Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed willingness to negotiate with the country’s opposition but refused to consider resigning in an interview with a British newspaper released Sunday.
He also accused the British government of contributing to the militarization of the two-year conflict. The UK says it supports the Syrian opposition but does not provide rebels with arms. The United States also announced increased "non-lethal" aid to the rebels last week.
"We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms," Assad told the Sunday Times in an interview conducted last week in his Damascus residence.
“We can engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists,” he said.
In the first explicit offer to negotiate with the opposition, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in Moscow Feb. 25 that Damascus was ready for dialogue with everyone who wants it, even with those who have weapons in their hands “because we believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue.”
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Some 70,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to an U.N. estimate.
Assad dismissed suggestions that his departure may end the civil war, saying: “Clearly this is absurd, and other recent precedents in Libya, Yemen and Egypt bear witness to this.”
Assad accused the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of trying to supply arms to "terrorists" in his country by pushing for the ending of an EU arms embargo. However, at a meeting in Brussels Feb. 18, EU foreign ministers had decided to allow only "non-lethal" aid and "technical assistance" to flow to the Syria's opposition.
Assad dismissed suggestions that Britain could play a constructive role in resolving the crisis, saying: "We don't expect an arsonist to be a firefighter."
"How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists and don't try to ease the dialogue between the Syrians?"
"To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries,” he said. "The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony."
"If you want to talk about the role, you cannot separate the role from the credibility," Assad said. "And we cannot separate the credibility from the history of that country."