Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad accused the United States of assisting “gangs” to destabilize his country, in a rare interview with a western television channel to be aired on Sunday.
The United States is “part of the conflict. They offer the umbrella and political support to those gangs to... destabilize Syria,” Assad told German public broadcaster ARD.
Asked whether he was accusing Washington of being partly responsible for the death of innocent Syrian civilians, Assad replied: “Of course. Exactly.”
“As long as you offer any kind of support to terrorists, you are partner. Whether you send them armaments or money or public support, political support in the United Nations, anywhere,” said Assad.
In the interview carried out on July 5, Assad also refused to step down, saying he was staying put to deal with the “challenge” Syria is facing.
“The president shouldn't run away from challenge and we have a national challenge now in Syria,” said Assad in English.
“The president shouldn’t escape the situation, but from the other side you can stay as president, stay in this position only when you have the public support,” he added.
He also said he would not rule out negotiations with Washington.
“We never close our doors in front of any country in this world and any official as long as they want to help in solving the problem in Syria -- providing that they are serious and honest.”
Moreover, he said that dialogue with opposition groups was “a strategic option” but asserted: “You cannot keep just making dialogue while they are killing your people and your army.”
Annan in Damascus
Assad’s comments came as U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus for talks with the Syrian leadership over his six-point plan for peace.
Meanwhile, arrived in Damascus on Sunday, his spokesman said.
“The Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, arrived in Damascus this evening for talks with President Bashar Al-Assad,” Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi said, without elaborating.
It will be Annan’s third trip to Syria since the outbreak of the conflict, following a previous visit on May 29.
The Western powers have called for President Assad to go, however the leader’s main allies, Russia and China, have disallowed any peace plan that includes his ouster.
Iran is also Assad’s chief regional ally, supplying him with humanitarian and financial aid.
Some Iranian and U.S. reports have said Iranian military personnel were in Syria and helping in the crackdown against opposition groups, although Tehran officially denies that.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister said on Sunday that forcing Assad to step down and go into exile would be a “joke,” warning an attack on his country would be “stupid” and “catastrophic.”
“Iran supports Assad’s reform plans and the talk about forcing him to go into exile is a joke,” Hossein Amir Abdollahian told reporters in Amman, where he invited King Abdullah II to attend an August summit of Non-Aligned Movement.
“Military action Syria is unlikely and if this happens it would be stupid. Syria can defend itself without Iran’s help. Any non-political solution would bring catastrophic to the entire region,” he said.
In an interview with France’s Le Monde published Saturday, Annan said that efforts to find a political solution in Syria have failed so far, and says more attention should be paid to Iran’s role.
Annan says that Russia’s role as an ally and arms supplier to Syria is key, but that Iran, too, “is a player, it should be part of the solution,” the report says.
‘No one ready to host Assad’
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday his country, Russia and the United States are not ready to host Assad in exile, while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday warned time was running out to save Syria from a “catastrophic assault.”
“Iran could be part of a solution to the Syrian issue. It has provided suggestions to Kofi Annan,” said Abdollahian of the U.N. and Arab League envoy.
More than 17,000 people, including 11,815 civilians, have been killed in Syria since the outbreak of the revolt in March 2011, according to monitors.