the text of the speech in English to send it to me and highlight the passage where he said “soon, very soon”. (And this passage was indeed saying) “soon, very soon” (quote in English). So the media had faithfully translated his remarks.
Everyone went beserk after this statement, with protestations from Mattis, the former Defense Secretary (who resigned in December 2018), and other people denouncing this US withdrawal, which would represent a victory offered free of charge to Iran in the first place, to Russia and to President Assad, a wrong decision, an (ill-advised) visceral reaction, etc. They went to see him. These are important facts that I must relate to you, it is sound information and I could even give you the source. (Mattis, Bolton and others of their ilk) went to see Trump and told him to give them some time. If he was keen to get out of Syria, he should at least give them time to gain (something in the field) in exchange for the withdrawal. Trump said he had no problem with the idea, and asked them how long it would take them. They said 6 months. These 6 months have not been officially announced, but CNN and other US media reported that Trump had given 6 month to his Defense Secretary to prepare the withdrawal from Syria.
The Americans went to the Russians and told them… I am sorry to mix the Lebanese dialect and literary Arabic. The United States told Russia that they were ready to get out of all Syria and leave absolutely no soldier behind – I convey their words accurately –, and they were even ready to leave the Al-Tanf region, which has a special significance. Yesterday, a US official said they would leave Syria, but remain at Al Tanf (American base at the Syrian-Iraqi and Syrian-Jordanian border), but back then, they said they’d even leave Al-Tanf, but on condition that Iranian forces leave Syria, and Hezbollah also of course. The United States asked the Russians to go talk to the Iranians and with President Assad to tell them about this agreement proposal, namely an Iranian withdrawal would be carried out together with a full US withdrawal from Syria. And the Americans asserted they were quite ready to conclude such an agreement.
Trump was determined to withdraw his troops even without this bargain, but those around him told him to wait a bit for them to get this deal. The Russians have therefore communicated this proposal to the Iranians, and President Putin informed President Rouhani, who informed me myself. Similarly, the Russians sent a high level delegation to Damascus who met with President Assad and conveyed this proposal to him. The Russians waited a response from Iran and a response from Syria.
On the Iranian side, I am one of the people they have consulted on this issue, and I told them (that in my opinion), the United States would withdraw from any case of Syria, whether the Iranians remained or left ; the US try to get something in return to save face and cover their withdrawal (because in truth, they are defeated), to pretend they leave after scoring a big victory, namely the withdrawal of Iranian forces – because ISIS was not eradicated –, to be presented in the United States as a huge success for Trump, and as an even greater success by Netanyahu in the Israeli entity.
Iran has categorically rejected this proposal, saying that they were present at the request of the Syrian government to combat terrorism and takfiri groups, which were still present in Syria. The reason for their presence being still valid, there was no reason to leave. Final point. End of the discussion. President Assad made the same answer, saying he refused that Iran leave Syria – talking about Iranian forces may not be entirely fair, but there are generals, officers, consultants, logistics, etc. President Assad refused on principle to put on the same footing Iranians and Americans, because the first came at his request, and the second are occupants. “The first are friends and the latter are supporting my enemies, (he said). The battle is not over, and even if the Iranians wanted to leave, I would not accept it, and I would ask them to stay.” This US project has failed.
To be honest, it should be noted that the Russians haven’t put any pressure on Assad (for him to accept this proposal), they only conveyed the message. For you know that in the media, there is much talk about the Russian-Iranian issue (to present an alleged divergence or opposition in Syria). It is true that the Russians sometimes exaggerate (in their demands, and exert too much pressure), but to be fair and accurate, (this time), the Russians have only transmitted a message, and in an appropriate (and respectful) way. They said that there was this proposal, and asked (Iran and Syria) their opinion. And when both answered no, this response was forwarded to the US. End of story.
Trump was informed that the attempt had failed, and he began to ask them to work seriously to liquidate ISIS because they had only 6 months. This is why recently, operations and bombings against ISIS intensified and real massacres were committed to end ISIS in this last pocket of the Deir Ezzor region where they are present.
