Assad wants more Russian presence, naval base expansion in Syria

Published March 28th, 2015 - 05:00 GMT
The Syrian president told Russian media Friday that the regime would welcome any revival and expansion of Russia's naval base. (AFP/File)
The Syrian president told Russian media Friday that the regime would welcome any revival and expansion of Russia's naval base. (AFP/File)

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has told Russian media that Syria would welcome any revival and expansion of Russia's naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus if Moscow requested it.

The Syrian president hailed the presence of Russia as a balance in the Middle East region in an interview with Russian reporters published on Friday, adding that the more visible Russia’s influence in the region was, the more stable the area became.

Assad was quoted online by Russian news outlet RT as saying: "We welcome the expansion of Russian presence in [the] eastern Mediterranean, especially near our shores and in our ports."

The Soviet Union established its naval Base in the port of Tartus in the early 1970s and Russian military personnel remained there for more than 40 years before withdrawing in 2013 as a result of the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian president said that there was a connection between the Syrian and Ukrainian crises, saying: "Firstly, because both countries are important for Russia.

"Secondly, because there is a goal, in both cases, to weaken Russia and create puppet states."

Attacks on Daesh 'not serious'

Regarding Daesh, he said the U.S. led-international coalition did not want to eradicate the group and its attacks "lacked seriousness."

Assad said the Syrian Air Force, which was very small compared to the coalition, had conducted much more airstrikes than the entire coalition.

"This doesn’t make sense. This shows the lack of seriousness. They don’t want to get rid of ISIS (Daesh) completely,” he said.

Assad, who has previously accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of supporting anti-regime forces in Syria, also said such an "anti-terrorist" coalition "cannot consist of countries which themselves support terrorism."

The U.S. has led an international coalition against Daesh since mid-September 2014, aiming to help the Iraqi government and Kurdish fighters in Syria fight the extremist organization.

The Syrian president opposed any possibility of an international peacekeeping force being sent to Syria, arguing such a move would lead to Daesh achieving recognition as a state.

'Dangerous rhetoric'

He said: "The peacekeeping force is usually based between countries at war with each other. And when someone talks about sending peacekeepers to deal with IS (Daesh), that acknowledges IS (Daesh) as a state.

"Such rhetoric is unacceptable and dangerous."

Assad said that Syria was not in contact with the U.S. and that the only option for Damascus was to wait for a change in American policies.

In a separate interview with the 60 Minutes program on U.S. news channel CBS, posted online on Thursday and Friday, Assad would be open to dialog with the U.S.

He said: "... as principal, in Syria we could say that every dialogue is a positive thing, and we are going to be open to any dialogue with anyone, including the United States, regarding anything based on mutual respect."

'Malicious propaganda'

He denied claims his regime was behind a chlorine gas attack on a town in the northwestern province of Idlib on March 17 in which a family of six, including three children, were killed. 

Assad said: "This is part of the malicious propaganda against Syria. First of all, the chlorine gas is not military gas. You can buy it anywhere.

"It's not used as military gas. That's very self-evident. Traditional arms are more important than chlorine and, if it was very effective, the terrorists (Syrian opposition fighters) would have used it on a larger scale."

The Syrian civil war, which entered a fifth year this month, has claimed more than 220,000 lives, according to the UN. 

Assad rejected figures released by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which claim more than 85 percent of the civilians who have died in Syria have been killed by government forces.

Violent crackdown

Assad said that killing people was "against our interests as a government."

"As I said earlier, the war, is not about ... it's not a traditional war. It's not about capturing land and gaining land. It's about winning the hearts and minds of the Syrians. We cannot win the heart and minds of the Syrians while we are killing Syrians," he said.

"We cannot sustain four years in that position as a government, and me as president, while the rest of the world, most of the world, the great powers, the regional power, are against me and my people are against me," Assad added. 

Syria has been gripped by constant fighting since the regime launched a violent crackdown in response to anti-government protests in March 2011, triggering a conflict, which has spiraled into civil war and left more than 190,000 killed, according to U.N. figures published in August 2014.

Russia, one of the biggest supporters of the regime in Syria, has blocked many resolutions against Assad at the United Nations Security Council.

© Copyright Andolu Ajansi

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