Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad indicated that, contrary to assessments by U.S. officials, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria is actually getting stronger, recruiting an estimated 1,000 militants each month in those two countries alone.
In an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired March 29, Assad added that he is open to negotiations with the United States.
The Syrian dictator said that ISIS has actually “expanded” since the beginning of the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria in September 2014.
He accused American officials of sugarcoating the situation on the ground when they say conditions are improving and that “ISIS is being defeated.”
“Actually, no, you have more recruits. Some estimates that they have 1,000 recruits every month in Syria and Iraq,” the Syrian dictator told CBS News. “They are expanding in Libya, and many other al-Qaeda affiliate organizations have announced their allegiance to ISIS. So that’s the situation.”
On March 11, Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers that ISIS had lost momentum.
“ISIL’s momentum has been diminished,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The State Secretary did note that the jihadist group is “still picking up supporters.”
However, he indicated that, in the places where the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS has maintained its focus, namely Iraq and Syria, “It is clear that even while savage attacks continue, there’s the beginning of a process to cut off their supply level, to take out their leaders, to cut off their finances, to reduce the foreign fighters, [and] to counter the messaging that has brought some of those fighters to this effort.”
“To ensure its defeat, we have persisted until we prevail,” added Kerry.
During the interview, Assad welcomed Kerry’s comments that the U.S. is open to dialogue with Syria.
“When you start the dialogue, things will be better,” said the Syrian dictator, noting that his stepping down will not be part of any negotiations with the United States.
We are always open. We never close our doors. They should be ready for the talk. They should be ready for the negotiation. We didn’t make an embargo on the United States. We didn’t attack the American population. We didn’t support terrorists who did anything in United States. Actually, the United States did. We were always–we always wanted to have [a] good relation with the United States. We never thought in the other direction. It’s a great power. Nobody–no, not a wise person, thinks of having bad relation with United States.
Earlier this month, Kerry indicated that the U.S. would be open to negations with Syria.
However, the State Department backtracked on those comments, saying the U.S. would “never” negotiate with Assad himself, but added that members of his regime could play a role in ending the deadly civil war in Syria, which has now entered its fifth year.
Nearly a quarter million people, including women and children, have been killed in the war. Millions more have been displaced by the conflict. Assad himself has been accused on multiple occasions of killing civilians.
“Syria, and Iran, and Russia, see eye-to-eye regarding these conflicts,” Assad told CBS News in explaining why Iran and Russia support him.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.