The Syrian Regime’s Ambivalence Towards President Trump
MESOP NEWS BACKGROUNDER : MEMRI February 21, 2017 – Special Dispatch – No. 6794
Based on statements by Syrian regime officials, chiefly President Bashar Al-Assad himself, and on articles in Syrian government and pro-government press, the regime’s attitude towards U.S. President Donald Trump is characterized by ambivalence. On the one hand, regime officials have thus far expressed cautious optimism regarding the future of relations between the countries out of a desire to maintain good ties with a U.S. administration they see as different from its predecessor and more in line with Russia regarding the Syrian crisis. On the other hand, articles in the official Syrian press did not hold back their criticism of President Trump, particularly after his call to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria.
This report will review the Syrian regime’s position on the Trump administration, as can be gleaned from statements by Assad and articles in the Syrian government and pro-government press:
Assad Welcomes Trump Statements On Combating Terrorism, Calls Syrian Safe-Zone Plan Unrealistic
As said, Bashar Al-Assad’s media statements regarding the new U.S. administration have thus far been characterized by cautious optimism deriving from Trump’s statement that combating terrorism was his top priority. Assad saw this statement as American acceptance of his own view regarding the solution for the Syrian crisis and as a basis for possible collaboration between the Syrian regime and the U.S. in this field. Another potential source of optimism for the Syrian regime is what it sees as Trump’s intention to restore his country’s relations with Russia. Upon assuming office, Assad told Japanese TV: “I believe that the priorities that he [Trump] has set are very important. We hope and expect the next [U.S.] administration to be honest in implementing its statements regarding terrorism, which will benefit not only Syria [but also others], since terrorism today is not a Syrian problem but rather a Middle East and global problem. We hope [Trump] will be sincere in establishing a true coalition to combat terrorists in the region, which [should] obviously include Syria in the foremost position…” In comments to the Belgian media, Assad even called Trump’s remarks on this topic “promising”: “Trump’s statements during and after the campaign, that combating terrorists is his top priority, are promising. This has been our demand throughout the past six years. That is why I believe this is promising. But we must wait. It is still too early to expect anything practical. [The matter] might hinge on the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, which I think will have a positive effect on the entire world, including Syria.”
On a later occasion Assad said he would welcome the presence of U.S. forces in Syria if their goal would be to combat terrorism. He told Yahoo News: “If you [the U.S.] want to start genuinely… to do so [i.e. combat terrorism], it must be through the Syria government… We invited the Russians, and the Russians were genuine regarding this issue. If the Americans are genuine, of course they are welcome. Like any other country, we want to defeat and to fight the terrorists. Of course we can say that without hesitation.”
Assad even expressed sympathy with President Trump’s decision to bar entry into the U.S. to citizens of seven regional countries, including Syria, calling it a sovereign decision: “Every country has the right to put any regulations to enter their country. We can disagree and/or agree. But if you ask me as president, as [an] official in Syria and the Syrian state, my responsibility is not to go and ask any president to allow the Syrians to go there and to have refuge in that country. My responsibility is to restore stability in order to bring them back to Syria and find refuge in their [own] country. So I’m not going to discuss [whether] this is right or wrong. This is [an] American issue.” On a separate occasion, Assad said that Trump’s executive order did not target the Syrian people, but rather terrorists “who could endanger the U.S.” In fact, he defended the U.S. president, saying that the media uproar over his executive order did not stem from solidarity with Syrians but merely from a desire to attack Trump. At the same time, Assad clarified that he would not be able to formulate a position on Trump until he saw his policy on Syria, and stressed: “We must be cautious [in dealing with] any Western leader, because they can say one thing and do the exact opposite… They are not committed to anything, and they are pragmatic to the point of selling out their values. To be more accurate, they do not have any values…”
While Assad did dismiss Trump’s proposal to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria, calling it “unrealistic,” he did so in a cautious diplomatic tone, especially compared to the Syrian regime’s response, in 2014, to a similar proposal by Turkey to establish a safe zone in northern Syria. About Trump’s proposal Assad said: “People definitely do not require safe zones. A more sustainable and less expensive [solution] is to ensure stability rather than establish safe zones, which is an unrealistic idea.” A statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry said, in a similar tone, that any attempt to establish safe zones for refugees without coordinating with Damascus would be “an unsafe action” and a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
This same cautious optimism was apparent in some articles in the official Syrian press. Alongside calls to carefully examine Trump’s moves and decisions, the articles expressed hope for a change in the American administration’s policies. For instance, Tahsin Al-Halabi, a columnist for the daily Al-Watan, which is close to the regime, wrote: “Examining the main principles that the new U.S. President Donald Trump has announced objectively leads us to expect that, if he decides to implement them, we will witness the dawn of a new global American regime this year, which has different working principles than those of the previous global regime of Bush and Obama…” Dr. Turki Saqr, a former Syrian foreign ministry official, wrote in the government daily Al-Ba’ath that Trump’s policy was still unclear, but stressed with satisfaction that “his ascent to the White House throne caused fear and dread in many Western regimes as well as Saudi Arabia, which have [all] relied on the use of terrorist actions and on the destruction of countries and the spilling of their citizens’ blood in order to realize their plans at the expense of the pain and disasters of [other] peoples.”
