Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Italian press this week that elections in his country and other political action to end the country’s civil war will not commence until Syria is rid of terrorists. He said that the time for democracy “starts after starting to defeat terrorism.”
In using the term “terrorists” it is unclear if al-Assad refers only to ISIS militants or if he is including the U.S.-supported rebels who oppose al-Assad. He has, in the past, used the term to describe both groups.
Just last week, 19 countries – including those that support as-Assad – signed a United Nations statement that set a deadline for peace talks to commence by January 1; a ceasefire to take place by May 14; and for free elections to take place one year after that.
Despite the UN statement, al-Assad emphasized that no deadline by which to commence a Syrian political transition could be set in stone when large parts of Syria were still not controlled by al-Assad’s government.
Al-Assad told reporters that, “This timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria. If we talk after that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition.”
The president also emphasized that despite claims to the contrary, Syria did not serve as an “incubator” for ISIS, which controls large swaths of land in the eastern and northern regions of the country.
Al-Assad stated that the formation of ISIS “started in Iraq” and resulted from “the support of the Turks and the Saudis and Qataris, and of course the Western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways.”
And, despite al-Assad’s claims, President Obama repeated his assertions that the Syrian conflict will not end as long as al-Assad remains in power.
Obama told reporters on Thursday that, “It is not going to be sufficient for us to have formal political processes that lead to Assad still being in power. The reason is not simply because of my opinion of him. It is because it is unimaginable that you can stop the civil war there when the overwhelming majority of people in Syria consider him to be a brutal, murderous dictator.”
But he did go so far as to say that Russia is a constructive partner in the United Nations-backed operations and efforts to end the bloody Syrian conflict – despite the two superpowers’ very differing views regarding al-Assad.
Obama also opined that as long as the Syrian conflict rages on, there is no real hope of eliminating ISIS.