In an interview with the Russian state outlet Sputnik, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad argues “there’s no difference” between American soldiers and “terrorists on the ground” in Syria.
Assad, still reeling from an American airstrike on an airbase believed to have executed a chemical weapons attack on civilians, told the outlet that his priority is to “defeat the terrorists” in the hope that Turkish and American soldiers leave Syria in his hands and the hands of his Russian and Iranian patrons.
“When you talk about the Turkish invasion, when you talk about the American troops — again, it’s an invasion — and when you talk about the terrorists on the ground, it’s one entity, there’s no difference,” Assad argued. “There’s one master who’s controlling all these factions.”
“The priority now is to defeat the terrorists,” he continued. “When you defeat the terrorists, the Turkish army and any other army will be weak on the ground.”
Assad goes on to argue that foreign “invader” armies like the United States and Turkey will leave Syria once the “terrorists” — the largely-Sunni Muslim Syrian opposition — are defeated, as they do not have territorial interests in Syria.
In another part of the interview Sputnik published separately, Assad goes on to discuss the possibility of working with Syrian Kurdish militias to eradicate Arab Sunni opposition. “Regarding fighting terrorism, we always announce that we are ready to cooperate with any country who is genuinely ready or wants or has the will to fight terrorism,” he told the Russian government publication. “We didn’t even define which countries; any country including the West, taking into consideration that we already know that the West supports the terrorists and it doesn’t have a will to fight them.” Assad was responding to a question about cooperation with Syrian Kurdish forces.
Assad added a claim that America and Turkey have joined a global conspiracy against him, also including the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, “al-Qaeda, mainly al-Nusra [Front] and ISIS [Daesh].”
The Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG an YPJ) are militias operating in Rojava, the Syrian Kurdish region, and have long been considered among the most successful groups fighting the Islamic State directly. The YPG cooperates with both Russia and the United States, providing American soldiers with on the ground intelligence to be used in coordinating airstrikes on the Islamic State. While working with the United States, the Turkish government is adamantly opposed to the YPG and considers it a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group. The U.S. considers the YPG and PKK separate entities.
Following President Donald Trump’s decision to conduct an airstrike against Assad this month, the Syrian government issued a statement condemning Washington as a “partner” of the Islamic State, though the Syrian government has spent most of its efforts fighting anti-Assad rebels not affiliated with ISIS. The Syrian government also denied that it had used chemical weapons against civilians, though multiple investigations have concluded that this is not the case, and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed on Friday that Syria still possesses chemical weapons.
“The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some [chemical weapons]. It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically,” Mattis said.
Assad claimed to have given up all his chemical weapons during the Obama administration, a claim the Russian government issued a statement to support.
While Damascus has condemned U.S. action against their violations of international law, Assad has been careful not to attack President Donald Trump personally. In an interview published in Syria’s state-run SANA news service, Assad claimed that Trump had no power over the American “deep state,” who had allegedly orchestrated the strike.
“The president is only one of the performers on their theatre, if he wants to be a leader, he cannot, because as some say he wanted to be a leader, Trump wanted to be a leader, but every president there, if he wants to be a real leader, later he’s going to eat his words, swallow his pride if he has pride at all, and make a 180 degree U-turn, otherwise he would pay the price politically,” he claimed.