Articles In Official Syrian Press: Trump’s Decisions Are Racist And Dangerous; He Is Escalating Conflicts
In contrast to Assad’s cautious optimism, many articles in the Syrian government and pro-government press attacked the Trump administration, particularly the call to establish safe zones in Syria. The main argument against this plan was that the Trump administration is no different from those that came before it and is planning to take over regional resources, and might even be more dangerous than previous administrations since Trump makes decisions without comprehensively examining their consequences.
‘Ali Qasim, editor-in-chief of the official Syrian daily Al-Thawra, wrote that President Trump “appears to hastily express many positions without understanding their consequences or being intimately familiar with their details. This is also true of his remarks regarding safe zones, which whetted the appetites of the instigators of terrorism and caused them to cheer… Obviously there is a massive difference in style between Trump and the administrations that came before him, but ultimately he will reorient himself and follow the same path, but in an even more preverse and dangerous manner than his predecessors…”
Similarly, Al-Thawra columnist Muhriz Al-‘Ali wrote: “The strategy of American presidents is uniform, even if their names and parties differ. It is a strategy based on hegemony, control, and the theft of the resources of [other] peoples. But every president has his own methods and tools to carry out this aggressive strategy. Regional peoples should heed the danger posed by these colonialist plans and steadfastly resist them in order to thwart them…”
Another Al-Thawra columnist, Ahmed Hamada, claimed that “Trump’s actions since entering the White House and his racist decisions are completely different from his previous statements and positions. Trump’s actions in all fields indicate that he is carrying out the policy of the neocons and the so-called American ‘Deep State’, meaning those who represent the interests of large greedy corporations, financiers, and intelligence [agencies].”
Al-Thawra columnist Fuad Al-Wadi wrote that the Syrian regime was very suspicious of the Trump administration: “Based on its previous experience, the Syrian state believes that Trump will be no different from his predecessors, [and will continue to believe so] until proven otherwise. Damascus has considered all his contradictory and unexpected [statements and moves], political and non-political, and put them on a list of possibilities providing wide scope for surprises that are in tandem with [Trump’s] controversial character. The only thing we can expect is that he will soon reveal his [true] face and dash all the hopes created by his statements, positions and promises, which were only for the sake of the elections.”
