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ASSAD: US and Israeli intervention prevents reconciliation in Syria (Interview)

Assad is adamant that the price demanded by the Americans, that of absolute US hegemony, is one that Syria will never pay

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad revealed in a recent interview with Iranian media al-Alam TV that attempts at achieving non military resolutions to conflicts inside Syria via reconciliation is being actively prevented by intervention from Israel and the US. He is adamant that the price demanded by the Americans, that of absolute US hegemony, is one that Syria will never pay. Video of the interview is furnished below in English, courtesy of Press TV, followed by a transcript obtained from Syria 360 Internationalist News Agency. Added emphasis on certain statements is mine.

13 June، 2018
Damascus, SANA

President Bashar al-Assad affirmed that the Syrian south is in front of two options; reconciliation or liberation by force, indicating that at this point, there are no concrete results for a simple reason which is Israeli and American interference, for they put pressure on the terrorists in that area in order to prevent reaching any compromise or peaceful resolution.

The President added in an interview given to Iran’s Al-ALAM TV that the Syrian-Iranian relation is strategic not subject to a deal and it is linked to the present and future of the region , affirming that neither Syria nor Iran has floated this relationship on the international political bazaar for it to be subject to haggling.

President al-Assad affirmed that since the beginning of the war, particularly when it started to have a clear military nature on the southern front in particular, the Israelis used to shell Syrian forces continuously, and consequently provide direct support to the terrorists. Israeli artillery and aircraft are the terrorists’ artillery and aircraft… Despite Israeli support to the terrorists, we have been doing our job, and the Syrian Army is fighting its way towards the southern front, and has liberated a number of areas within the limits of its capabilities. So, with or without its approval, the decision is a Syrian one, and this is a national duty we shall carry out.

Following the full text of the interview;

Question 1: Mr. President, there are many issues which we will talk about, but in the light of the victories you have achieved, the main focus remains the south of Syria. What’s happening exactly, or what is the nature of what is happening in the south of Syria?

President Assad: To put it simply, after the liberation of al-Ghouta, it was suggested that we should move south. We were faced with two options, as is the case in all other areas in Syria: reconciliation or liberation by force. At this point, the Russians suggested the possibility of giving reconciliation an opportunity, similar to what happened in other areas, in order to restore the situation that prevailed before 2011. In other words, for the Syrian Army to be deployed in that area, which is an area of confrontation with the Zionist enemy. And of course the terrorists should leave the area. This proposition suits us. Up till now, there are no concrete results for a simple reason which is Israeli and American interference; for they put pressure on the terrorists in that area in order to prevent reaching any compromise or peaceful resolution. That is how the situation stands now.

Question 2: So, it hasn’t been decided whether to move towards a military operation or towards reconciliation?

President Assad: No, contacts are still ongoing between the Russians, the Americans, and the Israelis, while nobody is communicating with the terrorists, because they are mere tools, and they implement what their masters decide ultimately. This is what happened, i.e. there was an opportunity to reach reconciliation, but the American and Israeli interference prevented that possibility.

Question 3: Of course, this is the reality there. But on the other hand, there are those who talk about many things taking place in the south. Mr. President, is there a certain deal, what is the price? Is there really a price for concluding this deal in the south? Let me talk frankly about the issue of getting the Iranians to leave the southern region in return for al-Tanf, for example. What did the Americans demand, or let’s say, what was the price the Americans asked to approve the reconciliation process in the south?

President Assad: For the Americans, there is a general principle they follow in dealing with any problem in the world. The only price they ask for is absolute hegemony, regardless of the issue and the place. Of course, we shall never provide that price; otherwise we wouldn’t have fought this war for years. We have been fighting for the independence of Syrian decision-making, for the Syrian homeland, and for the unity of Syrian territory. As for Iran in particular, let me be very clear: the Syrian-Iranian relationship is a strategic one not subject to a deal in the south or in the north. This relationship, in terms of its implications and results on the ground, is linked to the present and future of the region. Consequently, it is not subject to the price tags of the international bazaar. Neither Syria nor Iran has floated this relationship on the international political bazaar for it to be subject to haggling. The proposition was made by the Israelis with the objective of provoking and embarrassing Iran. At the same time, this comes in line with the international propaganda campaign launched against Iran regarding the nuclear file. It is not a separate issue; for everything happening now is linked to Iran in order to create an international position against it. As for us in Syria, the decision concerning our land is an exclusively Syrian decision. We are fighting the same battle, and when we have a decision concerning Iran, we will talk about it with the Iranians and not with any other party.

Question 4: Of course, we will talk more about Iran and in more detail, but since we are talking about the southern front, let’s explore it further. Practically, in the same context, there is the MOC which hasn’t stopped its operations since the beginning of the war on Syria about eight years ago. It is working and is still active, and is directly linked to the Israelis. But we have noticed recently that it has been reactivated, and there are more communications. Mr. President, does this mean that the Syrian state is practically moving towards a military decisive action in the south regardless of the consequences, whether things reach a stalemate or not? Is a decisive action in the cards for the Syrian leadership?

President Assad: No, MOC has nothing to do with this decision. MOC has been linked to the presence and the role of the terrorists since the beginning of the war on Syria. That’s why it existed: in order to lead them militarily. Consequently, the continued existence of this operations room means the continuation of the role given to these terrorists, i.e. they are equipped and prepared to carry out more terrorist acts. MOC is linked to the terrorists and not to the role of the Syrian state. Our role has nothing to do with it. Our decision has been clear from the beginning: we will liberate all Syrian lands. As to when to move south, north, east, or west, this is a purely military issue. But regardless of MOC, we have moved towards the south and we are giving the political process a chance. If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force.

Question 5: But there is a confrontation in the south, and the issue is not limited geographically to Syria in the larger political sense. There are the Americans, the Russians, the Iranians, the Israelis, and Hezbollah. All these parties are there in the area. What does that mean? How are you going to deal with this?

President Assad: You are talking about two axes: one supporting terrorism, and represented by the US, Israel, and some flunkies in the region including some Arab and non-Arab states, and an anti-terrorist axis. The first axis supports terrorism and seeks hegemony, while the second axis seeks independence. So, there can be only one result for this confrontation, i.e. the victory of one of these axes. At least, as far as the anti-terrorist axis is concerned, it will not give up the process of cleaning Syria and the region of terrorism and will not give up on the unity of Syrian territory.

As to the other axis, will it change as a result of the reality on the ground? Let’s wait and see. But in terms of substance and convictions, it will not change, while in terms of the political practices dictated by reality and the facts on the ground, it might.

Question 6: Will the Americans leave al-Tanf?

President Assad: The Americans say they are ready, but everyone knows that the Americans are historically professional liars in politics. So why should we believe them? Also, we have to wait and see.

Question 7: Mr. President, what’s happening now in Jordan? Is it linked to what’s happening on the southern front in particular, i.e. is it linked to what is being plotted in that region, in your view?

President Assad: In fact, the only information we have is what we hear in the media. In any case, we wish Jordan stability, not chaos, because the latter will have a negative impact on us.

Question 8: Since we are talking about the south, let’s close this file. Mr. President, what would make the Israeli occupation agree to the return of the Syrian Army to the borders, i.e. a return to the situation which existed at the beginning of 2011, after seven years of repeated Zionist attempts, directly and indirectly, to undermine the Syrian state, the regime in Syria, and stability in Syria. Why would it agree now to the return of the Syrian Army to the borders and to the occupied Golan?

President Assad: Certainly, neither conviction, morality, nor international law means anything to the Israelis. Since the beginning of the war, particularly when it started to have a clear military nature on the southern front in particular, the Israelis used to shell Syrian forces continuously, and consequently provide direct support to the terrorists. Israeli artillery and aircraft are the terrorists’ artillery and aircraft. That applies to Jabhat al-Nusra of course. Nothing is going to change this Israeli approach. As far as we are concerned, Israel’s approval had no role at all. Despite Israeli support to the terrorists, we have been doing our job, and the Syrian Army is fighting its way towards the southern front, and has liberated a number of areas within the limits of its capabilities. So, with or without its approval, the decision is a Syrian one, and this is a national duty we shall carry out.

Question 9: So, a return of the Syrian Army is better than having resistance in the Golan, for instance?

President Assad: For the Israelis?

Journalist: Yes.

President Assad: I think the two options are bad for the Israelis. Both of them are bad. Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has repeatedly talked about Syria’s relationship with the resistance and a Syrian role in the resistance. So, how would the Israelis choose between two bad things for them?

Question 10: As you said, Mr. President, Israel has financed, supported, and more dangerously was capable of enlisting a large number of Syrians, some of whom were treated inside occupied Palestine. They talked about it. In the future, how would you deal with this large number of Israeli agents? Maybe some of them were misled and Israel might have exploited the financial and living conditions of some; and some have chosen to side with the Israelis. How would you deal with them in the future?

