Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad condemned Western powers in remarks during a meeting with a top Iranian adviser on Thursday, asserting that “some Western countries” object to any success Assad’s forces have on the battlefield.
On Thursday, Assad met with Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian top adviser for International Affairs in Damascus, according to the Syrian government’s Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). In that meeting, Assad protested that allegations of chemical weapons use against his regime are a sign that Europe and the United States are displeased with his victories against rebels on the ground.
“Whenever the Syrian army achieves victory in the field, some western countries rise [sic] their voices and intensify their movements in an attempt to change the track of events,” SANA quotes Assad as saying. The leader also reportedly warned that any action taken against him would “further destabilize the region, which threatens the international peace and security.”
Velayati, quoted in Iran’s state-run PressTV, described accusations of chemical weapons use against Assad as “lies” meant to distract from “the liberation of Eastern Ghouta,” the Damascus suburb against which Assad stands accused of using chemical weapons. The adviser added that Iran would “always have the back” of the Assad regime.
Assad has repeatedly accused the United States and the West, in general, of supporting “terrorism” in Syria.
“If they are serious in fighting terrorists, we’re going to be partners, and I said not only the United States. Whoever wants to fight the terrorists, we are partners,” Assad said in an interview a year ago. “They are hand in glove with those terrorists, the United States and the West, they’re not serious in fighting the terrorists, and yesterday some of their statesmen were defending ISIS.”
Assad did not specify at the time which statesmen he referred to, though Sen. John McCain most notably met with some Syrian rebels in the country in 2013, before the Islamic State declared its intent to establish a government in Syria.
Assad also denied allegations that he used chemical weapons in a civilian attack last year, claiming that “fake videos” had convinced the West that he had attacked his own people. Prior to that allegation – and Trump’s airstrikes on Assad assets in response – the Syrian dictator had said that Trump’s public claims that he was eager to withdraw the U.S. military from the country were “promising” but lamented that Trump did not engage directly with him.
Assad has also claimed that Syria is “much better than before” the civil war began, despite the destruction the Islamic State has caused and the somewhat independent struggle between Assad and rebel forces.
Assad’s troops reportedly raised their flag on Thursday morning over Douma, the territory against which Assad stands accused of using chemical weapons. Douma was the last rebel-held area in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that once hosted a significant rebel population. The details on what remains in Douma and how the affected are recovering remain scarce.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Wednesday that its preliminary report found that the chemical attack on the area left 70 dead and about 500 wounded, who have been treated in local hospitals; there may be more casualties who did not reach any professional medical institutions. At least 43 of the 70 dead have been confirmed to suffer toxic chemical exposure.
French President Emmanuel Macron claimed on Thursday that his government had verifiable proof that Assad used chemical weapons on those affected, asserting that his military was ready to strike against Assad. Macron’s conviction appeared in contrast with remarks that President Donald Trump made on Twitter Thursday morning, walking back his claim that the U.S. military would soon strike in Syria.
An attack against Assad “could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump tweeted, raising questions as to why he canceled his scheduled trip to Lima, Peru, to attend the Summit of the Americas in that country. The White House claimed canceling the trip was necessary to address the Syria situation, which now may be addressed “not so soon at all”:
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018