When 6 months have passed, Trump surprised no one (when announcing the US withdrawal from Syria). Mattis, the Defense Secretary, and other officials, had known for 7 months that they only had 6 months before them. You got nothing, you’ve done nothing, so the guy (Trump) decided to leave Syria. Why does he leave Syria? I’m coming to it. He said there was only sand and death (there), nothing else, and that he had no reason to stay. In his eyes, the Syrian people has no value, he couldn’t care less about the future of Syria – and there is even a positive aspect to this. Neither elections, nor freedom, nor democracy, nor any of this interests him. Ultimately, what does he care about in Syria? He cares about Israel, and perhaps about some red lines, some limitations and some (armed) groups. And he believes that he can guarantee his interests through the political hegemony, the political resolution (of the conflict in Syria), pressures, etc.
And he also said something (important): the US Air Force retains its undisputed presence in the Syrian skies. When Trump bombed Damascus after the chemical masquerade, where did his aircraft come from? It came from Qatar and the Mediterranean Sea, from their Al Udeid base (in Qatar) or whatever. Trump does not need to have a military presence in Syria (ground troops) to pursue his military pressure (and stay active and influential). He can do it from his other bases. So he can get out of the Eastern Euphrates region and thus achieve one of his election promises.
But this withdrawal also reflects a failure. The idea to withdraw troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the reduced number of troops, reconsideration (of their doctrine) are in fact a new strategy. This is what I call the Trump version of the American (hegemony) project.
Hassan Nasrallah: Obviously this is all at once a failure, a dead end and a defeat. Currently, the cause of his hesitation is that (his advisers) tell him that the Kurds are their allies (and that they should not abandon them). I’ll explain why we saw these hesitations recently (as regards the US withdrawal from Syria).
When Trump said that US troops would withdraw and that there was only sand and death in Syria, he also said something even more important: “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East? Do we want to be there forever?” With this statement, he hinted, and even more than hinted (this is an explicit indication), that all these US forces in the Middle East were not to stay, and that in time he would conduct (a full) withdrawal. What effect did this statement produce in the region, Professor Ghassan? Let us leave the question of Israel for later.
This statement caused, within the Saudi regime, in a number of Gulf countries enemies of Syria, and among all the allies of the United States in the region, – be they organizations, parties or personalities, not to mention the States – an immense feeling of fear and despair. And Trump knows them well (and he knew the effect that his statement would cause). When he says (to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries) that “You would not last two weeks (in power) without American (military) support”, or “Without us, your planes would get off the ground but couldn’t land”, “Without us, you Saudis would speak Persian.” He tells them all this, and adds “We will not remain the (Middle East’s) policeman, we will leave the region.” This caused a state of confusion, despair and fear in the region. That’s the first point.
That is why all the countries and groups (who rely on the US), starting with the Kurdish parties, came to Beirut and asked to meet with Hezbollah. We met them. Then they went…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Who are you talking about ?
Hassan Nasrallah: Kurdish parties, who are responsible for negotiating on behalf of the Kurdish units. They came to talk to us, and from there they went to Moscow and then to Iraq to request that Iraq serves as an intermediary with President Bashar al-Assad. Today, the Kurds and the Kurdish movements are (hopelessly) seeking…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Who are you talking about exactly? The Syrian Democratic Forces?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurd bodies and representatives in charge of negotiating. Very quickly, they rushed to Moscow, to Iraq, to Lebanon. Why? Because Trump has abandoned them, he forsake them, he betrayed them. This is regarding the East of the Euphrates.
Regarding the (US-aligned) countries, (they panicked at the idea of being abandoned), and they all began to think (intensely and reconsider their positions). They review their stances and try to strengthen their relations with Russia, they reconsider their relations with Iran. Even in Syria, the priorities of some countries are not the same anymore. And now we can talk about the issue (of the relations between) Arab (countries) and Syria. You want me to tell you this story now, or later?
