title: 'Assads comments successfully muddied the waters' published: true publish_date: '31-08-2016 14:56' taxonomy: category:

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    After a pithy exchange in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the UK government as "shallow and immature", prompting the British Foreign Secretary William Hague to lash back by calling him "delusional", VoR looks at what Assad's remarks were intended to achieve. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad came out fighting in his Sunday Timesinterview, accusing the UK of supporting terrorists. He said the UK was pushing to arm extremist militants in Syria with heavy weapons, despite the result of a Yougov poll in December which suggested a majority of Britons are against the idea. And he dismissed the Free Syrian Army as a loose grouping of gangs with different interests and said Britain had long played a destructive role in the Middle East. “The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlight this tradition of bullying and hegemony. I am being frank. How can we expect to ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarize the problem?”he said. “How can you ask them to play a role in making the situation better and more stable, how can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists.” Malik al Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in the UK, says Assad gave a strong performance in the interview. “What Bashar did quite well is to muddy the waters, shift the debate on Syria from being a straightforward one of people who want democracy against the tyrant who doesn’t want to give them democracy to more of a regional struggle for influence and therefore Britain should not get involved because it doesn’t have a genuine interest in seeing Syria destabilised even further and the bloodshed continuing,”he said. “What he did pretty well in the interview was make the conflict appear more complex than perhaps it really is.” Abdeh said the aggressive interview was also a challenge to western countries that are calling for him to leave office. “He accuses the British government of being naïve on Syria and to a certain extent there is truth in this because we’ve heard it said many times the days of Assad are numbered, he’s going to fall, some people have even given a timeframe for this, and all those statements have proven to be false. These statements were made all the way from the White House to the State Department to No.10,”he said. “So he’s challenging the West. He’s telling Western leaders that you don’t really understand the region and I do, and that your response lacks sophistication by backing only one side and demonising the other.” Abdeh said publication of the interview could have been timed to coincide with news of a military success for the Syrian army, which claimed to have seized a key road between central and northern Syria. But Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague hit back yesterday, saying in a TV interview that Assad was “delusional” and was being misinformed about the situation in Syria by his advisors. And Hague said he wasn’t ruling out direct transfers of weapons to Syrian rebels. “You can reach consensus eventually when humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life is so great that you have to do something new to save lives. That's why I don't rule it out in the future,”he said. Secretary of State John Kerry last week announced direct “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels, who have instead received arms from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But in his interview, Assad said Kerry should use his trip to Turkey and the Gulf countries to ask them to stop funding and arming terrorists in Syria. Andrey Baklitsky, Project Director at the Russian Center for Policy Studies, says the interview comes as western hopes for a rebel victory are fading. “A big part of the country still supports Bashar al-Assad and it’s no longer a war for freedom as the conflict was perceived in Libya, it’s more of a civil war with two sides which both have their support among the population and people dying from both sides and it’s much more complicated to solve,”he said. Last week Kerry said he favoured a political solution based on the Geneva Communique, which called for a transitional government in Syria. Andrey Baklitsky again. “It has the signatures of the US and the UK and Russia of course. But again, I don’t think that any compromise will be possible if Bashar al-Assad stays as president,”he said. Russia has called for talks between the Syrian government and opposition figures, but the opposition Syrian National Coalition has so far rejected any dialogue with Assad. Meanwhile, in Riyadh today John Kerry said Washington would work to "empower" Syria's opposition but would not supply arms.

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