Syrian President Bashar-al Assad gave a hard line interview with Argentina’s Clarín newspaper, dismissing international peace efforts and blaming the West for supporting “terrorists” fighting his government.
“No state talks to terrorists,” he said, according to a transcript in English provided to The New York Times. “When they put down their arms and join the dialogue, then we will have no objections. Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is unreal.”
Interviewer Marcelo Cantelmi said Assad appeared “severe” and “rigid” while he struck a defiant and confident tone throughout their conversation in his Damascus palace.
That’s not even a question for Assad, who said he would run for election as scheduled in 2014 and would accept election monitors from “friendly countries such as Russia or China.”
“We do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria,” Assad said.
Meanwhile the rebels are demanding weapons in exchange for sitting down at the negotiating table.
“We’re not going to sit at the table while Assad continues to kill, supported by Russia and Hezbollah,” a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition told the Washington Post. “What we are asking for is arming the Free Syrian Army or Supreme Military Council — before the talks.”
On Sunday Syrian troops and militants from the Shia Lebanese militant group Hezbollah moved to retake Qusair, a major town near Lebanon that would provide Assad with a route from Hezbollah’s strongholds to his Alawite (i.e. Shia) homeland on the Mediterranean coast.
“The battlefield will decide who is strong when they enter negotiations,” he said during a meeting with supporters, according to Abdelrahim Mourad, a former Parliament member whose party is allied with Hezbollah. “America is pragmatic. If they found out they were defeated and the regime is the winner, the Americans will deal with the facts.”
“Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways,” he said. “Firstly it gives them logistical support, and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them.”
More than 1.5 million people, many of whom lived in rebel-held villages bombed by Syria’s Air Force, have been forced to flee their homes in the 26-month-old conflict.
The Times notes that Assad disputed UN estimates that more than 80,000 people have died so far.
When asked if he had a “self-criticisms,” Assad replied: “It’s illogical to carry out self-criticism before the events have been completed. If you go to watch a film you don’t criticise it until it ends.”
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