U.S. Under Trump Is Cooperating With Syria’s Enemies
According to many columnists in the Syrian government press, the Trump administration also resembles its predecessors in its hostility to the so-called “resistance axis,” as evident from its statements about Syria’s main rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and its attitude towards Iran, the Syrian regime’s main strategic ally. Waddah ‘Abd Rabbo, editor of the pro-regime daily Al-Watan, wrote that Trump is a businessman and “money is his only goal. To realize his economic campaign promises he is willing to make a deal even with the devil, as was revealed in his conversation with the Saudi king, whose only dream and desire are the destruction of the resistance axis and Iran…”
Al-Thawra columnist ‘Ali Nasrallah wrote: “Trump’s statements regarding his intention to defeat terrorism are at odds with his readiness to continue defending the thrones of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates as long as they pay the required price. To defend the Gulf thrones is to defend the terrorist Wahhabi perception, that is, to ensure its continued existence and spread. In fact, it [means] explicitly siding with this perception, [a position] that has [always] existed but has now been renewed in a different form… It is a prelude to another round in the conflict that the U.S. instigated to divide and fragment the region, harm the resistance axis and destroy all its components…”
Al-Thawra columnist Nasser Mundhir wrote: “It appears that the new occupant of the White House wishes to complicate matters vis-à-vis Syria’s allies and to minimize their role in the upcoming negotiations in Geneva, so as to weaken the Syrian state and try to blackmail it. [His] goal is to achieve via diplomacy everything the array of aggression failed to achieve on the battlefield. The new American administration inherited the tools of terrorism from its predecessors, and it will instruct them as it pleases…”
Trump’s Decisions Are Racist, May Harm U.S. Interests
Columnists in the Syrian government press also warned that Trump’s “impulsive” and “racist” moves, such as his decisions and statements vis-à-vis Syria and Iran, would escalate the situation and ultimately harm U.S. interests. Munir Al-Moussa, a columnist for Al-Thawra, wrote that the safe-zone idea was part of a new American plan that was “a replica of the Sykes-Pico [agreement]” and that Syria would “fight the new plans.” Al-Watan columnist Rif’at Al-Badawi stated that Trump’s decisions and statements had exposed America’s hostile strategy towards the Muslims world, and even thanked him for this: “We must thank the [new] U.S. president for proving that America’s strategy is hostile towards the Muslim world, both Sunni and Shi’ite… Thank you, Donald Trump, for revealing the clear truth about the American-Zionist mentality and ideology that conspires against our Arab and Muslim countries.”
Al-Thawra columnist Muhriz Al-‘Ali wrote that Trump “has [barely] taken up the reins of government, yet the racist policy of his administration has already begun to emerge. This administration has issued decisions and statements and expressed positions that cause considerable apprehension regarding its intentions – [intentions] that increase extremism, struggles, tensions, terror and the danger of new wars and conflicts breaking out in the region and worldwide. Trump’s racism is evident from his decision to ban the citizens of seven regional countries, with the exception of a few minorities, from entering the U.S. This decision could offend the citizens of those countries, and give extremists and terrorists further excuses to endorse even more radical positions and harm U.S. interests. The U.S., [in turn], will use this to interfere in the affairs of the relevant countries under the pretext of fighting terror, and this will exacerbate the violence, the spread of terror and the bloodshed. Trump’s decision regarding safe-zones in Syria sparked further fears… and confirmed that the [U.S.] administration seeks to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs under the pretext of creating safe zones for the protection of civilians. These zones will become safe havens for terrorists and help to defend them rather than fight them…”
In another article, Muhriz Al-‘Ali wrote that Trump’s threats to Iran “indicate that he has not learned the lesson of history” and warned that the “rash behavior” of the U.S. administration sparks fears that the situation may deteriorate badly. He called upon the “reasonable people in the world” to realize that “any ill-considered American adventure could plunge the region into a tragic war with implications for the security and stability of the [entire] world.”
 Several days after assuming office, President Trump said that he intended to establish safe zones in Syria for refugees as a substitute to them coming to the U.S. The president did not provide details on this plan, but he likely aims to establish demilitarized zones in Syrian border regions guarded by foreign elements, in order to prevent the flow of refugees out of the country and to facilitate the return of refugees from neighboring countries. Edition.cnn.com, January 27, 2017. It should be noted that a similar proposal for a refugee safe zone in northern Syria was made by Turkey in 2014.
 Al-Watan (Syria), January 22, 2017.
 SANA (Syria), February 7, 2017.
 Yahoo.com, February 10, 2017.
 SANA (Syria), February 16, 2017.
 The Syrian foreign ministry’s response stated that the Turkish proposal provided all manner of assistance to terrorist organizations operating in Syria and that it constituted a “flagrant violation” of the UN charter and international law, adding that the international community must end Turkey’s violations of international law. It stated further that the Syrian people is determined to protect its sovereignty and oppose all plots that target the integrity of its land, and that Syria would consult with its allies regarding the steps necessary to defend its sovereignty. SANA (Syria), October 15, 2014.
 Dp-news.com, January 30, 2017.
 Al-Watan (Syria), January 22, 2017.
 Al-Ba’ath (Syria), January 22, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 2, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 3, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 9, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 2, 2017.
 Al-Watan (Syria), February 7, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 8, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 8, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 12, 2017.
 Al-Watan (Syria), February 2, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 3, 2017.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), February 13, 2017.