Syria's Assad: 'I am not Saddam Hussein'
AFP | March 7, 2005
WASHINGTON - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, under pressure to withdraw troops from Lebanon, insisted he should not be compared to Saddam Hussein and that he wanted to cooperate with international demands, according to an interview released Sunday.
Assad told Time magazine Syria has suffered most from the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, whose killing led to stepped up calls for Syria to pullout from neighboring Lebanon.
When asked who had killed Hariri, Assad told the weekly: "The most important question is, Who had the benefit of it?
"As president, I can't tell you this country or that. But who suffered most from it? Syria. Syria was the biggest loser. The Lebanese, definitely, they lost ... But Syria lost more."
At the end of the interview, which was conducted last week, Assad said: "Please send this message: I am not Saddam Hussein. I want to cooperate."
The Lebanese opposition has blamed the February 14 explosion that killed Hariri on Beirut's pro-Syrian regime and Damascus. The assassination led to calls by France and the United States for Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon.
The Lebanese opposition has also launched a campaign of massive public protests that led to the downfall of the Syrian-backed government on Monday.
In excerpts of the interview that had been released last week, Assad said Syria would withdraw its troops from neighboring Lebanon in 'the next few months.'
Time said the Syrian government later corrected Assad's comments, saying the president was talking about compliance with the 1989 Taif agreement, which calls for a Syrian pullback to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley but does not set a date for the full pullout.
Assad on Saturday announced that Syria would redeploy all its troops to the Syrian border, but he did not set a timetable for a full withdrawal.
Syria is to start redeploying its troops into the Bekaa Valley Monday, Lebanon's outgoing Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mrad said Sunday.