Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a German magazine he would not negotiate with rebels until they laid down their arms, and said his most powerful ally Russia supported his government more than ever.
In an extensive interview with Der Spiegel, Assad said he did not
believe it was possible to solve the conflict in Syria through
negotiations with the rebels, comments that might dampen hopes among
Western powers for a political solution.
"In my view, a political opposition does not carry weapons. If
someone drops his weapons and wants to return to daily life, then we can
discuss it," he was quoted as saying.
The Syria conflict started as a peaceful protest movement against
four decades of Assad family rule but turned into a full-scale war after
a government crackdown. More than 100,000 people have been killed.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution last week that
demands the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons and endorses a plan
for a political transition in Syria.
Washington blames Assad's government for a August 21 sarin nerve gas
attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds. The Syrian government
and its ally Russia said anti-government rebels carried out the attack.
Assad told Der Spiegel that U.S. President Barack Obama had "not
even a whisper of proof" that the Syrian government had used chemical
"He has nothing to offer other than lies," said Assad, contrasting
Washington's stance with that of the Russians, who he viewed as "real
"They understand much better what this is really about here... The
Russians are much more independent than you in Europe, where you all
orientate yourselves so much towards the United States."
"(Russian President Vladimir) Putin is more determined than ever to
support us... He knows from his own fight against terrorism in Chechnya
what we are going through here."
Assad said he was not worried about his own fate, which was why he
and his family had stayed in Damascus through two and a half years of
conflict, and he felt the Syrian people were rallying behind him as they
saw the devastation wrought by the rebels.
He said Syria would hold presidential elections two months before
his current term ends next August and he could not yet say whether he
would run. "If I do not have the will of the people behind me anymore, I
will not run," he added.
Assad said his government may have made errors in the severity of
its initial crackdown, but he still stood by its decision to "fight
terrorism, to defend our country".
Assad said the Syrian crisis had been prompted by forces outside the
country, in particular al Qaeda fighters. Financial aid from Saudi
Arabia and Qatar, as well as logistical aid from Turkey, was sustaining
the conflict, he said.
"We have here al Qaeda with fighters from 80 countries," he said.
"There are tens of thousands of fighters that we are dealing with."
Last week, Al Qaeda-linked fighters fought rival Syrian rebels near
the border with Turkey, underscoring divisions between the factions
Those divisions have hurt their fight against Assad's better
equipped and organised forces and made Western powers more reluctant to