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Syria’s deputy foreign minister blasted President Barack Obama’s comments that U.S. officials were caught off guard by the dramatic rise of terror group ISIS, saying that Syria has been warning about the group for more than three years. In an interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, Faisal Mekdad also said the Bashar Assad government would welcome “any cooperation against terrorism,” including the possibility of ground forces.
“Syria has said three years ago, if not more, from the beginning we have warned the international public opinion that these are terrorists. And the only way to deal with them is to defeat them.” Mekdad said of the Islamist militants group's rapid gains in Iraq and Syria. “[The U.S.] should never have been surprised.”
“We were giving information [to the U.S.],” Mekdad said. “This was what President Assad has said in his speeches since the beginning of these developments. And this is what we were saying to all those people who visited Syria, or who communicated with us secretly and openly.”
Obama made the comments in an interview on CBS's “60 minutes” that aired Sunday that U.S. intelligence officials “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” And while the U.S. and Arab allies have begun conducting airstrikes against ISIS within Syria, the president said that stabilizing the country couldn’t happen under the current Assad regime, which he accused of “committing horrific crimes against his own people.”
Mekdad said that airstrikes had not been very effective because ISIS fighters can blend with the population. Asked about comments from some, including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, that ground troops may have to be sent in to fight ISIS, Mekdad said, “any cooperation against terrorism is going to be welcome,” but that any deployment of ground troops had to be done in accordance with international law and in cooperation with Syria.
“I think it will be a big mistake not to conduct this together with the Syrian government,” he said. Turkey’s president recently said that the country could send ground forces into Syria under certain conditions, like to support a internationally-backed safe zone for refugees. Mekdad accused Turkey of funding and supporting ISIS, he said the Assad government doesn't trust Turkey, and warned that if Turkey sent ground forces into Syria it would start “a war that will never end.”
He criticized Obama’s statements that it could fight ISIS while also calling for an end to the Assad regime.
“Because the alternative to President Assad is the ISIS,” he said. “Whether they want to admit it or not”