President Assad: This is true; we cannot put everyone in the same basket. There are different reasons for moving in this wrong direction; and these people have wronged the homeland and every Syrian citizen. Ultimately, they are the children of this homeland, and we all bear responsibility for this problem, not only those who have done wrong. When crime, for instance, becomes widespread in a certain country, the whole society bears responsibility for this crime, not only the security agencies or the criminals themselves. The first thing that should be done is to accommodate these people. Second, we need to address the root causes which led to this case of weak patriotism. The causes here are many and complicated, and the scope of this interview doesn’t allow for all of them to be mentioned.

Question 11: In the same context, while you are talking about restoring the Syrian air defense systems and confronting the Zionist occupation, statements have been made by leaders of the Israeli entity that they will strike at the depth of Syrian territory. How would you deal with that situation, particularly that balance has been achieved recently, i.e. balance between Israeli aggressions and Syrian responses?

President Assad: Basically, we haven’t stopped responding. First of all, we haven’t stopped fighting terrorists, and at the same time we haven’t stopped responding to Israeli aggression within the capabilities available to us, militarily and technically. Moreover, the more these capabilities improve; the response will be better and higher. But in fact the strongest response to Israel now is to strike the Israeli army existing in Syria which consists practically of the terrorists.

Journalist: You consider them an Israeli army?

President Assad: Of course, for they are acting clearly and starkly in Israel’s interest. The first acts they carried out were attacks against the air defense systems. What is the link between air defense systems and the terrorists acting as infantry on the ground? This was an Israeli order. It was an Israeli-American order because it is the same thing. So, they are Israel’s army inside Syria; and the first strike against Israel, politically, militarily, and in every other area, is to strike Israel’s terrorists inside Syria, whether they belong to ISIS, al-Nusra, or the other groups linked to the Israeli plan and strategy.

Journalist: If Israel escalates, are you prepared to respond more forcefully?

President Assad: This is what’s happening. It is escalating, and we are responding. Ultimately, we are fighting the war within the capabilities available to us, and we are doing our best within these capabilities. A response does not need a political decision. I stress that responding or not responding is not a political decision. It is a national decision, and it was taken from day one. But implementing this decision depends on what we can do militarily and not politically.

Question 12: In terms of capabilities, there is one issue in the media which we are always following, i.e. the S300 Russian missiles. Russia says, “We will deliver these missiles”, and then says, “We will not deliver them”, which means that the issue is not clear. What is happening exactly? Why this Russian hesitation, in your view, in delivering the S300 missiles to Syria, while some other countries have been seeking S400, i.e. they are ahead of us in this regard.

President Assad: You know that military action and military considerations are part of political considerations. Consequently, a statement, even if it is of a military nature, carries at the same time political messages. So, why did the Russians say that they want to send or not send? This is a statement that the Russians should be asked about because it might be part of their political tactics. As to the military aspect of the statement, which concerns Syria, it’s not our custom to talk about the weapon which will be delivered or not delivered. The evidence was that the weapons used in response to the last two aggressions, the tripartite aggression and after that the Israeli aggression, were not announced by Syria. We traditionally do not announce cases of a technical military nature.

Journalist: So, even the nature of the response is not linked to the issue of the S300 missiles?

President Assad: No. The same applies. Even if the S300 missiles will be provided or not provided, we will not say that they were delivered to Syria. A weapon is used when it must be used.

Journalist: Is there a possibility that you have developed certain weapons?

President Assad: This remains a possibility. In any case, the result is the same: weapons shouldn’t be talked about until they are used. Weapons announce themselves only when they are used.

Question 13: Mr. President, let’s return to the political aspect, since we are talking about the southern front. Regarding the general situation, in light of all that has been achieved on the Syrian arena today, the most prominent actor is the tripartite alliance, or what is being called the tripartite alliance. I mean Syria, Iran, and Russia. What is the nature of this alliance? Is it a temporary alliance, in the sense that it is linked to fighting terrorism or to certain developments on the Syrian arena? Recently, we have started to see – or let’s say some have focused on certain points in order to show – a certain fracture in this alliance. What is your take on that and what is the actual reality of this alliance?

President Assad: If we talk first about the Syrian-Iranian part, for 40 years, and in the different conditions that the Middle East region has gone through, this alliance remained solid. So, there is no reason to say that it is temporary or otherwise. The new element in the war on Syria is the Russian element, and that’s why this tripartite alliance came into existence. Our relationship with Russia is now about seven decades old. Despite the fluctuations and the fall of the Soviet Union, the rule of President Yeltsin, and the deterioration of these relations to a large degree for us, it has never reached the stage of reversing this relationship with Syria. Russia continued to deal with Syria as a friendly state, and we have imported everything from Russia, including weapons, during the different stages of the sanctions imposed on Syria. It is not in the nature of the Russians to build temporary or self-serving alliances or to sell out on relations in order to get deals done. The relationship is definitely a strategic one, but the political statements allowed for these speculations.

These statements also aim at sending messages in different directions. Maybe, sometimes the language or the choice of particular terminology might not be helpful and might take the statement in a different direction at odds with the content of the statement. This happens from time to time. However, these statements shouldn’t be taken out of context: the Russian view of the relationship with Iran is a strategic one. As for Syria, the Russians do not interfere in Syrian affairs. If they have a certain opinion, they raise it with us and say that in the end, the decision is that of the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people. This is a constant principle for Russia. Therefore, the alliance is a strategic one, and if there are differences, such differences happen within the Syrian state, and you see differences within the Iranian state and within the Russian state. It is natural for us to differ on daily tactical details, for why conduct a dialogue if we agree on everything? We meet extensively in order to reach agreement.

Journalist: So, this tripartite alliance is being consolidated.

President Assad: Of course. This is dictated by reality, interest, and international changes that make it necessary for this alliance to be consolidated. As long as the other axis supports terrorism, and as long as we, together with Iran and Russia, feel the danger of terrorism, not only in Syria, but also on all these countries and on the whole world, and as long as Syria, Iran, and Russia realize the importance of abiding by international law, these facts make the existence of this alliance necessary.

Question 14: But there are those who say that Syria will get a price if the Iranians leave Syrian territories. Is there a certain political, moral, or military price in this regard?

President Assad: As I said in the beginning, as long as this relationship is not floated in the bazaar, they cannot offer a price, and the answer will be clear. That’s why they don’t dare suggest this price. This issue was raised by different countries, including Saudi Arabia for instance, at the beginning of the war, and not only at the beginning, but at different stages. The proposition was that if Syria cut its relationship with Iran, the situation in Syria will be normal. This principle is basically rejected by us.

Journalist: So, there were initiatives, so to speak, made in this regard by Saudi Arabia.

President Assad: During the war?

Journalist: Yes.

President Assad: Of course, more than once, and in a clear manner.

Journalist: Directly?

President Assad: Directly. The relationship with Iran was the basis for every proposition; and Saudi Arabia’s position on this subject is public. I’m not revealing a secret.

Question 15: An issue is raised, whether in Syria, Iran, or Lebanon, about the nature of Iranian presence in Syria. Some call them Iranian advisors. Even the Syrian Foreign Minister used the same term. At the same time, we notice that there are Iranian martyrs. Frankly, Mr. President, what is the nature of Iranian presence in Syria now?

President Assad: The term adviser is sometimes used in a broad manner, i.e. these advisers have been with us, through the longstanding relationship with Iran, even before the war, because the military relationship is close. When a military formation moves to a fighting position, the adviser becomes a fighter. So, the word can be used in different senses. There are certainly Iranian advisers in Syria, and there are groups of Iranian volunteers who came to Syria, and they are led by Iranian officers. Iran has fought with and defended the Syrian people. It offered blood. That’s why when we say “advisers” this is a generic term, but this doesn’t mean that we are ashamed of any Iranian presence, even if it is official. But we use the word “advisers” because there are no regular Iranian fighting units in Syria.

Journalist: Full formations.

President Assad: Exactly. There are no battalions, or brigades, or divisions. First, we can’t hide them, and then why should we be ashamed of that? When we invited the Russians legally to come to Syria, we were not ashamed of that. And if there were an Iranian formation, we would announce it, because such relations need agreements between the two states endorsed by parliaments. Such relations cannot be concealed.

Journalist: And you invited Iranian advisers to come?

President Assad: Of course, from the beginning we invited the Iranians, and then we invited the Russians. We needed the support of these countries, and they answered the call.

Journalist: Mr. President, you said more than once that there are no Iranian bases in Syria.

President Assad: That’s correct.

Journalist: Why there are no Iranian bases, while we notice that there are a number of Russian bases?

President Assad: There’s nothing that prevents the existence of such bases as long as Iran is an ally as is Russia.

Journalist: This means that if Iran requested the existence of such bases, you would agree?

