Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he will be remembered in history as a ruler who defended the territorial integrity of his country in the face of foreign-sponsored militancy.
“I hope that history will see me as the man who protected his country, from the terrorism and from the intervention, and saved its sovereignty,” he told NBC News television network in an exclusive interview to be broadcast on Thursday.
He added, “When you protect your country from the terrorists, and you kill terrorists, and you defeat terrorists, you’re not brutal. You are a patriot.”
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict. The UN has stopped its official casualty count in Syria, citing its inability to verify the figures it receives from various sources.
While most European countries have been voicing opposition to the government of President Assad, some of them are gradually making a shift in their policies as they realize the importance of Damascus’ efforts in fighting terrorism.
No Putin proposition of transition
In the interview, Assad also said Russian President Vladimir Putin has never talked to him about leaving power, despite pressure from Washington for the Syrian president to step down.
“They never said a single word regarding this,” Assad said when asked whether Putin or Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had talked to him about a political transition in Syria.
Assad also said he is not concerned that Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who travels to Moscow Thursday, will make a deal that would force him from power.
“Because their politics, I mean, the Russian politics, is not based on making deals. It’s based on values,” Assad said.
Kerry is heading on Thursday for his third visit to Moscow this year to resume Syria peace talks.
Despite appearing increasingly at odds over the way forward, Russia and the US are nominally co-chairs of international efforts to end the conflict in Syria.
Foreign-backed militant groups abandoned the last UN-brokered talks in Geneva in April after declaring a new war against the Syrian government.
US foreign policy
The Syrian president further played down the lack of foreign policy experience of presumptive US Republican nominee Donald Trump, stating that neither the incumbent US President Barack Obama nor his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had such a capability.
“Who had this experience before? Obama? Or George Bush? Or Clinton before? None of them had any experience,” he said.
“This is the problem with the United States. You have to look for a statesman who has real experience in politics for years. Not because, to have position in Congress for few years, or minister of foreign affairs, for example, that doesn’t help you have the experience,” Assad pointed out.