Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad told AFP in an exclusive interview Sunday there is a “significant” chance he will seek a new term this year, and dismissed the prospect of an opposition premier.
Speaking at the presidential palace in Damascus, days before the beginning of the Geneva II peace talks, Assad said he expected his country’s bloody conflict to drag on, calling it a “fight against terrorism” and rejecting any distinction between opposition fighters and radical jihadists.
“I see no reason why I shouldn’t stand,” Assad said.
If “there is public desire and a public opinion in favour of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election.”
“In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant,” added Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez in 2000.
He dismissed the opposition, which has said it will go to the Geneva talks with the primary objective of forcing him from office, as having been “created” by foreign backers.
And he described the possibility of appointing key opposition figures to the post of prime minister as nothing more than “a good joke”.
They “come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they flee,” he said. “How can they be ministers in the government?”
“These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke!”
The Syrian leader said he expected the country’s conflict to grind on, although he said his forces were making progress.
The conflict, which began in March 2011, has cost more than 130,000 lives according to estimates from one NGO, and has displaced millions of Syrians.
“What we can say is that we are making progress and moving forward. This doesn’t mean that victory is near at hand; these kinds of battles are complicated, difficult and they need a lot of time,” he said.
“Should Syria lose this battle, that would mean the spread of chaos throughout the Middle East,” he added.
Assad said peace talks starting Wednesday in the Swiss towns of Montreux and Geneva should focus on his “war on terrorism”, despite the opposition’s insistence the talks would lead to his departure from office.
“The Geneva conference should produce clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism in Syria,” he said.
“This is the most important decision or result that the Geneva conference could produce. Any political solution that is reached without fighting terrorism has no value.”