President Assad: If we ask. We will ask them to agree. I mean that we could ask for the existence of such forces to support us. Iran has never asked and does not have an interest except in fighting terrorism. But the evolution of the war made it necessary to develop the nature of this presence.

This happened as far as the Russians are concerned. In the beginning, Russian support, like Iranian support, was different from what it is today. The support for terrorism has developed internationally and globally when the Syrian Army confronted those terrorists, and with that Russian and Iranian military presence developed. At a certain stage, we found – with the Russians of course – that the existence of air bases was necessary to provide air support to the Syrian Army. And now, if we find, in cooperation, coordination, or dialogue with the Iranians, that there is a need for Iranian military bases, we will not hesitate. But now, Iranian support in its present form is good and effective.

Question 16: Why haven’t you visited Iran so far, although you visited Russia more than once?

President Assad: That’s correct. In fact, there was a scheduled visit to Iran a few months ago, and it was postponed and not cancelled. It was postponed because of an emergency in Syria related to the development of battles. There is certainly no reason which prevents such a visit, and I’ll visit Iran hopefully soon on the earliest opportunity. This is natural, but the issue is logistic, no more, no less.

Question 17: Mr. President, I move to another file. Last week, it was the Jerusalem International Day, and the Palestinian cause is going through its most difficult stages. We are talking about the “deal of the century”, and moving the American Embassy to occupied Jerusalem. What do you have to say about Palestine? Is Syria still capable of supporting the Palestine cause? Basically, wasn’t one of the most important objectives of the war on Syria to get Syria out of the axis of resistance and to prevent it from supporting resistance, whether in Lebanon or Palestine?

President Assad: The Palestine context, since 1948 up till now, has been a complicated one, because the regional context is complicated. Of course, it is complicated because the colonial West, which is particularly supportive of Israel, has always created elements which aim at one single thing. First, to drive to desperation the Arab citizen who is historically attached to the cause of Palestine and who has always considered it a pan-Arab cause that touched him even on the national level.

The other objective has been to distract the Arab peoples together with states or societies in general to marginal causes so that they do not have time to think about Israel. And they have succeeded to a great extent, most recently through the so-called Arab spring which has aimed at destroying the political, military, and psychological infrastructure of Arab societies.

Nevertheless, recent development have proven that the Arab people is still conscientiously attached to the cause of Palestine. As for Syria – since it has been part of these plots to undermine the Arab condition in general – first, for Syria to support the cause of Palestine, it should first of all destroy the Israeli army in Syria. Restoring stability in Syria, striking terrorism, and foiling the Israeli plot in Syria is certainly part of supporting the cause of Palestine. The support might be indirect with direct consequences, but these direct consequences are linked to the internal Palestinian condition. We shouldn’t forget that the Palestinians are divided between groups which resist Israel and are genuinely linked to the cause of Palestine, and other groups which are against the resistance and support surrenderist and defeatist peace, while there are other groups which use resistance as a title in order to achieve their political objectives under the slogan of religion. This is of course the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach.

Question 18: Are you prepared to offer whatever the resistance asks of you, whether in the form of political, military, or any other form of support?

President Assad: Politically, we haven’t changed. The Palestinian question for us is still as it was ten years ago and decades ago. It hasn’t changed. As to what we can offer, this has to do with two things: first, Syria’s current capabilities; and there’s no doubt that the priority is given now to cleaning Syria of terrorism. Second, it has to do with the Palestinian condition and the parties with which we can deal within the Palestinian arena.

Question 19: Since we are talking about resistance, there is the other side. In addition to some countries which stood beside Syria in fighting terrorism, there was also a role played by the resistance in Lebanon, particularly Hezbollah, which provided a great deal and contributed to fighting terrorism. What do you say, Mr. President, to resistance fighters and families of martyrs and the wounded?

President Assad: When all these groups of resistance get together to defend Syrian soil and Syrian citizens, including the Lebanese resistance and the brothers who came from Iraq some of whom reproached me for not mentioning them by name, I take this opportunity to stress that there are brothers from Iraq to whom we give the same weight of any resistance fighter who came from any other country.

There are also the families of resistance fighters who came from Iran and sacrificed their blood in Syria. We should put all these in the same basket next to the Syrian martyrs, fighters, and their families. To those I say that all the letters, the words, the sentences, and the whole of literature are much less than a single drop of blood. Therefore, words are of a much lesser value than what they have offered. What’s more important is what history will write about them.

In fact, when we talk about writing history, we need to highlight that history needs a strategy and needs tactics, but the fact remains that strategy without implementation on the ground has no value. It remains mere thought which we might include in books and essays. But the reality is that these individuals in these countries, this group of resistance fighters, not politics, write history. I would like to use the answer to this question to express to them all my love, respect, and appreciation, and my reverence to the fighters, the wounded, and martyrs, and to all their families who are courage incarnated and who sent these individuals to Syria to defend it and fight terrorism, so that these families become models of morality and principles for present and future generations.

Question 20: Have you asked Hezbollah to leave Syria? A few days ago His Eminence Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah talked about this issue and said that nobody can get us out of Syria unless the Syrian leadership asked us to do so.

President Assad: The battle is long and ongoing. When we talk about this tripartite alliance – and if we consider it a quadruple alliance when we add Hezbollah, we talk about the tripartite alliance in terms of the states included, but in the end Hezbollah is a basic element in this war – the battle is long, and the need for these military forces will continue for a long time. When there is a need, and when Hezbollah, Iran, or others believe that terrorism has been eliminated, they will tell us that they want to go home. As Sayyed Hasan said, they have families and daily interests, which is normal, but it is still early to talk about this subject.

Question 21: Up till now, there are still areas under the control of terrorism and areas under occupation. At the same time, regretfully, some Arab countries, and here I am talking particularly about Saudi Arabia, announced that it is ready to send forcers to Syria. On the other hand, a few days ago popular tribal units were formed to resist occupation. Are these really popular resistance units? Do they receive support from the Syrian government? Does this mean that the army cannot liberate those areas, and that’s why it is asking for the help of the tribes? What is the nature of this issue?

President Assad: There are different forms of this resistance which appeared a few years ago. In the beginning they were fighting ISIS before they started to fight the occupiers. They were against ISIS in the central and eastern regions, and there were cases where they appeared in other regions which were not given media coverage and about which we hear sometimes through information and indications.

Now, this situation has started to expand. So, it’s not one single case. There are a number of cases which might be individual sometimes, or in the form of small groups not affiliated to an organization. In any case, our position as a state has been from the beginning to support any act of resistance, whether against terrorists or against occupying forces, regardless of their nationality, i.e. American, French, Turkish, or Israeli. We support these resistance forces based on our national role as a government.

Question 22: What about Saudi Arabia and sending Saudi forces to Syria?

President Assad: First, when we talk about a state, we should assume that such a state can take decisions independently. That’s why we will not talk about the role of Saudi Arabia. You better ask me about the American decision on this issue.

Question 23: On the other hand, there are a number of Arab countries which we talk about and which had a role or contributed to the role or to the destruction of Syria. These countries are now trying to get to Syria through the reconstruction process. What do you say in this regard, particularly that these countries are the ones which have capital and huge financial power? How are you going to deal with that?

President Assad: Reconstruction in Syria is not a cause for concern for us. It needs two factors: first, the human factor which is more important than the financial factor. When a country like Syria possesses the human factor, the financial cost will be less when it comes to reconstruction. This is self-evident, and we possess all these factors despite the fact that many competent and qualified Syrians have immigrated because of the war.

But we still have the capability to start reconstruction. And the evidence is clear now, for the state is moving forward and reconstruction has begun. As to money, the Syrian people have financial capabilities, capital, most of which is not in Syria, but outside Syria. But there is capital waiting for reconstruction to begin, so it will begin investing. On the other hand, there are the friendly countries which have capabilities and have the desire; and we have the desire to have them participate in reconstruction, so that they benefit and we Syrians benefit from this process. In the end, we do not need those countries and we will never allow them to be part of reconstruction.

Journalist: Never?

President Assad: Absolutely.

Journalist: Not even if there was a need in this regard, I mean in terms of financial resources?

President Assad: Financial resources are not everything. As I said, this is available. There are different sources in the world and in Syria for capital.

Question 24: With these tough years, we are talking about the legendary steadfastness of the Syrian Army, the Syrian people, the Armed Forces. If you wanted to talk about two cases, the most difficult case or incident that you have encountered during these years, and on the other hand the best and most beautiful case.

President Assad: It is natural, at the heart of the military battle, for the best and worst cases to be linked to the development of the military battle. If I say that the worst cases were when terrorists used to control a certain area, this is self-evident, but it is related more to specific battles, particularly when the area is strategic or the city is big with a large population. Consequently, the impact will be much greater psychologically and in terms of morale.

But there was an ongoing situation which we are still living and we must think about: when a martyr or a group of martyrs fall, and this is ongoing on a weekly basis for us, we must think that a family lost a dear one who cannot be compensated. He might be compensated by achieving victory at a certain stage, but on the family, psychological and human level, you cannot compensate a dear one lost to a certain family, or maybe a friend. This is a very painful situation which we have lived and continue to live. This will not stop until the war itself stops. But there were painful cases at the beginning of the war, when you see this huge lack of patriotism. They were perhaps a minority, but a large minority, of individuals who were prepared to sell the homeland and trade it together with their principles, if they had ones, in return for money or a certain interest, in addition to a certain percentage of extremism.

On the other hand, there were victories, particularly when victories started in the city of al-Qsair in 2013, and culminated in the city of Aleppo in 2016, that was the beginning of the major victories. That was followed by Deir Ezzor, and today we are living the joy of liberating Damascus and its countryside. This is a situation we have all lived through, and you were with us, and I am sure you feel the same joy.

Question 25: Have you felt tired at a certain moment? Have you felt hesitant at a certain moment, in light of all the decisions you have taken, have you ever, even for a moment, thought of leaving? Haven’t you said to yourself: let me save my family and resign, as some people did at a certain point in time?

President Assad: This question might be raised in a personal manner. When I am faced with a personal situation as an individual, I might feel despair after a few months. I might feel tired or bored or I might want to move to a different situation, or give up. That is possible.

Journalist: As an individual?

President Assad: Of course, as an individual, but the case you are proposing is not personal, it is national. Imagine yourself in a different condition, perhaps building something on your own. You feel tired, but when you see a large number of people helping you build it and share the same determination, you forget the tiredness.

Now we are in a national situation. We are talking about millions of Syrians. When you see a shell striking and victims falling anywhere in Syria, you feel frustrated. But when you see life being restored to the same area after one hour, your psychological condition changes. When you see that the electricity worker, the oil worker, the teacher, the employee, are moving side by side with fighters, moving without despair and without tiredness, how can you feel tired? This is a collective condition not related to me as a person. It has to do with our human condition when we are together as a society. How do we live? This defines whether you are tired or not. Would the Syrian society have arrived at this stage of despair and surrender, I would certainly have been with it. I would have surrendered because I do not have the necessary elements for steadfastness. This is self-evident.

Journalist: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for giving us this opportunity, and for your candidness in answering these questions. Thank you very much.

 

 

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US president’s remarks called anything from “fair” to “high treason and impeachable” as American Deep State gets called out more strongly than ever

Seraphim Hanisch

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US president's summit remarks called "high treason and impeachable" as American Deep State gets called out more strongly than ever

It is when the hornet’s nest gets beaten and knocked out of the tree that the hornets get really dangerous. It is when the fire ant hill gets stirred with a stick and dug up that the ground seethes with angry ants who are ready to bite anything to defend themselves. And so it is with the elements of the American Deep State, as their vaunted hopes of hanging Trump from the noose of RussiaGate got beaten to the ground and destroyed, not only by the president’s meeting with the Russian head of state, but also by the response from President Vladimir Putin himself after the summit.

The long-awaited (or long feared maybe) July 16th Helsinki Summit between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin is now being entered into the annals of history. What history will say eventually about this remains to be seen, but the reaction of the mainstream press and some political officials really resembles the angry hornets more than anything.

Fox News gave a great summary of some of the comments, which are listed here as headlines, with each a story in itself:

Trump blasts Mueller probe, Putin denies meddling as leaders tout summit as ‘success’

RECAP: Putin admits he wanted Trump to beat Hillary; both agree there was no collusion

Media slams Trump following Putin summit: ‘One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president’

Dem Senator: There’d be ‘huge uproar’ from GOP if Obama believed Putin over intel community

Kremlin critic Bill Browder fires back at Putin after press conference

‘It’s glaring hypocrisy:’ Terror expert compares reaction of Trump’s Russia efforts to Obama’s

And the UK Daily Mail gave some interesting details in one of their reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin told a room full of U.S. and Russian reporters that he wanted Donald Trump to win the presidency in 2016 – and Trump said he believed Putin’s denials of interfering in 2016 – in just two of the many revelations in a joint press conference that only fueled the spectacle of the Russia story.

And RT followed with much more on this:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he actually wanted Donald Trump to win the 2016 US presidential election. Russia, however, did not contribute to Trump’s win by any means, he insisted.

“Yes, I wanted him to win, because he talked about the need to normalize US-Russia ties,” Putin said, answering a direct question from a journalist during the joint press conference with Donald Trump following the Helsinki summit.

“Candidate Trump was talking about the need to re-establish relations with Russia. That led to an opinion among the Russian people that he was the preferable candidate. That’s natural,” Putin said.

The Russian president left the second part of the question unanswered, however, regarding whether he “instructed” his officials to help Trump, since he had discussed the allegations of meddling earlier during the press conference.

“Russia did not interfere and is not going to interfere into American domestic affairs,” Putin stated, adding that this point had been made repeatedly. Moscow was ready to participate in a joint investigation with the US of any such allegations, however, if any real evidence was presented, the Russian leader said. Such work could be conducted by a joint Russian-US cybersecurity group, the idea of which was floated by Putin during his last meeting with Trump in Hamburg.

The hornets were extremely angry:

Not all of the hornets were Democrats. Some notable Republicans got into the fray as well.

Fox News reported this statement made by a ranking Republican:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been out of Washington for months battling brain cancer, issued a blistering statement calling the performance “disgraceful.”

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world,” McCain said, calling the president’s comments at the press conference “a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency.”

Even the House Speaker, Representative Paul Ryan, said, “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.”

And Fox went on:

Other Republicans, while not as fierce as McCain, also criticized Trump, reminding him that Russia is not considered a “friend” of the U.S.

“Russia is not our friend. Russia attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans. Our intelligence community, including the current one, concluded this, as did the Majority House Intelligence Committee report, as did our fellow Americans who served on grand juries which returned true bills on two separate occasions,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in a statement, urging administration officials to “communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success.”

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., also stressed that Putin “is not our friend and never has been.”

And one more of these reactive folks is none other than William Browder, the Hillary donor who is accused of stealing some $238 million from Russia through tax fraud. When President Putin addressed the issue of William Browder to President Trump, this probably got Mr. Browder a bit alarmed. However, he has a lot of accolades in the US presently as a “expert” on Putin, really one who helps fuel the “Putin is a monster, choose your flavor” narrative, and he took to Fox News to fire back at President Putin:

Putin’s plan, which Trump called an “incredible offer,” was to question the 12 Russians indicted for allegedly meddling in the election, allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team to be present — if U.S. officials “reciprocate.” Putin suggested this would mean Russian agents could be present for questioning U.S. officers “of interest” to them.

“So we can bring up Mr. Browder,” Putin said during the joint press conference, accusing his associates of illicit activity in Russia.

“I’m not even an American citizen,” Browder told Fox News. “I’m a British citizen and have lived here for 29 years.”

The Duran has run a few pieces about this man, and what Mr. Browder did not tell Fox News was WHY he is a British citizen. Neither did Fox ask, apparently.

There was enough light simply blasted into the formerly murky intrigue of the US – Russia relationship to get a whole lot of people’s attention. They are not happy about it, and the fallout from this will likely continue for days and weeks to come.

President Trump was wry about this, as he knows he will never win with the mainstream press, especially about Russia, as noted in the Daily Mail:

Trump landed in Helsinki for his high-stakes summit with Putin on Sunday after ranting that no set of concessions – no matter how large the consequences – would be good enough for media critics he branded the ‘enemy of the people.’

‘Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia,’ he said, ‘over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!’

Trump sent out the missive focusing about how his actions would be perceived in the press after indicating in an interview that he had low expectations for the summit and failing to articulate what goals he had in mind for the face-to-face.

 

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Clinging to Collusion: Why Evidence Will Probably Never Be Produced in the Indictments of ‘Russian Agents’

Mueller’s indictment against 12 GRU agents who allegedly carried out the DNC hack is fact free and does not support charge of collusion against Trump campaign.

Joe Lauria

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Mueller's indictment against 12 GRU agents who allegedly carried out the DNC hack is fact free and does not support charge of collusion against Trump campaign.

This article was first published by Consortium News and is republished with permission.

The indictment of 12 Russian ‘agents,’ which included no collusion with Trump’s team, is essentially a political and not legal document because it is almost certain the U.S. government will never have to present any evidence in court, reports Joe Lauria. 

Charges against 12 Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking emails from the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential election were announced by the U.S. Justice Department on Friday at the very moment President Donald Trump was meeting Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and just days before a summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

A central claim of Russia-gate has been that the Russian government with help from the Trump campaign stole emails from the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign and then gave those emails to WikiLeaks for publication to damage Clinton’s quest for the White House.

