In an extensive interview published Thursday covering his ties to Iran, accusations of chemical weapons use, and a potential meeting with President Donald Trump, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad referred to the U.S. military as “terrorists,” alongside the Turkish and Saudi armies.
Assad sat down with the journalists of Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper and answered a wide range of questions regarding the Syrian civil war and his continued control of Damascus. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) published an English-language transcript of the interview and video on Thursday.
Responding to questions about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria, Assad outlined his objectives in the civil war.
“First of all, we are fighting the terrorists, and as I said, the terrorists for us are his [Erdogan’s] army, they are the American army, the Saudi army,” he explained. “Forget about the different factions and who is going to finance those factions; at the end, they work for one agenda, and those different players obey one master: the American master.”
Assad accused Erdogan, whose invasion of northern Syria specifically targeted the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish militias there, of “implementing the American agenda, and the same goes for the other countries in this war,” excluding his allies Russia and Iran.
“The Turkish, French, whoever, they are all enemies; as long as they came to Syria illegally, they are our enemies,” Assad concluded.
Assad has identified any entity against his rule of Syria as a “terrorist” and launched military campaigns against them, particularly civilians who oppose him and his Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. Following an American airstrike on Syrian military assets in response to evidence of a chemical attack on civilians, Assad compared American and Turkish interventions to terrorist attacks. While not calling the troops of those respective nations terrorists, he said, “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.”
A month before that interview, Assad referred to foreign armies in Syria fighting the Islamic State, which he purports to oppose, as “invaders.” “Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation or consultation or permission, they are invaders, whether they are American, Turkish, or any other one,” he asserted.
Shortly after that declaration, a more conciliatory Assad invited Western countries who oppose his rule to cooperate to defeat “terrorists.”
“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,” Assad said in an interview with the Russian state outlet Sputnik. “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.”
In a previous interview in 2016, Assad stated not only that he would cooperate with hostile Western nations, but that he already secretly had.
“They attack us politically and then they send officials to deal with us under the table, especially the security, including your government,” he told Australia’s SBS News in July 2016. “They don’t want to upset the United States. Actually most of the western officials they only repeat what the United States want them to say. This is the reality.”
In the interview with Kathimerini, Assad’s position has evolved from claiming the United States supports terrorists to calling American soldiers terrorists themselves.
Assad also accused the United States of helping the Islamic State by cooperating with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control.
“I think maybe the only mission accomplished was when they helped ISIS escape from Raqqa, when they helped them, and it was proven by video, and under their cover, the leaders of ISIS escaped Raqqa, going toward Deir Ezzor just to fight the Syrian Army,” Assad claimed. “While if you talk about fighting terrorism, we all know very clearly that the only mission the United States have been doing in Syria is to support the terrorists, regardless of their names, of the names of their factions.”
Assad also had strong words for Erdogan, who he has called a “terrorist” on numerous occasions and who has used the epithet against Assad, as well.
“Actually, since the very beginning of the war, Erdogan supported the terrorists,” Assad told Kathimerini. The Syrian dictator stated that Erdogan was “affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood,” stating that he did not know whether Erdogan was an official member of the group, “but his affiliation is toward that ideology, I call it this dark ideology.” His Islamist tendencies, Assad argued, made him a natural ally of Sunni terrorist groups.