Following are excerpts from an interview with defecting Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on September 27, 2012.
Interviewer: You have a long history as an active member of the Ba'th Party, and you accepted the post of prime minister, a year and four months after the revolution broke out. Why did you accept it?
Riad Hijab: Why...?
Interviewer: Why did you accept this post?
Riad Hijab: To head the government?
Interviewer: That's right.
Riad Hijab: To be honest, I did not want to head the government of Syria. I tried to avoid accepting this position. Some of the brothers in the leadership, in Bashar Al-Assad's circle, know that I talked to them more than once, before my appointment, about my unwillingness to become prime minister.
This stemmed from the circumstances in Syria. I am aware that the prime minister is incapable of doing anything, but they insisted upon appointing me prime minister.
When Bashar Al-Assad summoned me to his palace, I was determined to decline. However, on my way to the palace, I received a call from a friend, who was one of Al-Assad's advisors, and he asked me to accept the premiership without hesitation.
Indeed, when I met with Bashar Al-Assad and we talked at length, I informed him about what was going on in the streets, about the mismanagement of the Syrian crisis from the outset, about the conduct of the security forces and the army, about the corruption, and about many other issues.
We discussed at length what the government could do in the near future in order to stop the bloodshed, to enact reforms, and to hold those who perpetrated crimes during the crisis accountable.
Bashar Al-Assad agreed with me. I told him unequivocally that I would do only what would please Allah and would be in keeping with the interests of the country and its rebuilding. He agreed with all this, and indeed, we formed the government.
For the first time ever, a ministry for national reconciliation was established in the Syrian government, so that the government could deal with the issues of national reconciliation and dialogue. In a statement to the parliament, we declared that the government would hold accountable all those who perpetrated crimes against the people...
Interviewer: Sir, I understand from what you are saying that you could not, in fact, refuse when Al-Assad offered you the premiership. This is clear from what you said.
Riad Hijab: Yes, you know what it's like in Syria.
Interviewer: did you really believe you could form a government of national reconciliation? We are talking about June 2012. There were approximately 20,000 casualties in Syria. Did you really believe, in June 2012, that you could achieve national reconciliation and reform?
Riad Hijab: One must always have hope. I was acting upon that spark of hope. However, the very day the government was formed, Bashar Al-Assad shelled my city, Deir Al-Zor – after I had met with him and begged him not to send the army into Deir Al-Zor and not to shell it. He promised me that the army would not enter the governorate of Deir Al-Zor, but the day the government was formed, I'm sad to say, he shelled the city.
Therefore, after the government was sworn in, Bashar Al-Assad addressed it, saying that this was a wartime government, in complete contradiction of everything we agreed upon – that this would be a government of national reconciliation, of dialogue, and of change.