Until Friday however, the investigation into the allegations had produced no formal indictment of Russian government interference in the election. Like previous U.S. government accusations against Russia for alleged election meddling, the indictment makes assertions without providing evidence. Indictments do not need to show evidence and under U.S. law, indictments are not considered evidence. And it is highly unlikely that the government will ever have to produce any evidence in court.

Friday’s indictments do not include any charges against Trump campaign members for allegedly colluding with the Russian government to carry out the hacks. That has been at the core of allegations swirling in U.S. media for two years. If the alleged co-conspirators “known” to the DOJ were on the Trump team, the indictments do not say. There is only a hint that “unknown” persons might be.

In announcing the indictments at a press conference Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said: “The conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the internet. There’s no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.”

The indictment alleges that Russian agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, communicated on Aug. 15, 2016 with “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump campaign, mostly like advisor Roger Stone, who has spoken about communicating with Guccifer 2.0. The indictment says Guccifer offered to “help u anyhow,” apparently indicating that Stone did want Guccifer 2.0’s help.

Clinging to ‘Collusion’

The lack of evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia has never stopped Democrats and their media outlets from believing unnamed U.S. intelligence sources for two years about such collusion. “Collusion” is the title of a best-selling book about the supposed Trump-Russia conspiracy to steal the election, but such a charge is not to be found.

The indictment excluding collusion also undermines the so-called Steele dossier, a work of opposition research paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign masquerading as an intelligence document because it was compiled by a former MI6 agent. The memos falsely claimed, it turns out, that Trump’s people started colluding with Russia years before he became a candidate.

But even after Friday’s indictments failed to charge anyone from Trump’s team, the Democratic media continued to insist there was collusion. A New York Times story, headlined, “Trump Invited the Russians to Hack Clinton. Were They Listening?,” said Russia may have absurdly responded to Trump’s call at 10:30 a.m. on July 27, 2016 to hack Clinton’s private email server because it was “on or about” that day that Russia allegedly first made an attempt to hack Clinton’s personal emails, according to the indictment, which makes no connection between the two events.

If Russia is indeed guilty of remotely hacking the emails it would have had no evident need of assistance from anyone on the Trump team, let alone a public call from Trump on national TV to commence the operation.

And as Twitter handle “Representative Press” pointed out: “Trump’s July 27, 2016 call to find the missing 30,000 emails could not be a ‘call to hack Clinton’s server’ because at that point it was no longer online. Long before Trump’s statement, Clinton had already turned over her email server to the U.S. Department of Justice.” Either the indictment was talking about different servers or it is being intentionally misleading when it says “on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”

GRU HQ, Moscow.

Instead of Trump operatives, the indictments name 12 Russians, allegedly agents from the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. The agents “knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury (collectively the ‘Conspirators’), to gain unauthorized access (to ‘hack’) into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the 29-page indictment says.

“Starting in at least March 2016, the Conspirators used a variety of means to hack the email accounts of volunteers and employees of the U.S. presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton (the ‘Clinton Campaign’), including the email account of the Clinton Campaign’s chairman,” the indictment says.

Obvious Timing

The timing of the announcement was clearly intended to embarrass Trump as he was meeting the Queen and to undermine his upcoming meeting with Putin on July 16. The indictments may also have been meant to embarrass Russia two days before the World Cup final to be held in Moscow.

Pressure was immediately brought on Trump to cancel the summit in light of the indictments, which may have been the main goal in the timing of their announcement. “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement less than an hour after the indictments were announced. “President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections,” Schumer said.

With no apparent irony, The New York Times reported, “The timing of the indictment … added a jolt of tension to the already freighted atmosphere surrounding Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin. It is all but certain to feed into the conspiratorial views held by the president and some of his allies that Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors are determined to undermine Mr. Trump’s designs for a rapprochement with Russia.”

Russia Denies

Meanwhile, back in Washington … (ABC screenshot)

The Russian government on Friday strongly denied the charges. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry called the indictments “a shameful farce” that was not backed up by any evidence. “Obviously, the goal of this ‘mud-slinging’ is to spoil the atmosphere before the Russian-American summit,” the statement said.

The Ministry added that the 12 named Russians were not agents of the GRU.

“When you dig into this indictment … there are huge problems, starting with how in the world did they identify 12 Russian intelligence officers with the GRU?” said former CIA analyst Larry Johnson in an interview with Consortium News. Johnson pointed out that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency was not allowed to take part in the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on alleged interference by the GRU. Only hand-picked analysts from the FBI, the NSA and the CIA were involved.

“The experts in the intelligence community on the GRU … is the Defense Intelligence Agency and they were not allowed to clear on that document,” Johnson said.

“When you look at the level of detail about what [the indictment is] claiming, there is no other public source of information on this, and it was not obtained through U.S. law enforcement submitting warrants and getting affidavits to conduct research in Russia, so it’s clearly intelligence information from the NSA, most likely,” Johnson said.

CrowdStrike’s Role

The indictment makes clear any evidence of an alleged hack of the DNC and DCCC computers did not come from the FBI, which was never given access to the computers by the DNC, but instead from the private firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC. It is referred to as Company 1 in the indictment.

“Despite the Conspirators’ efforts to hide their activity, beginning in or around May 2016, both the DCCC and DNC became aware that they had been hacked and hired a security company (“Company 1”) to identify the extent of the intrusions,” the indictment says.

Dimitri Alperovitch, a CrowdStrike co-founder, is also a senior fellow at the anti-Russian Atlantic Council think tank.

The indictment doesn’t mention it, but within a day, CrowdStrike claimed to find Russian “fingerprints” in the metadata of a DNC opposition research document, which had been revealed by DCLeaks, showing Cyrillic letters and the name of the first Soviet intelligence chief. That supposedly implicated Russia in the hack.

CrowdStrike claimed the alleged Russian intelligence operation was extremely sophisticated and skilled in concealing its external penetration of the server. But CrowdStrike’s conclusion about Russian “fingerprints” resulted from clues that would have been left behind by extremely sloppy or amateur hackers—or inserted intentionally to implicate the Russians.

One of CrowdStrike’s founders has ties to the anti-Russian Atlantic Council raising questions of political bias. And the software it used to determine Russia’s alleged involvement in the DNC hack, was later proved to be faulty in a high-profile case in Ukraine, reported by the Voice of America.

The indictment then is based at least partially on evidence produced by an interested private company, rather than the FBI.

Evidence Likely Never to be Seen

Other apparent sources for information in the indictment are intelligence agencies, which normally create hurdles in a criminal prosecution.

“In this indictment there is detail after detail whose only source could be intelligence, yet you don’t use intelligence in documents like this because if these defendants decide to challenge this in court, it opens the U.S. to having to expose sources and methods,” Johnson said.

If the U.S. invoked the states secret privilege so that classified evidence could not be revealed in court a conviction before a civilian jury would be jeopardized.

Such a trial is extremely unlikely however. That makes the indictment essentially a political and not a legal document because it is almost inconceivable that the U.S. government will have to present any evidence in court to back up its charges. This is simply because of the extreme unlikelihood that arrests of Russians living in Russia will ever be made.

In this way it is similar to the indictment earlier this year of the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg, Russia, a private click bait company that was alleged to have interfered in the 2016 election by buying social media ads and staging political rallies for both Clinton and Trump. It seemed that no evidence would ever have to back up the indictment because there would never be arrests in the case.

But Special Counsel Robert Mueller was stunned when lawyers for the internet company showed up in Washington demanding discovery in the case. That caused Mueller to scramble and demand a delay in the first hearing, which was rejected by a federal judge. Mueller is now battling to keep so-called sensitive material out of court.

In both the IRA case and Friday’s indictments, the extremely remote possibility of convictions were not what Mueller was apparently after, but rather the public perception of Russia’s guilt resulting from fevered media coverage of what are after all only accusations, presented as though it is established fact. Once that impression is settled into the public consciousness, Mueller’s mission would appear to be accomplished.

For instance, the Times routinely dispenses with the adjective “alleged” and reports the matter as though it is already established fact. It called Friday’s indictments, which are only unproven charges, “the most detailed accusation by the American government to date of the [not alleged] Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election, and it includes a litany of [not alleged] brazen Russian subterfuge operations meant to foment chaos in the months before Election Day.”

GRU Named as WikiLeak’s Source

The indictment claims that GRU agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, (who says he is a Romanian hacker) stole the Democratic documents and later emailed a link to them to WikiLeaks, named as “Organization 1.” No charges were brought against WikiLeaks on Friday.

