Bashar Al-Assad Says U.S. Is 'Not Serious' About Defeating ISIS
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on July 14, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with American NBC News channel in the capital Damascus.AFP - Getty Images
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While Russia has insisted its operations targeted terrorists, the West has accused Russian forces of bombing civilian targets and Assad's moderate enemies — not jihadis.
Russia's influence with Assad is in focus Thursday as Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Moscow for talks with Putin. Syria is high on the agenda — as is speculation of a backchannel deal involving Assad giving up power.
More than 250,000 people have died in the conflict, though the U.N. stopped keeping track of the toll. Efforts to negotiate peace have failed and cease-fires have broken down.
Six years later Assad is still in power and stronger than ever — but not crowing about outplaying Obama.
“He's failed, but that doesn't mean I win because for him the war is to remove me ... for me the war is to restore Syria,” he told NBC News. “If we can get rid of those terrorists, if we can restore the stability in Syria, this is where we win. Otherwise, you cannot talk about winning.”
“We always hope that the next president will be much wiser than the previous one"
With Obama nearing the end of his term, Assad will soon be confronting a new face in the White House. But that doesn’t mean the Syrian president expects much to change.
He accused successive U.S. administrations of stoking chaos around the world, “becoming more and more pyromaniac.”
Assad also was deeply skeptical — if not dismissive — of U.S. intentions in the region, saying American presidents have long lacked “credibility” in the Middle East.
“We always hope that the next president will be much wiser than the previous one ... That's what we hope, but we never saw,” Assad told NBC News.
“When you are attacked by terrorists — I mean as a country — you have to defend your country, and that is my job according to the constitution,” he told NBC News. “So, I'm doing my job, and I'm going to keep doing it no matter what I'm going to face.”
Children being killed? “Propaganda and media campaigns.”
Targeting civilians? “We didn't take any decision to attack any area that doesn't include terrorists.”
Widespread allegations his forces are using starvation as a weapon of war in sieges on rebel-held areas? “How do we prevent them from having food and we don't prevent them from having armaments to kill us ... This is not logic,” he laughed. “How could they survive for years if they are under besiege?"
That’s not to say Assad doesn’t acknowledge there have been victims in this war — but he sees himself as a patriot and his mission in black and white: Win the battle, by whatever means necessary.
“I defend my country,” he said, for the first time showing signs of agitation. “To talk about a clean war where there is no casualties, no civilians, no innocent people to be killed — that doesn't exist. No one could make it. No war in the world.”
Bill Neely is NBC News' chief global correspondent. He joined NBC News from Britain’s ITV News in January 2014. His reports from across the globe have earned many awards, including an unprecedented three consecutive BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars, for his work in China, Haiti, and the U.K.