‘We were close to direct conflict between Russia & US inside Syria’ – Bashar Assad
“With every move forward for the Syrian Army, and for the political process, and for the whole situation, our enemies and our opponents, mainly the West led by the United States and their puppets in Europe and in our region, they try to make it farther – either by supporting more terrorism, bringing more terrorists to Syria, or by hindering the political process,” Assad told RT correspondent Murad Gazdiev, during a sit-down interview in Damascus, noting that without outside funding his opponents inside the country could be subdued “within a year.”
After having to switch its support between the various anti-Assad factions, and the recapture of the key cities of Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor by government forces over the past two years, Washington, the Syrian leader believes, is “losing its cards” and can be brought to the negotiating table.
“Our challenge is how can we close this gap between their plans and our plans,” Assad said.
‘World didn’t buy US chemical weapons story’
The Syrian leader believes, however, that the closer the deadly conflict comes to an end, the more desperate his opponents’ measures become. He cited the alleged Douma chemical weapon attack (“Is it in our interest? Why, and why now?” he asks) as a last-ditch Western attempt to sway international opinion – one that failed.
“They told a story, they told a lie, and the public opinion around the world and in the West didn’t buy their story, but they couldn’t withdraw. So, they had to do something, even on a smaller scale,”Assad said, referring to the joint airstrikes against purported Syrian chemical weapons facilities, carried out on April 14 by the US, UK, and France.
Assad says Moscow also played a role in restraining Washington’s influence and meddling in the region, both generally since its invitation to aid Damascus in September 2015, and in this particular incident.
‘Russia deterred larger-scale attack on Syria’
“The Russians announced publicly that they are going to destroy the bases that are going to be used to launch missiles, and our information – we don’t have evidence, we only have information, and that information is credible information – that they were thinking about a comprehensive attack all over Syria, and that’s why the threat pushed the West to make it on a much smaller scale,” the Syrian president said.
With Western ‘advisers’ deployed alongside their proxy forces in Syria, Assad also thanked Russia for not triggering face-to-face confrontation with the US, which is operating in close proximity both in the air and on the ground.
“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership,” Assad told Gazdiev. “We need the Russian support, but we need at the same time to avoid the American foolishness in order to be able to stabilize our country.”
‘Either you have a country or you don’t have a country’
Despite praising the diplomatic efforts of the Astana peace process, and emphasizing the government’s own drive to win the hearts and minds by restoring order in liberated areas, and initiating a process of reconciliation, Assad says there are still some victories that will have to be won on the battlefield.
“Factions like Al-Qaeda, like ISIS, like Al-Nusra, and the like-minded groups, they’re not ready for any dialogue, they don’t have any political plan; they only have this dark ideological plan, which is to be like any Al-Qaeda-controlled area anywhere in this world. So, the only option to deal with those factions is force,” Assad said, emphasizing that there is no stepping back now.
“The more escalation we have, the more determined we’ll be to solve the problem, because you don’t have any other choice; either you have a country or you don’t have a country,” the Syrian president told RT.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad says the United States “is losing its cards” as the militant groups it supports have lost significant ground on the battlefield against the army, emphasizing that the Americans “should leave” Syrian soil.
In an interview with Russia’s RT television network on Thursday, Assad said that following the liberation of the cities of Aleppo, Dayr la-Zawr, Homs, and Damascus, the US is actually “losing its cards.”
“The main card was al-Nusra that was called ‘moderate.’ But when the scandal started leaking, that they are not moderate, they are al-Qaeda …, they (the Americans) looked for another card. This card is the SDF now,” he said, referring to the Washington-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-dominated alliance of militants operating near the Turkish border.
Assad further said his government has two options in dealing with the SDF issue.
“The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners,” he said in English.
“If not, we’re going to resort… to liberating those areas by force,” Assad said.
“We don’t have any other option. So, this is our land, it’s our right, and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave,” he said.
Assad further urged the US to “to learn the lesson” from Iraq, saying, “People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore.”
US could break intl. law again to attack Syria
Elsewhere, Assad was asked about the possibility of an assault by the US and its allies on Syria similar to the tripartite missile attack last month.
“Of course, it could, because when the Unites States trampled over the international law, on a daily basis sometimes in different areas for different reasons, any country in the world could have such an attack,” he said. “So, as long as you don’t have an international law that could be obeyed by the United States and its puppets in the West, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen.”
On April 14, the US, Britain and France launched a coordinated missile attack against sites and research facilities near Damascus and Homs with the purported goal of paralyzing the Syrian government’s capability to produce chemicals.
The strike came one week after the Western states blamed the Syrian government for a suspected gas attack in the town of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region.
Assad said that the Douma incident came after the victory of the Syrian troops in Eastern Ghouta, where locals and even Western journalists saying they had not seen any chemical attack.
“So, it was a narrative, it was just a pretext in order to attack Syria,” he said.
Assad reiterated that Syria does not have any chemical weapons and is not going to use them against its own people “because the battle in Syria was about winning the hearts of the civilians, this is the main battle, and we won it.”
The Syrian leader also said those military strikes raised the possibility of a response from Russia, whose forces are helping the Syrian army.
“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces,” he said. “Fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership.”
Syria boosting air defenses in face of Israel
Asked about Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s threat to “liquidate” Assad and “topple” his government, the Syrian head of state said such comments are merely aimed at creating “panic.”
“This is a kind of hysterical feeling, because they are losing the dear ones … al-Nusra and ISIS (Daesh),” he pointed out.
Assad further said Israel has from the start of the crisis in Syria been in contact with the anti-Damascus militants. The terrorists, he said, took aim at Syria’s air defenses as their primary target, something that reveals they are serving Israeli interests.
“The first target of the mercenaries in Syria was the air defense. Before attacking any other military base it was the air defense… This is the other proof that Israel was in direct link with those terrorists in Syria. So, they attacked those bases, and they destroyed a big part of our air defenses,” he said
Assad, however, ensured that Syria’s “defense is much stronger than before, thanks to the Russian support, and the recent attacks by the Israelis and by the Americans and British and French proved that we are in a better situation.”
Israel spreading ‘lies’ on Iranian role
He rejected Israel’s claims last month that it had targeted Iranian troops in Syria as “a lie.”
“The most important fact regarding this issue, is that we do not have Iranian troops. We never had, and you cannot hide it,” the Syrian president said.
He, however, noted that there were only “Iranian officers who work with the Syrian Army as help.”
“The starkest fact about their (the Israelis’) lies about this issue, the Iranian issue, is the recent attack a few weeks ago,” he said. “They said that they attacked Iranian bases and camps … and actually we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian.”