Assange: Denied Russia was his source. (CNBC screenshot)

“After failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016, on or about July 14, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent Organization 1 an email with an attachment titled ‘wk dnc linkl.txt.gpg,’” the indictment says. “The Conspirators explained to Organization 1 that the encrypted file contained instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents. On or about July 18, 2016, Organization 1 confirmed it had ‘the 1Gb or so archive’ and would make a release of the stolen documents’ this week.’”

WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange, who is in exile in the Ecuador embassy in London, has long denied that he got the emails from any government. Instead Assange has suggested that his source was a disgruntled Democratic Party worker, Seth Rich, whose murder on the streets of Washington in July 2016 has never been solved.

On Friday, WikiLeaks did not repeat the denial that a government was its source. Instead it tweeted: “Interesting timing choice by DoJ today (right before Trump-Putin meet), announcing indictments against 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers for allegedly releasing info through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.”

Assange has had all communication with the outside world shut off by the Ecuadorian government two months ago.

Since the indictments were announced, WikiLeaks has not addressed the charge that GRU agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, were its source. WikiLeaks’ policy is to refuse to disclose any information about its sources. WikiLeaks’ denial that the Russian government gave them the emails could be based on its belief that Guccifer 2.0 was who he said he was, and not what the U.S. indictments allege.

Those indictments claim that the Russian military intelligence agents adopted the personas of both Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks to publish the Democratic Party documents online, before the Russian agents, posing as Guccifer 2.0, allegedly supplied WikiLeaks.

The emails, which the indictment does not say are untrue, damaged the Clinton campaign. They revealed, for instance, that the campaign and the Democratic Party worked to deny the nomination to Clinton’s Democratic Party primary challenger Bernie Sanders.

The indictments also say that the Russian agents purchased the use of a computer server in Arizona, using bitcoin to hide their financial transactions. The Arizona server was used to receive the hacked emails from the servers of the Democratic Party and the chairman of Clinton’s campaign, the indictment alleges. If true it would mean the transfer of the emails took place within the United States, rather than overseas, presumably to Russia.

Some members of the Veterans’ Intelligence Professionals for Sanity argue that metadata evidence points to a local download from the Democratic computers, in other words a leak, rather than a hack. They write the NSA would have evidence of a hack and, unlike this indictment, could make the evidence public: “Given NSA’s extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked. The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods.”

That argument was either ignored or dismissed by Mueller’s team.

The Geopolitical Context

US enabled Yeltsin’s reelection.

It is not only allies of Trump, as the Times thinks, who believe the timing of the indictments, indeed the entire Russia-gate scandal, is intended to prevent Trump from pursuing detente with nuclear-armed Russia.  Trump said of the indictments that, “I think that really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia. I think that we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia and a very good chance — a very good relationship with President Putin.”

There certainly appear to be powerful forces in the U.S. that want to stop that.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Wall Street rushed in behind Boris Yeltsin and Russian oligarchs to asset strip virtually the entire country, impoverishing the population. Amid widespread accounts of this grotesque corruption, Washington intervened in Russian politics to help get Yeltsin re-elected in 1996. The political rise of Vladimir Putin after Yeltsin resigned on New Year’s Eve 1999 reversed this course, restoring Russian sovereignty over its economy and politics.

That inflamed American hawks whose desire is to install another Yeltsin-like figure and resume U.S. exploitation of Russia’s vast natural and financial resources. To advance that cause, U.S. presidents have supported the eastward expansion of NATO and have deployed 30,000 troops on Russia’s borders.

In 2014, the Obama administration helped orchestrate a coup that toppled the elected government of Ukraine and installed a fiercely anti-Russian regime. The U.S. also undertook the risky policy of aiding jihadists to overthrow a secular Russian ally in Syria. The consequences have brought the world closer to nuclear annihilation than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

In this context, the Democratic Party-led Russia-gate appears to have been used not only to explain away Clinton’s defeat but to stop Trump — possibly via impeachment or by inflicting severe political damage — because he talks about cooperation with Russia.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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Full text joint news conference by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

US and Russian Presidents agree to disagree on Ukraine, answer questions on Mueller probe, discuss arms control and Syria, commit to improving relations

Alexander Mercouris

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US and Russian Presidents agree to disagree on Ukraine, answer questions on Mueller probe, discuss arms control and Syria, commit to improving relations

This is the official text of the the joint news conference by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the Presidents of the United States and Russia, following their summit meeting in Helsinki as published by the Kremlin’s website.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

The talks with President of the United States Donald Trump were held in a candid and business-like atmosphere. I think they were quite successful and beneficial.

We reviewed the current state and prospects of Russia-US relations and key international issues. It is obvious to everyone that our bilateral relations are undergoing a complicated period but there is no objective reason for these difficulties and the current tense atmosphere.

The Cold War ended long ago, the era of acute ideological confrontation belongs to the distant past, and the situation in the world has fundamentally changed.

Today both Russia and the United States are facing completely different challenges – the mechanisms of international security and stability are dangerously out of balance, there are regional crises, the spread of the threat of terrorism and cross border crime, crime in general, growing world economic problems, environmental and other risks. It is possible to cope with all this only by working together. I hope we will come to this same understanding with our American partners.

Today’s talks reflected the shared desire of President Trump and myself to correct the negative situation in bilateral relations and map out initial steps to improve them, restore an acceptable level of trust and return to the former level of cooperation on all issues of mutual interest.

As a major nuclear power, we have special responsibility when it comes to international security. I consider it important, as we discussed, to get the dialogue on strategic stability and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on track. We made a note with a number of concrete proposals on this matter available to our American colleagues.

We believe that continued joint efforts to fully work through the military-political and disarmament dossier is necessary. That includes the renewal of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, the dangerous situation surrounding the development of elements of the US global missile defence system, the implementation of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, and the topic of deploying weapons in space.

We are in favour of continued cooperation in the sphere of combating terrorism and ensuring cybersecurity. Notably, our special services are working together quite successfully. The most recent example of that is the close operational interaction with a group of US security experts as part of the World Cup in Russia that ended yesterday. Contacts between the special services should be made systematic. I reminded the President of the United States about the proposal to reconstitute the anti-terror working group.

We covered regional crises extensively. Our positions do not coincide on all matters, but nonetheless there are many overlapping interests. We should be looking for common ground and working more closely, including at international forums.

Of course, we talked about regional crises, including Syria. With regard to Syria, restoring peace and harmony in that country could serve as an example of successful joint work.

Of course, Russia and the United States can take the lead in this matter and organise cooperation to overcome the humanitarian crisis and help refugees return to their hearths.

We have all the requisite elements for effective cooperation on Syria. Notably, Russian and American military have gained useful experience of interaction and coordination in the air and on land.

I would also like to note that after the terrorists are routed in southwest Syria, in the so-called “southern zone”, the situation in the Golan Heights should be brought into full conformity with the 1974 agreement on the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces.

This will make it possible to bring tranquillity to the Golan Heights and restore the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Republic and the State of Israel. The President devoted special attention to this issue today.

I would like to emphasise that Russia has a stake in this course of events and will adhere to exactly this position. This will constitute a step towards establishing a just and durable peace on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 338.

It is good that efforts to gradually solve the problem of the Korean Peninsula have begun. This became possible largely because President Trump got personally involved and pursued dialogue in the spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation.

During the talks we openly discussed Russia’s concern over the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear issue. The US knows our position. It remains unchanged. To underscore, due to the nuclear deal Iran has become the country most heavily inspected by the IAEA. This guarantees the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme and facilitates the consolidation of the non-proliferation regime.

Returning to our discussion of the Ukrainian crisis, the importance of observing the Minsk agreements in good faith was noted. The United States could be more resolute in insisting on this and could motivate Ukraine’s leaders to engage in this work.

We paid special attention to the economy. Obviously, there is interest in cooperation in the business circles of both countries. The US delegation was one of the biggest at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in May. It consisted of over 500 US entrepreneurs.

To develop trade and investment, President Trump and I agreed to establish a high-level group that would unite captains of Russian and American business. Business people better understand how to go about mutually beneficial cooperation. Let them consider what can be done and make recommendations.

Once again President Trump touched on the so-called Russian interference in the electoral process in the United States. I had to repeat what I said many times before, including during my personal meeting with the President: Russia has never and will never interfere in US domestic affairs, including the electoral process. We are ready to examine all concrete materials that may be presented, for example, in the framework of the cybersecurity working group, the establishment of which we discussed during our meeting in Hamburg.

And, of course, it is time to unfreeze Russian-US ties between civic organisations and in the cultural and humanitarian sphere. As you know, recently we received a delegation from the US Congress, which was considered almost a historic event, when it should be a regular occurrence.

On this note, we have proposed that the US President think not only on practical issues but also on the philosophy underlying long-term bilateral relations. It would be useful to involve experts on the history and nuances of Russian-US cooperation in this process.

