Syria Prez suggests peace talks will not succeed

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria,in a rare interview with a foreign newspaper

Written by New York Times | Beirut | Published: May 19, 2013 3:29:04 am

e Barnard

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria,in a rare interview with a foreign newspaper,appeared to dismiss the possibility of serious progress arising from peace talks planned for next month,and back away from earlier statements by Syrian officials that the government was willing to negotiate with its armed opponents.

“We do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria,” Assad told Argentina’s Clarín newspaper in an interview published online on Saturday,blaming those countries for supporting “terrorists” fighting his government.

“We support and applaud the efforts,but we must be realistic,” he said,referring to efforts by the United States and Russia to broker talks in June. “There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria; two parties are needed at least.”

Assad took a hard line throughout the interview,according to a transcript in English provided to The New York Times.

He declared that he would run for election as scheduled in 2014 and would accept election monitors only from friendly countries like Russia and China.

He also accused Israel of directly aiding rebels by providing intelligence on sites to attack,refused to acknowledge any mistakes in his handling of the two-year-old crisis,and disputed United Nations estimates that more than 80,000 people had died in the conflict.

All those contentions are likely to fuel what is already widespread pessimism about potential talks. It is unclear who will talk to whom,and about what. The opposition in exile remains unable to unify fragmented rebel groups behind its political leadership,even those that nominally fall under the umbrella of the opposition’s Free Syrian Army,let alone the growing cadres of extremist Islamist fighters.

“We are willing to talk to anyone who wants to talk,without exceptions,” he said. “But that does not include terrorists; no state talks to terrorists. 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.”

Assad also elaborated on his government’s contention that the opposition was aligned with Syria’s longtime foe,Israel,which has bombed Syrian territory three times this year in attacks believed to have targeted weapons being delivered to Hezbollah.

“Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways,” he said. “Firstly it gives them logistical support” — a possible reference to medical aid Israel has given to Syrians wounded near the Syria-Israel border — “and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them.”

Assad said rebels had attacked a radar station instrumental to Syria’s anti-aircraft defences against Israel,giving no further details.

He dismissed rebels’ accusations that his forces had used chemical weapons,noting that such weapons “would mean killing thousands or tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Who could hide something like that?”

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