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Please, go ahead.
Hassan Nasrallah: According to my information, all that we saw in recent weeks, namely the Emirates reopening their embassy in Syria…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: And before that, the President (of Sudan) al-Bashir (coming to Syria).
Hassan Nasrallah: Indeed. The President al-Bashir came to Syria. Did he come on his own?
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: What is your information?
Hassan Nasrallah: He got a green light from Saudi Arabia.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: This is your information?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes. A green light from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.
At the end, lately, President al-Bashir rallied them. And the fact that (an Arab President) meets Bashar al-Assad is something of vital importance to (Saudi Arabia and the Emirates).
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: So this visit was not an arrangement of Russia that would have angered Saudi Arabia and the UAE (as some media have claimed)?
Hassan Nasrallah: No, under no circumstances. The current problem between President al-Bashir and Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with his visit to Syria. It concerns the fact that Saudi Arabia has not kept its promises and financial commitments made to President al-Bashir in return for his sending brigades of the Sudanese army to fight in Yemen – and Sudan’s involvement in this war is very unfortunate. This issue has nothing to do with Syria.
Anyway, the visit of President al-Bashir (to Syria), the reopening of the UAE embassy, the announcment of the Foreign Minister of Bahrain – and by the way, his statement was false, he was lying – who claimed that their embassy in Syria had always remained open, etc. But this is not true. Anyway, we started to see an Arab atmosphere (different with regard to Syria), we see Saudi advances, (Syrian) delegations visited Cairo, and there is talk about the coming of President al-Sissi and others to Damascus, etc. What is the reason ? And here I also speak basing myself on sound information that come from more than one (trustworthy) source.
In light of the decision of Trump to withdraw, and after the resignation of Mattis, who was seen as a guarantee by many, and because of the visible concern within the US administration, there was a great wave of panic in Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and with all their allies and instruments, but especially these two countries in particular. They met in Abu Dhabi to assess the situation – and their options – at a very high level. They assessed their situation in Syria and said:
“The battle against President Bashar al-Assad is over, and our groups have failed. All the movements we financed are now with Erdogan, isn’t it? All those who fought in Syria, in southern Syria, which were financed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, have gradually retreated (following their consecutive defeats) and are now all in the North, that is to say (in the hands of) Erdogan. The battle against President Assad is over as regards the armed factions, groups and parties that we supported, as well as our various networks of influence: our whole project collapsed. Assad will certainly remain in office, the Syrian State won, the opposing Axis triumphed in Syria. There remains (only) one danger (that we can prevent): Erdogan –sorry, I mean Trump– made the decision to withdraw (his troops from Syria), and therefore, the only refuge of the Kurds is Assad and Damascus, (to avoid) the invasion of the East of the Euphrates by Turkey.”
Trump told Erdogan that Syria is his. If Syria is (abandoned to) Erdogan, if Turkey wants to invade Syria, it is a very dangerous project for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Imagine that their analysis reached this conclusion: the main danger in Syria is not Iran…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: This is the conclusion reached by the UAE and Saudi Arabia?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes. (The main danger in their eyes) is not Iran. The main danger (today) is Turkey. Iran comes in second position. President Assad, whose position is fully consolidated in Syria, is third, and (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) are even willing to have relations with him. They may also agree with Russia and get some guarantees from her, etc. Russia is less problematic in their eyes. They consider that the main danger is Turkey.
You know, (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) always think in sectarian terms. Ultimately, (in their eyes), Iran – and do not blame me for my frankness – is a Shiite country, and therefore may only have limited influence in Syria, etc. On the other hand, Turkey is a Sunni country, which has a certain presence in Syria, historical relations with that country, is a neighboring country and has a common border, so if Turkey enters (permanently) in Syria, it will be the end and no one will be able to get them out. (That’s how they see things).