Our idea is to establish an expert council composed of influential Russian and US political analysts, academics, prominent former diplomats and military officers, which would work on finding points of convergence and ways to put bilateral cooperation on a sustainable positive trajectory.

In general, we are satisfied with our first full-scale meeting. Let me say once again that before this, we had only met briefly at international forums. President Trump and I had a good conversation. I hope now we understand each other better, and I thank Donald for this.

Of course, numerous problems remain. We have not managed to clear all the blockages, which would be impossible in one meeting. But I believe we have taken an important first step in this direction.

In conclusion I would like to note that our Finnish hosts helped to create the working atmosphere during the talks. I thank to the leadership of Finland, the Finnish people and residents of Helsinki for what they have done. We know that we have caused a lot of inconvenience for people in Helsinki and we apologise for this.

Thank you for your attention.

President of the United States Donald TrumpI have just concluded a meeting with President Putin on a wide range of critical issues for both of our countries. We had direct, open and deeply productive dialogue. It went very well.

Before I begin, I want to thank President Niinistö of Finland for graciously hosting today’s summit. President Putin and I were saying how lovely it was and what a great job they did. I also want to congratulate Russia and President Putin for having done such an excellent job in hosting the World Cup. It was really one of the best ever, and your team also did very well. It was a great job.

I am here today to continue the proud tradition of bold American diplomacy. From the earliest days of our republic, American leaders have understood that diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility. A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia, but it is good for the world.

The disagreements between our two countries are well-known. President Putin and I discussed them at length today. But if we are going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we are going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests. Too often in both the recent past and long ago we have seen the consequences when diplomacy is left on the table.

We have also seen the benefits of cooperation. In the last century our nations fought alongside one another in the Second World War. Even during the tensions of the Cold War, when the world looked much different than it does today, the United States and Russia were able to maintain a strong dialogue. But our relationship has never been worse than it is now.

However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that. Nothing would be easier politically than to refuse to meet, to refuse to engage, but that would not accomplish anything. As President, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.

Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia forges the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. As President, I will always put what is best for America and what is best for the American people.

During today’s meeting, I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt that this was a message best delivered in person. We spent a great deal of time talking about it, and President Putin may very well want to address it, and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea.

We also discussed one of the most critical challenges facing humanity: nuclear proliferation. I provided an update on my meeting last month with Chairman Kim on the denuclearisation of North Korea, and after today I am very sure that President Putin and Russia want very much to end that problem. They are going to work with us, and I appreciate that commitment.

The President and I also discussed the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism. Both Russia and the United States have suffered horrific terrorist attacks, and we have agreed to maintain open communication between our security agencies to protect our citizens from this global menace. Last year we told Russia about a planned attack in St Petersburg, and they were able to stop it cold. They found them, they stopped them, there was no doubt about it. I appreciated President Putin’s phone call afterwards to thank me.

I also emphasised the importance of placing pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions and to stop its campaign of violence throughout the area, throughout the Middle East.

As we discussed at length, the crisis in Syria is a complex one. Cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. I also made clear that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS. We have just about eradicated ISIS in the area.

We also agreed that representatives from our national security councils will meet to follow up on all of the issues we addressed today and to continue the progress we have started right here in Helsinki.

Today’s meeting is only the beginning of a longer process, but we have taken the first steps towards a brighter future, and one with a strong dialogue and a lot of thought. Our expectations are grounded in realism, but our hopes are grounded in America’s desire for friendship, cooperation and peace, and I think I can speak on behalf of Russia when I say that also.

President Putin, I want to thank you again for joining me for these important discussions and for advancing open dialogue between Russia and the United States. Our meeting carries on a long tradition of diplomacy between Russia and the United States for the greater good of all. And this was a very constructive day, these were very constructive few hours that we spent together. It is in the interests of both of our countries to continue our conversation, and we have agreed to do so. I am sure we will be meeting again in the future often, and hopefully we will solve every one of the problems that we discussed today.

So again, President Putin, thank you very much.

Question: I have a question for the President of the United States.

During your recent European tour, you said that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and other projects make Europe hostage to Russia. You suggested saving Europe from this dependence by supplying US liquefied gas.

This past cold winter proved the viability of the current energy supply system in Europe, at a time where the United States was forced to buy additional liquefied gas, including from Russia, to cover the heating needs of Boston.

So, my question: is your idea more of a political nature? Might it lead to a situation where a gap could develop in Europe’s energy supply system which would impact primarily the consumer countries?

And a second question, if I may. Before the meeting with Mr Putin, you called him a rival, but left hope that, perhaps, you would be able to take these relations to a friendly plane. Did you succeed?

Donald Trump: No, actually, I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. And I think the word ‘competitor’ is a compliment. I think that we will be competing when you talk about the pipeline. I am not sure necessarily that it’s in the best interests of Germany or not, but that was a decision that they made. We will be competing. As you know, the United States is now – or soon will be, but I think it tactually is right now – the largest in the oil and gas world, so we are going to be selling LNG and will have to be competing with the pipeline. And I think we will compete successfully, although there is a little advantage locationally. So I just wish them luck, I mean, I did discuss it with Angela Merkel in pretty strong tones, but I also know where they all are coming from and they have a very close source, so we will see how that all works out. But we have lots of sources now, and the United States is much different than it was a number of years ago, when we weren’t able to extract what we can extract today. So, today we are number one in the world at that and I think we will be out there competing very strongly. Thank you very much.

VladimirPutin: I would like to add a couple of words to that.

I spoke with the President, including on this topic. We are aware of the President’s position. But I believe that we, as a major oil and gas country – and the United States is also such a country – could work constructively to regulate international markets, because we are not interested in a sharp drop in prices below the lower limit. Our producers, including the United States with its shale oil and gas, will be affected by this.

The profit margin of production comes to naught below certain levels. We are not interested in excessively high prices either, because they can kill refining, engineering and other branches of the economy. We have things to discuss and there is room for cooperation. This is my first point.

Second, with regard to Nord Stream 2, the President expressed concerns about the possible end of transit across Ukraine. I assured him that Russia is willing to keep this transit in place. Moreover, we are willing to renew the transit contract, which expires next year, if the dispute between economic agents is settled in the Stockholm Arbitration Court.

Question: Mr President, you tweeted this morning that it is US “foolishness”, “stupidity” and the Mueller probe that are responsible for the decline in US relations with Russia. Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular, and if so, what would you consider that they are responsible for?

Donald Trump: Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish, I think we have all been foolish: we should have had this dialogue a long time ago. A long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we are all to blame. I think now the United States now has stepped forward along with Russia, and we are getting together, and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it is nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping – because we have to do it ultimately, that is probably the most important thing that we can be working on. But I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it has kept us apart. It kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore – so far that I know, virtually none of it related to the campaign – and they are going to have to try really hard to find somebody that did relate to the campaign. That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her – and I am not even saying from the standpoint…we won that race, and it is a shame there can be even a little bit of cloud over it. People know that, people understand it, but the main thing – and we discussed this also – is zero collusion. And it has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous, it’s ridiculous what is going on with the probe.

Question: For President Putin, if I could follow up as well… Why should Americans and why should President Trump believe your statement that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 election given the evidence that US intelligence agencies have provided? And will you consider extraditing the 12 Russian officials that were indicted last week by a US grand jury?

Donald Trump: We, I’m going to let the President answer the second part of this question, but, as you know, the whole concept of that came up perhaps a little bit before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election, which, frankly, they should have been able to win, because the Electoral College is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is for Republicans. We won the Electoral College by a lot – 306 to 223, I believe – and that was a well-fought battle. We did a great job, and, frankly, I am going to let the President speak to the second part of your question, but just to say it one time again, and I say it all the time: there was no collusion; I didn’t know the President; there was nobody to collude with; there was no collusion with the campaign. And every time you hear about all of these twelve or fourteen, it’s stuff that has nothing to do – and frankly, they admit – these are not people involved in the campaign. But to the average reader out there, they are saying well, maybe that does. It doesn’t. And even the people involved – some, perhaps, told mysteries, or in one case the FBI said there was no lie, and somebody else said there was. We ran a brilliant campaign, and that is why I am President. Thank you.

VladimirPutin: Regarding whom you can believe and whom you can’t, you shouldn’t believe anyone. What makes you think President Trump trusts me and that I fully trust him? He defends the interests of the United States of America. I defend the interests of the Russian Federation. We do have converging interests, and we are seeking common ground. We have issues that we disagree on so far. We are seeking options to settle these differences and make our work more constructive.

We should not rely on the momentary political interests of some internal political forces in our countries but on facts. Tell me at least one fact that proves collusion during the election campaign in the United States. This is total nonsense. We did not know each other, the President just said this. It is only natural that the Russian public developed a certain attitude towards the candidates. There is nothing unusual about this.

