Syrian President Bashar Assad admits Turkey and Saudi Arabia could soon send troops into the country, but remains confident that he can retake the war-torn nation.
The statement comes as Riyadh has reiterated its goal of ousting the leader from office.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Assad said he saw a risk that Turkey and Saudi Arabia – key backers of the opposition – could send their soldiers into the fray in Syria.
Riyadh has indeed expressed a desire to send ground troops to the country, should the US-led coalition agree to the move. On Friday, the country’s foreign minister said that Saudi Arabia’s goal was to remove Assad, confidently stating “we will achieve it.”
Speaking at a security conference in Munich, FM Adel al-Jubeir called Assad the “single most effective magnet for extremists and terrorists in the region,” asserting that he must be removed from office if stability is to be restored. “That’s our objective and we will achieve it,” he said. “Unless and until there is a change in Syria, Daesh will not be defeated in Syria, period.”
However, Assad is equally confident that he can retake control of the whole of Syria, large swathes of which are currently under the control of opposition forces and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“Regardless of whether we can do that or not, this is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any hesitation,” he said, adding that it “makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part.”
Assad said he believes it is possible to “put an end to this problem in less than a year” if opposition supply routes from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq are blocked.
If such routes remain open, however, “the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price,” he added.
“The main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey, for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists,” Assad said.
He noted that the Russian-backed government offensive in Aleppo is aimed at cutting off that supply route. The Syrian government has been receiving air support from Moscow, its key ally.
Assad went on to say that he supports peace talks, but stressed that the Syrian government will not “stop fighting terrorism.”
He blamed Europe for “giving cover to terrorists in the beginning” and for the sanctions imposed on Syria, stating that the EU has been the “direct cause for the emigration” of Syrians.
The interview, conducted at Assad’s Damascus office on Thursday and published on Friday, is the first the leader has given since the collapse of a new round of peace talks in Geneva earlier this month. Talks have officially been put on hold until February 25. On Friday, 17 nations taking part in talks in Munich agreed to an ambitious plan that would end hostilities in Syria with verifiable results within a week, revive the Geneva-3 peace talks, and immediately begin delivering humanitarian aid to civilians.
Syria has been the scene of a gruesome civil war since 2011, which has led to the deaths of more than 250,000 people and displaced more than 12 million, according to UN figures.