BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad doesn’t believe a proposed Geneva Conference will take place because the foreign-backed armed opposition to his rule is disintegrating and only “terrorists” are left, according to remarks published in an interview Monday.
Assad told Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper that Syria abandoned its production of chemical arms in 1997 and compensated by boosting its production of missiles, while accusing the Hamas Movement of “lies and treachery.”
Assad has given a number of upbeat interviews to Syria and non-Syrian media outlets in recent weeks, stressing that his regime’s forces had the upper hand in their war against rebels.
He said it was unlikely that a “ Geneva II” meeting would be convened because the rebel Free Syrian Army’s members were abandoning the mainstream opposition for the ranks of hard-line Islamist groups or turning themselves in to the authorities.
“The ones that the West can bring to the [Geneva] conference have no control on the ground, and the ones with control on the ground aren’t under the control of the West,” he said.
Assad addressed the trigger for renewed hopes that a Geneva conference would take place after months of drift – the use of chemical weapons following an Aug. 21 attack in areas outside Damascus.
The Syrian president said Damascus had abandoned its production of chemical weapons more than 15 years ago because the country opted to develop its traditional missile technology and because protective equipment allowed soldiers to neutralize their impact on the battlefield.
The interviewer said Assad was upbeat throughout the interview, and also joked about the chemical weapons issue. Asked about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize last week to the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog, which is now tasked with destroying Syria’s arsenal, Assad quipped: “This award should have gone to me.”
As for the Palestinian Hamas Movement, Assad said the group’s officials were guilty of lying and treachery since the outset of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.
“[ Hamas officials] said they gave us some advice [about how to react]. This is a lie,” Assad said. “Who are they to give advice to Syria?”
Assad said Hamas decided to abandon resistance to Israel and become a part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It wasn’t the first time they betrayed us,” Assad remarked.
The Syrian president said his country’s relations with Iraq were “very good” and was more enthusiastic about discussing ties with Cairo, following the ouster of President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He claimed, however, that “military and intelligence channels” between Damascus and Cairo had never been severed, even during the Morsi presidency, and described bilateral relations today as being much better than during the days of Hosni Mubarak.
In a response to a question about receiving Hamas official Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, Assad chuckled as he answered, “Don’t rule out seeing [Lebanon’s] Walid Jumblatt here,” referring to one of his fiercest critics in that country.