While a candidate, Mr Trump spoke of the necessity to restore Russia-US relations. Naturally, the Russian public developed a liking for this candidate, and different people expressed this attitude in different ways. Isn’t it natural to have a liking for a person who wants to build relations with our country? This is normal.

We heard accusations against the company Concord. As I understand it, this company hired American lawyers, and the accusations against it just fell apart in a US court. Just follow what happens in US courts. This is what you should base your view on, not on rumours. This is the first thing.

Second, as for the 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers, I don’t know about this yet. I have to find out what it is you’re talking about. The President also asked me this question.

What can I say? Generally, we talked about this, but now it occurs to me what I can suggest. There is the Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters of 1999. By the way, this has proven effective. We initiate up to 150 legal proceedings in Russia at the request of other countries. Several years ago, our former nuclear industry minister was extradited by the United States to Russia and received a sentence in court here. It is an effective treaty. The treaty provides concrete procedures for cooperation.

We can suggest that your relevant commission led by US Special Counsel – what is his name, Mr Mueller or Meller? – should send us, in compliance with this treaty, an official request for interrogating the people that he believes to be guilty of committing a crime. Our Prosecutor-General’s Office and investigative agencies can interrogate these people and forward the relevant materials to the United States.

Moreover, we can take another step to meet you halfway. We can allow US official representatives, including those from the Mueller-led commission, to be present at the interrogation. Certainly, in this case, we will be seeking reciprocal steps from the United States. We’ll expect the American party to interrogate the officials, including the US intelligence officers, who are suspected of committing illegal acts in Russia, in the presence of our investigation officers.

I mean the high-profile case, involving [Bill] Browder’s Hermitage Capital company. According to our investigative officers, a group of people – Mr Browder’s business partners – who illegally made over $1.5 billion in Russia did not pay taxes either in Russia or the United States but transferred this money to the United States. They contributed $400 million to Ms Clinton’s election campaign. This is official information included in their reports – $400 million. Well, it was up to them, they might have done this legally, but the gains were ill-gotten.

We have grounds to suspect that US intelligence officers supported these illegal transactions. This is only one step forward. We can talk about expanding our cooperation. You’re welcome, there might be options that are provided for in the appropriate intergovernmental treaty.

Question: My first question is for Mr Trump in English. Mr President, would you please go into the details of any possible specific arrangements for the US to work together with Russia in Syria, if any of this kind of arrangements were made today or discussed?

If you allow me, a question for President Putin in Russian too. As the subject of football was touched upon several times today, I will ask my question in the language of football. Mr Pompeo said a little earlier that when it comes to discussing coordinated activities in Syria, it’s Russia’s ball now. Mr President, is this true? If so, how did you take advantage of having possession?

Donald Trump: Well, I guess I will answer the first part of the question.

We’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years, many decades. I think that never has any country been closer than we are. President Putin also is helping Israel, and we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu. And they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. So, in that respect we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us, so both countries would work jointly. And I think that when you look at all the progress that has been made in certain sections with the eradication of ISIS – we’re about 98–99 percent there – and other things that have taken place that we have done and that, frankly, Russia has helped us within certain respects. But I think that working with Israel is a great thing, and creating safety for Israel is something that both President Putin and I would like to see very much.

One little thing I might add to that is the helping of people. The helping of people – because you have such horrible…if you see…and I have seen the reports, and I have seen pictures. I have seen just about everything. And if we can do something to help the people of Syria get back into some form of shelter on a humanitarian basis. And that’s what the word was, really: a humanitarian basis. I think that both of us would be very interested in doing that, and we will do that. Thank you very much.

Question: Excuse me, but for now no specific agreements, for instance, between the militaries?

Donald Trump: Well, our militaries do get along. In fact, our militaries actually have gotten along probably better than our political leaders for years, but our militaries do get along very well and they do coordinate in Syria and other places. Ok? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I have already mentioned that we spoke about humanitarian cooperation. I discussed this issue with the President of France, Mr Macron, yesterday and we agreed to step up these efforts with European countries, France included. On our part, we are ready to provide military transport aircraft for humanitarian cargoes. President Trump and I spoke about this as well, and I believe there is room for improvement here.

What is important? Now large numbers of refugees are concentrated in countries bordering on Syria, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan. If we help these people return home, the migration pressure on European Union countries and other countries could be reduced multiple times over. I consider this to be extremely important from all standpoints: both from the humanitarian standpoint, and that of solving the refugee problem.

On the whole, I really agree with the President. Our military cooperation is going quite well. I hope that they will continue to be able to come to agreements just as they have been. We will keep working in the Astana format as well, I mean Russia, Turkey and Iran. I also informed Donald about this today. We are willing to link these efforts with the efforts of the so-called small group of countries to make this a broad process and for us to have the greatest chance of success.

As for the ball being on our side where Syria is concerned. The President just mentioned that we successfully organised and hosted the World Cup. As for the ball… I would like to pass the ball to the President, all the more so because the US will host the World Cup in 2026.

Donald Trump: That’s right, thank you very much, we do host it, and we hope we do as good a job. That is very nice. That will go to my son Barron, there is no question. In fact, Melania, here you go.

Question: Thank you. A question for each president. President Trump, you first. Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is, would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin? Would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

Donald Trump: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I have been wondering that, I have been asking that for months and months, and I have been tweeting it out, and I have been calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know. Where is the server and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it is Russia. I have President Putin – he just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I do not see any reason why it would be.

But I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC. Where are the servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia, they would not have been gone so easily. I think it is a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

So, I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer: he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me add a couple of words to that.

I have worked in intelligence too, and I know how these dossiers are compiled. This is my first point.

My second point is that I consider Russia to be a democratic state. I hope you do not deny this to your country, the United States of America, either. Is the United States a democratic state? If so, then the final ruling in a dispute of this kind can only be made in court, not an intelligence service.

The company I mentioned, Concord, and one of our restaurateurs are being accused of interference. However, they do not represent the Russian state. Even if that is the case, I can imagine. So what? I have given you examples. You have many people, including those with major billion-dollar fortunes, such as Mr Soros. He interferes everywhere he can, but what is this? Is it the position of the American state? No. This is the position of a private person. So it is in this case.

There is a trial in a US court, and the court is always the final instance. Let them figure it out, we will see. This applies to private individuals only, not to the state. I have already spoken about the latest accusations against the alleged employees of our special services. There is an intergovernmental agreement. Go ahead and send an official request. Let the Mueller Commission send us a request, we will do our part and provide an answer.

We can expand this cooperation, as I already mentioned, but only on a reciprocal basis. We, then, would also expect the United States to provide access to the persons we believe are the special services employees. Let’s discuss these matters in substance rather than use Russia-US relations as a bargaining chip in the domestic political strife in the United States.

Question: A question for President Putin, thank you. Two questions for you, sir. Could you tell me what President Trump may have indicated to you about officially recognising Crimea as part of Russia? And secondly, sir, do you, does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?

Vladimir Putin: President Trump sticks to a well-known position on Crimea. He speaks about the illegal nature of annexing Crimea to Russia. We have a different perspective on this. We believe that we held a referendum in strict compliance with international law and the UN Charter. This case is closed for Russia. This is my first point.

My second point is with regard to some compromising materials. I heard about us allegedly collecting dirt on Mr Trump when he was in Moscow. Colleague, when Mr Trump came to Moscow, I was not even aware that he was there. I respect President Trump as head of the United States, but when he came here as a businessman, I was not even aware that he was in Moscow.

Over 500 high-ranking US businessmen came to the St Petersburg Economic Forum. I do not even remember their names. Do you think we are doing intelligence work and collecting compromising material on each one of them? It is hard to imagine bigger nonsense. Please get this rubbish out of your head.

Question: A question for President Putin, thank you. Two questions for you, sir. Could you tell me what President Trump may have indicated to you about officially recognising Crimea as part of Russia? And secondly, sir, do you, does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?

Vladimir Putin: President Trump sticks to a well-known position on Crimea. He speaks about the illegal nature of annexing Crimea to Russia. We have a different perspective on this. We believe that we held a referendum in strict compliance with international law and the UN Charter. This case is closed for Russia. This is my first point.

My second point is with regard to some compromising materials. I heard about us allegedly collecting dirt on Mr Trump when he was in Moscow. Colleague, when Mr Trump came to Moscow, I was not even aware that he was there. I respect President Trump as head of the United States, but when he came here as a businessman, I was not even aware that he was in Moscow.

Over 500 high-ranking US businessmen came to the St Petersburg Economic Forum. I do not even remember their names. Do you think we are doing intelligence work and collecting compromising material on each one of them? It is hard to imagine bigger nonsense. Please get this rubbish out of your head.

Donald Trump: I have to say if they had it, it would have been out long ago. And if anybody watched Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days, and I was in Brussels watching it, it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country, and you would say that was a total witch hunt. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

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