Presenter : Peter Ford was the UK’s Ambassador to Syria from 2003 to 2006. Peter Ford, do you think it’s time for a re-think?
Ford : Absolutely. It’s way overdue. We have clung for too long to the illusion that the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ would overcome Assad. Surely now, with the Government’s recovery of Aleppo, the veils should fall from our eyes and we should look reality in the face: Assad is not going to be removed by force of arms or at the negotiating table. What Britain should do now is three things: we should stop supporting a failed and divided opposition; we should start to try to help the people of Syria by lifting sanctions; and we should be working with the Russians on an overdue political settlement.
Presenter : But the political settlement as we know for many leaders in the Western World does not include Assad in its calculations. Boris Johnson for example, the Foreign Secretary, in September of this year saying he can have no part in the future government of Syria because as long as Assad is in power in Damascus, there will be no Syria to govern. Downing Street [the home of the UK's Prime Minister] saying just earlier this month “the barbaric cruelty shown by the Syrian regime forces shows that President Bashar Assad (sic) has no place in the country’s future.
Ford : Yes, but this is absurd. It’s quite absurd. Assad is in control of over 80% now of the populated area of Syria. There is no reason why, in the months to come, he and his forces will not take the remaining 10, 15 and eventually 20%. He will then be in total control of the country. Of course there will be remaining groups who are not happy, after which, in the whole of recorded history has there ever been a protracted civil conflict like this that left everybody happy under one ruler? There is no Syrian [Nelson] Mandela. There is no leader. Could we even put a name to one opposition leader who would step into Assad’s shoes? It’s absurd. It’s grotesque. It shows that Boris Johnson and Theresa May have lost grip on reality. Now Donald Trump is coming in and if he carries out what he said he’ll carry out he will normalise relations with Russia, he will prioritise the fight against ISIS in Syria, and he will stop working for the overthrow of Assad. When are we going to smell the coffee?
Presenter : Well, you have said that you are deeply concerned by Britain’s continued support for the so-called moderate armed opposition and indeed there have been complaints, there have been allegations of abuse on that side of the War as well. Nevertheless, if you leave aside President Assad and you sak “ok, let him continue through the future diplomacy concerning Syria”, wouldn’t that be condoning him and all he’s done up until now? Chemical weapons, for example, against his own people?
Ford : Look, tonight there is a Christmas Tree in the centre of Aleppo and celebrating people. I think if Assad were removed, and the opposition were in power, you would not be seeing a Christmas Tree in Aleppo. The demonisation of the regime has been taken to ridiculous lengths. Even the end of this crisis with the green buses; there were no green buses in Gaza, there were no green buses when NATO was bombing Yugoslavia to smithereens. This Aleppo campaign has been handled in its final stages with relative humanity. We’ve seen not what some allege to be a meltdown of humanity but a meltdown of sanity. Where are, where’s any evidence of the alleged atrocities, of the Guernica, of the massacres, the genocide, the holocaust?
Presenter : Well, I think you’ll find many people will disagree with that as they have seen people fleeing Eastern Aleppo; the allegations that people have been attacked, prevented from leaving the city. You know there will be these allegations and they will be investigated. In the meantime there’s criticism of both sides, yes indeed, but you are violently disagreeing with an awful lot of senior figures in governments across the World who say – and I just conclude on this – that there is no place for President Assad in the future of Syria. Just again, complete your thought and we will conclude the interview in just a few seconds.
Ford : Well, this flies in the face of reality. Who are they going to put in Assad’s place? To try to continue to overthrow the regime in Syria, as we’ve overthrown regimes elsewhere – in Iraq, and Libya – leads only to more suffering on the part of the ordinary people.
Presenter : Peter Ford, UK Ambassador to Syria in the 2000s, thank you very much indeed.