When we first met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 60 Minutes in September, 2013, it had been less than a month since his regime was accused of using chemical weapons that killed civilians, crossing a "red line" drawn by President Obama. In that interview, Assad denied that his military had any chemical weapons.}
Assad is now facing new accusations that his military used chlorine gas against civilians. This week on 60 Minutes, when Charlie Rose asked the Syrian leader about the recent accusations, he once again denied them:
"First of all, the chlorine gas is not military gas. You can buy it anywhere," Assad tells Charlie Rose. "Traditional arms [are] more important than chlorine. And if it was very effective, the terrorists would have used this on a larger scale."
Several months after the 2013 interview aired, Syrian officials claimed that Assad won another term as president in a landslide victory. This week on 60 Minutes, he told Rose that he will not leave his position, despite the ongoing civil war, because he has the support of the Syrian people.
"As long as I have the public support of the Syrian people, that's my legitimacy,"Assad says. "Legitimacy comes from the inside."
60 Minutes first covered Bashar al-Assad back in 2003, when Mike Wallace paid a visit to Syria to see how the country was faring under its young, new ruler. It was three years after the London-trained ophthalmologist came to power in a country ruthlessly ruled by his father, Hafez al-Assad, for three decades. It was a different time.
"There's a lot of hope placed in him, especially by the young people, that he will reform the country," said the then-U.S. ambassador to Syria in that report, entitled "What about Syria?"
But a few years into his presidency, Bashar's way of governing began to resemble that of his father, whose brutal response to a 1982 rebellion appears to be the model for his son's handling of today's uprising (and President Assad admitted as much in his interview with Charlie Rose in 2013).
For anyone who wants to learn more about elder Assad's years in power, we found Morley Safer's 1991 report to be an informative backgrounder: