Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Britain of acting in a “naive, confused and unrealistic manner” and warned other nations to stop interfering in his country’s affairs, in a rare interview with The Sunday Times newspaper.
In the interview published on Saturday evening, his first with a Western newspaper in more than a year, Assad said he was also unhappy with the UN for overestimating the death toll in the conflict at 70,000 in a bid to justify outside intervention.
“This [British] government is acting in a naive, confused and unrealistic manner,” he said of prime minister David Cameron’s conservative leadership, for trying to end an EU arms embargo so that the rebels could be supplied with weapons.
“We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter,” he said, dismissing a suggestion that Britain could help to resolve the conflict.
“If they want to play a role they have to change this, they have to act in a more reasonable and responsible way.”
The two countries have not had contact for a long time, he said.
Offering a message to “anyone who is talking about the Syrian people”, he said, “only Syrian people can tell the president to stay or leave, come or go, no one else”.
Lebanese-British reporter Hala Jaber, who also interviewed Assad in 2011, spoke this time to the president in Damascus.
She said he drove himself to the location, “a relatively modest building”, and was told “that despite regular explosions, Assad insists on maintaining a normal lifestyle including — to his security chief’s dismay — driving to the office in the morning.”
Jaber said Assad, who was softly spoken throughout the sit-down interview, adopted a conciliatory tone when discussing future negotiations.
“We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms,” he declared.
“We are not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons, to terrorise people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country.”
The interview was timed to coincide with Kerry’s first foreign tour as secretary of state.
Kerry met Syrian rebels in Rome last Thursday and announced that $60m of “non-lethal” US aid would go directly to them for the first time.
“The intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal,” Assad countered, pointing out that “non-lethal” technology had been used to deadly effect in the 9/11 attacks.
William Hague, UK foreign secretary, is expected to announce a package of British assistance this week.
“The British government wants to send military aid to moderate groups in Syria, knowing all too well that such moderate groups do not exist in Syria,” Assad said.
“We all know that we are now fighting al-Qaeda, or Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, and other groups of people indoctrinated with extreme ideologies.
“This is beyond hypocritical,” he added, echoing Hague’s comment about him.