Syria tells US to pressure Turkey over ‘support of Islamists’
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen during an interview with the American magazine Foreign Affairs published in Damascus January 26, 2015. REUTERS PhotoSyrian President Bashar al-Assad said Washington should pressure Turkey not to allow money and weapons into northern Syria, accusing Ankara and its president of backing “terrorists.”
The Syrian leader also criticized U.S. plans to train vetted rebels to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), warning it could backfire, in a Foreign Affairs magazine interview published on Jan. 26.
Questioning the seriousness of the U.S.-led campaign against the jihadists, al-Assad said, “What we’ve seen so far is just, let’s say, window-dressing, nothing real.”
“Did the United States put any pressure on Turkey to stop the support of al-Qaeda? They didn’t,” he said.
He was referring to his government’s longstanding accusations that Ankara has backed rebel groups, including ISIL’s jihadist rivals, the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.
When asked about his demands from the U.S., al-Assad insisted on “pressure on Turkey, pressure on Saudi Arabia and pressure on Qatar to stop supporting the rebels,” adding his expectation from Washington “to form a legal cooperation with Syria and begin by asking permission from our government to make such attacks.”
Al-Assad claimed his regime could easily defeat the rebels in the country if there were no “external support in supply and recruitment of new terrorists,” naming particularly Turkey as the main supporter of anti-al-Assad groups.
“The problem is that they still have this continuous supply, mainly from Turkey,” he told the magazine.
“Logistically, and about terrorist financing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but through Turkey,” al-Assad said, when asked if Turkey is the country he is most concerned about.
Al-Assad also said he blames President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally, when asked about the Turkish leader.
“Because he belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, which is the base of al-Qaeda; it was the first political Islamic organization that promoted violent political Islam in the early 20th century,” he said.
“He belongs strongly and is a staunch believer in these values. He’s very fanatical, and that’s why he still supports ISIS [ISIL]. He is personally responsible for what happened.”
The Syrian president said U.S. plans to train vetted rebels to fight ISIL were “illusory,” as they would eventually defect to the jihadists.
Washington has backed the Syrian opposition since early in the uprising and has unveiled plans to train more than 5,000 vetted rebels in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to fight ISIL.
Al-Assad said the planned U.S.-trained force would be “illegal” and would be treated like any other rebel group.
“They are going to be fought like any other illegal militia fighting against the Syrian army,” he said. “Bringing 5,000 [fighters] from the outside will make most of them defect and join ISIS [ISIL] and other groups. The idea itself... is illusory.”
The Pentagon has itself acknowledged that identifying and vetting potential rebel recruits for training is a difficult task that cannot be accomplished quickly without significant risks.