PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AFP) — President Bashar al-Assad said peace would only come to war-torn Syria when the West and its Middle Eastern allies “stop supporting terrorists,” in an interview aired Tuesday on Czech TV.
Asked what it would take to bring an end to Syria’s devastating four-year civil war, Assad said: “When those countries that I mentioned — France, UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some others — stop supporting those terrorists.”
The next “day the situation will be better and in a few months we will have full peace in Syria, definitely. If they stop,” said Assad.
Since the 2011 outbreak of a revolt in Syria, the countries that Assad named in the interview have demanded he step down and backed rebels fighting his troops.
Assad has meanwhile systematically referred to all his opponents — armed or unarmed — as “terrorists,” and accused Western and regional powers seeking his demise of supporting “terrorists.”
Damascus receives direct military backing from Russia and Iran, with Moscow launching an aerial campaign in September to back Assad’s forces. In the interview, the Syrian president described Russia’s assistance as “very serious in fighting terrorism.”
Critics of the Russian campaign, including in the West and Sunni Arab Gulf nations, have accused Russia of targeting moderate rebel forces as well as jihadists.
“If you want to fight and defeat them (terrorists), you have to cut and suffocate their supplies, their armaments, money … coming mainly through Turkey and with the support of the Saudis and the Qataris,” he said.
The United States and other Western powers fighting Islamic State jihadists, who claimed responsibility for the deadly November 13 attacks in Paris, have long insisted Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the Syrian conflict.
France has been adamant in its opposition to Assad, describing him as a “butcher” of his own people amid the civil war that has so far claimed a quarter million lives and created millions of refugees.
On a trip to Washington last week, French President Francois Hollande reiterated his determination to see Assad step down in order to give Syria a chance for peace, saying “it should be as soon as possible.”
Assad hit back Tuesday, telling Czech public TV that France only stepped up its bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria after the Paris terror attacks “to dissipate the feeling of the French (people), nothing serious.”
‘Some positive change’
Turning to a showdown between Turkey and Russia over Ankara’s downing of a Russian fighter jet on the Turkish-Syrian border, Assad said opposition supporter Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was playing with fire.
“I think it (the downing of the warplane) has shown the real intention of Erdogan who, let’s say, lost his nerve just because the Russian intervention has changed the balance on the ground.
“So the failure of Erdogan in Syria, the failure of his terrorist groups means his political demise,” he added.
Asked whether Europe, which is facing its worst migrant crisis since World War II, should “fear…or help” hundreds of thousands of people desperately fleeing Syria, Assad said: “The majority they (are) … the good Syrian, the patriot, the natural people. But of course you have the infiltration of the terrorists among them. That’s true. How much, how many? We cannot tell.”
Despite the West insisting he must go, Assad told CT he believes there has been “some positive” change in how he is seen in light of the mounting fight against IS.
“If you look at the relation with the West, in 2005, I was the killer. In 2008, and after, I was a peace-maker. Then in 2011, I became the vulture. Now, there’s some positive change — of course shy kind of change, not the explicit one,” he said.
“Now in the middle of the war, I’m not going to say I’m leaving for any reason,” he said.
“When there’s [an] election, the Syrian people will decide if they want me, I’ll be happy to be president, if they don’t want me, I’ll be happy to leave it, I don’t have any problem.”