Is it because their heart burns for Syria (that they fear a Turkish invasion)? Certainly not. Never. They couldn’t care less about the fate of Syria (and Syrians). But they believe that the advance of the Turkish project in Syria would be the advance of the (opponent) Axis, namely Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. And that would revive this project, which targets, according to them, the Saudi regime, the UAE regime, the Egyptian regime, etc.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: And this is the reason of their opening (towards the Syrian regime)?
Hassan Nasrallah: That is why they decided to get closer to Syria and to restore relations with President Assad and the Syrian State, while remaining in their hostility towards Iran, but trying to agree with Russia in order to put obstacles in the way of any progress of Erdogan’s (neo-Ottoman) project in Syria and therefore in the region.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: But what happened to them so that they’d interrupt their rapprochement with Damascus?
Hassan Nasrallah: The opening (towards Syria) began, and they started talking about the return of Syria in the Arab League. President al-Bashir visited President Assad and told him about it. And Assad’s position did not surprise me.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: What have they offered? What is your information?
Hassan Nasrallah: They asked Syria to submit a written request indicating that given the new circumstances in the region (end of the war in Syria, etc.) and their concern for the Arab States and Arab Unity & Cooperation, they wanted to regain their statute of member of the Arab League.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: This is the message they gave him?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes. Of course, I refer to the substance of their proposal, and I do not quote it by heart.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: And then?
Hassan Nasrallah: (Assad’s) answer (was as follow): “Syria has never walked out of the Arab League (voluntarily), so we cannot request to come back to it. We never submitted a resignation that we should now withdraw. It is up to those who have kicked us out to ask us to come back.” And this is a noble and dignified position, and perfectly predictable. It is not a surprise. If Arab regimes think that they merely have to tell President Assad that their doors are open and that Syria can come back (to the Arab League), to see him feel a huge relief and run with joy in their arms, they are deluded. Syria will resume its place in the Arab world, and it is in its interest. But she will come back with all her dignity (and not slavishly).
What is new is that the US has made an assessment of Trump’s accomplishments, “But what have you done? Where are our allies?” So-and-so is (getting closer to) Russia, so-and-so is with President Bashar al-Assad, so-and-so considers that now, the main danger in Syria is Turkey (major NATO member) and not Iran, while the US want their (main) enemy to remain Iran. What to do (in this situation of dramatic decline of US influence in the Middle East)?
Allow me to say, about Lebanon and all the Lebanese political forces that were betting on the fall of the Syrian State and regime, that you can imagine in what state they found themselves when they heard Mr. Trump declare that he would withdraw from Syria.
Therefore, the US decided to ask Mr. Pompeo to tour the region to boost the morale of all States and groups who are devastated by the announcement of the US withdrawal from Syria (and the Middle East), and began to reconsider their choices, their relationships and their future and to grab on to their thrones (in a fit of panic). (This Pompeo visit aimed to) try to put them back on their feet, to boost their morale and to assure them that the US supports them and won’t give up on them, that they do not intend to leave the region, and as a proof, he invited them to participate with the United States to a conference in Warsaw meant to deal with Iran, its influence and its threat, (in an attempt) to put them back in confrontation with Iran, at least in terms of appearances.
(Pompeo) sent David Hill to Lebanon – for Pompeo (feels) too important to come himself to Lebanon – with the same message, to reassure those who felt frightened, demoralized, anxious and lost by the US policy in the Middle-East.
But since we have arrived at this point of our discussion, I want to conclude this presentation with this statement: the United States will not manage to do more than they have already done. I declare to the governments of the region, to their leaders, to their peoples, to their movements and to Israel – because we will finally come to Israel –, that the US are deserting our region. They will flee Syria – it may take several months, but the decision is taken.
O my brothers, they are fleeing from Afghanistan. And do you know who they leave (in charge of) Afghanistan? They leave the Taliban! Because in the agreement, Trump won the Taliban’s commitment not to allow Al Qaeda and ISIS (to settle) back in Afghanistan. Trump considers that the Taliban represent the government of tomorrow, who can (already) provide guarantees to the US government. Isn’t it a humiliating defeat for the US in Afghanistan? Especially since the Taliban are officially considered as a terrorist organization (by the US), and Washington claims to never negotiate with terrorists.
The United States will flee. There will be no more US forces waging war in our region. Trump won’t launch a war for the eyes of Mohammad Bin Salman (Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia), nor for the eyes of Mohammed bin Zayed (UAE Crown Prince), not even for Netanyahu’s eyes – and clearly, Netanyahu’s eyes are much more valuable to Trump. Not even for the eyes of Netanyahu! Trump, the US and the situation of the United States, either inside at the level of the economy, etc., etc., etc., do not allow them to launch a new war in our region. There will be no US war in the region.
What does Trump want then? (For him), it is from their own pocket that States, regimes and forces (allied to the US in the Middle East must fight), with their own money, their own media, their own blood… Trump wants to bring them together again to put them (alone) against Iran. And if, against Iran, for 40 years – we are at the 40th anniversary (of the Islamic Revolution) –, the United States and all the tyrants on Earth have been unable to do anything to bring down this regime and this blessed Islamic Republic, then (what could the Arab States do by themselves)?
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: But Eminent Sayed, relatively, (the United States), haven’t they won? You just revealed a very important information, namely that the Saudis and Emiratis gathered and concluded that the major strategic change that you just presented will occur (inevitably). But it seems that Trump still won. First, he slowed down the rush of Arab countries to Damascus, and secondly, today, we hear a new discourse from the Arab countries, namely that…
Hassan Nasrallah: The fact that he stopped the momentum of the Arab countries is natural. He can keep them in check easily. Do you think that these countries are courageous, independent, that they have an independent process of decision, and may rebel against their American master? Never. That is why…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: What I mean is that the US managed to put all their allies –Saudi Arabia, the UAE and all others– into line.
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, but this is not a success. Trump only prevented that everything collapses quickly. But (it is mere damage control and) the collapse process is still ongoing.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Has he stopped or only slowed down the process of opening the Arab countries towards Syria?
Hassan Nasrallah: What we have heard and what was reported to us is that they are undecided. There is no clear choice to maintain the absence (of relations with Damascus) or stay in a completely negative attitude (against Syria). I give you a proof of that. Two days ago, there was a meeting between a UAE economic delegation and a Syrian delegation. I do not remember if it was held in Damascus or in the Emirates. This means that at least, at an intermediate level, these relations will continue. (Sooner or later), it will be revealed that very important people in Arab countries secretly came to Damascus, although these meetings were not made public. But it is for the Syrian leadership (to reveal this issue). And I speak of meetings at the highest level.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: At the political or security level?
Hassan Nasrallah: At least at the security level.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: For example heads of intelligence services?
Hassan Nasrallah: For example.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Policymakers?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: From these (most) influential Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia and UAE)?
Hassan Nasrallah: Let’s just say from Arab countries, (don’t try to force me) to reveal more about their identity or titles – whether Sheikh or Sayed, Professor or Hajj, Doctor or Engineer, etc. What I have revealed is enough (I will say no more).
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Influential and active Arab countries?
Hassan Nasrallah: Currently, the United States wants and strives to retain forcefully these Arab countries back (to prevent them from making a step towards Damascus, Moscow, etc.) But of course, so far, they haven’t brought anything substantial to convince them and reassure them (that this is the right choice), and that the United States have not abandoned Syria to Turkey. For this is what Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, President al-Sissi and Egypt, and all the others, want to hear clearly.
That is why we will perhaps see, on the Arab question, a slowdown or coldness in the momentum towards Syria, but I exclude that this movement can be completely stopped. Therefore I conclude this point by saying that the United States failed in Syria. Of course, after this fiasco, the one who loses the most and who is in the greatest distress is Netanyahu.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Yes. […]