Writer Defends His Handling of Interview With Assad
Even when his country was not convulsed by war, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria rarely gave televised interviews to foreigners. His session with Barbara Walters in December was a public relations disaster. So it seemed surprising a few weeks ago when Mr. Assad granted another Westerner a face-to-face chat on camera.
This time, however, the questions were posed by Jürgen Todenhöfer of Germany, a 71-year-old writer and former judge, publishing executive and onetime member of Parliament. Unlike Ms. Walters, he is known in his country as an outspoken antiwar advocate and a critic of Western policy toward the Muslim and Arab worlds. And he has castigated Western press coverage of the Syrian conflict, calling it unfairly hostile to Mr. Assad and overly sympathetic to his enemies.
Rejecting accusations by critics that he had given Mr. Assad a propaganda platform, Mr. Todenhöfer said he saw the interview as an opportunity for Mr. Assad to explain himself. “They said, ‘You speak to dictators,’ ” he said. “I thought it was important that we listen to this guy, whether we hate him or not.”
In the interview, broadcast last month, Mr. Assad expressed a willingness to talk to adversaries if they were also willing, and he conceded that his military could have handled the early phases of the uprising less harshly. But as before, he did not acknowledge the legitimacy of those seeking to depose him. He also referred to all armed opponents as terrorists and accused other Arab countries, and the United States, of abetting them with weapons and supplies.