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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Assad Says He May Seek Re-election

ISTANBUL  â€"  President Bashar al-Assad says that he would run for another  term if his people wished him to do so, but that he needs a few more months to decide, given the rapidly changing situation in his country.

Mr. Assad’s spoke about his plans in an interview  with Halk TV, a private news channel in Turkey, which is known for  its highly critical stance against the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his policies, including toward Syria. “In the upcoming term, I am going to be a candidate if only I feel that Syrian people want me as the president, and not be a candidate if they said, ‘No,’ ” he said, as his words were translated into Turkish. The interview was broadcast late Friday.

“However, we are in the 10th month now and I believe I would have a clearer picture in the next four to five months. Because of the rapidly changing situation, it is hard for me to give a clear response right now.”

Mr. Assad welcomed the early signs of what may be improving relations between the United States and Iran. “Only under one condition,” he said. ”As long as America would be sincere in this convergence. Even the closest allies of America would hesitate to define America as sincere. Iran also knows that.”

Relations between the two countries would help regional stability, Mr. Assad said. “Because Iran is an important state in the region, this convergence is important for the sake of the regional stability in general,” he said. “And sooner or later, it would reflect positively on Syria.”

Iran, however, would never let itself be dictated to by the United States, Mr. Assad said.

“The problem is that the U.S. is used to working with those that surrender unconditionally and take orders that would contradict even interests of their own people,” he said. “Iran is not one of these countries, so how can a relationship be established? I am doubtful about the U.S. accepting a self-confident country like Iran that is proud of its history and deeds.”

Mr. Assad also addressed the future status of ethnic Kurds in Syria, who took up arms against Free Syrian Army fighters in areas close to the Turkish border. The Kurds have refrained from joining the Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization for the Syrian opposition that is made up of diverse ethnic and religious groups in Syria, and demanding that first their independent status in a future structure be recognized.

The Kurds’ loyalty, Mr. Assad said, would not be forgotten  once the crisis was over and time came for the people of Syria to determine the future of the country. “No matter which administration would be in place in future, everyone will remember this period,” he said.

Mr. Assad also said, “Things said about federation or confederation, presidency system, parliamentary system or whichever other regime should comply with the constitution voted by the people.” But  first the insurgent groups should be eliminated, he said. “If we cannot win over terrorists, these promises would have no value,” Mr. Assad said.

“I believe that once Syria overcomes this crisis, the national unity would be even stronger than in the past.”

Mr. Assad accused Mr. Erdogan’s government of harboring Islamist foreign fighters  along Turkey’s southern border. After it took over the government in 2002, the pro-Islamic Justice and Development party rekindled historical ties with neighboring Arab nations, and primarily with Syria,  at time of growing frustration with its membership process with the European Union.

But after  uprising against the Assad government began, Ankara said it had tried to persuade Mr. Assad to pick up democratic reforms, then cut all political and military ties when the efforts yielded no results and civilian deaths continued. Since then, Turkey has emerged as one of the strongest supporters of the Syrian opposition, providing political and logistical assistance to the resistance trying  topple the Assad government.

Mr. Assad accused Mr. Erdogan of having “ lowest moral standards,” distorting the truth about his intentions and spreading fear among more than 200,000 Syrian refugees sheltered in Turkey so they would stay in the country as his government maintained political leverage in resolution of the Syrian conflict.

He  said  radical Islamic groups fighting his army also posed a threat to neighboring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. “If you consider ideology a flame that burns a society, it is for certain that this flame would grow into a fire,” he said.

“In other words, it is impossible for Turkey to remain in peace at a time Syria remained covered in flames.”

He criticized Mr. Erdogan for, he said, easing the passage of  Islamist groups into Syria. “In the near future, these terrorists would have effects on Turkey and Turkey would pay a heavy price,” he said.

“You cannot keep terror in your pocket like a card because terror is like the scorpion that, once in your pocket, would sting you at the very first opportunity.”

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party government strongly denies claims that it has helped the Islamist groups, and saying  it supports only the Free Syrian Army, the military wing of the Syrian political opposition that is largely recognized by the West.

Mr. Assad said: “The real issue here is that as many terrorists as we kill, new ones are brought in through borders. Therefore, we’re not talking about a firm number but constantly reforming groups.”

Mr. Assad also once again  denied that his forces had used chemical weapons on civilians. He said  the peace conference for the resolution of the Syrian conflict that is expected to take place in November would address ways to cut political and financial support for “terrorists” in his country, and had nothing to do with his agreement to yield Syria’s chemical weapons.

Asked whether he regretted not bringing in democratic reforms in time to prevent a conflict that has claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced millions, Mr. Assad said that an overall assessment would be possible only after the crisis was over.

“There can always be some mistakes if you look into details, which is natural,” he said. “The important thing is how to assess these mistakes. And without results it’s impossible to assess mistakes. It is impossible to assess results objectively before the crisis is over.”

As for the future of Syria, the leader said he preferred grounded change and of evolution, and he defined himself a “rationalist and realist.”