In his first interview with an American journalist since the Syrian uprising began in mid-March, embattled President Bashar al-Assad told ABC’s Barbara Walters that he did not order a crackdown on his own people and the violence in his country is the result of terrorists not his troops.
“Every ‘brute reaction’ was by an individual, not by an institution, that's what you have to know,” Mr. Assad told ABC. “There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference.”
The Syrian president, who has refused demands to step down and scoffed at sanctions imposed on his nation by the Arab League, went on to tell ABC that he felt no guilt for the unrest in his country that has left more than 4,000 people dead, according to United Nations estimates.
Since Syria’s uprising began nearly nine months ago, the country has remained largely inaccessible to foreign journalists, so the interview provides an important window into the Assad government. However, the Syrian president’s remarks indicate what was already largely apparent to most observers: Neither side in this protracted uprising is ready to back down.
Among international observers, Assad’s remarks, which will be aired in full on ABC today, have drawn flak from the West. Speaking at a press conference, an ABC reporter asked a US State Department official about remarks Assad made claiming he did not “own the country, so they [the Syrian Army] are not my forces.”
“I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game [and] claim that he doesn't exercise authority in his own country,” said Mark Toner, a US State Department spokesman in an article by the Daily Telegraph. Speaking to journalists, Mr. Toner added that Assad had missed numerous opportunities to stop the violence.
Within Syria, the president’s remarks are unlikely to elicit much surprise. Demonstrators say that the regime has tried to appease them by making minor, ultimately inconsequential reforms. At the same time, the regime has used increasingly violent methods to put down the uprising, leading to the rise of a number of armed opposition groups, reports The New York Times.
“Nine months into this crisis the government has nothing to offer except a military, security solution,” Syrian dissident Hassan Abdel Azim told the Times.
The Arab League has been working to broker a deal with Syria that would create a plan to end the violence. While Syria showed signs of possibly accepting the plan, it said it would not do so without conditions, namely that the Arab League lift sanctions. The Arab League says it is studying Syria’s proposal. Time Magazine reports that the diplomatic back and forth, may be “yet another of [Assad’s] well-worn ploys to buy time so that he can crush dissent.”
As negotiations continue, so does the violence. CNN reported that Wednesday saw ongoing clashes between government and anti-government forces in the north. The fighting took place in Idlib and reportedly left several people injured on both sides.