(LONDON) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is rejecting calls from many members of the international community that he should step down to facilitate the end of a bloody two-year civil war in his country that has cost more than 70,000 lives and threatens to further destabilize the Middle East.
In an interview published in The Sunday Times of London, Assad said “only the Syrian people can tell the president, stay or leave. Come or go. No one else.”
Assad blasted the British government for British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s recent comments that he would not rule out supplying arms to the rebels who are battling Syrian government forces.
Assad remarked, “How can we ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarize the problem? How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists?”
The Syrian president told the newspaper, “The British government wants to send military aid to moderate groups in Syria knowing all too well that such moderate groups do not exist in Syria.” Assad said his country was “fighting al Qaeda” and its associates.
In comments to the BBC, Foreign Secretary Hague said he could not rule out anything in the future: “If this is going to go on for months or years or more, tens of thousands of people are going to die and countries like Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan are going to be destabilized. It is not something we can ignore. These are the reasons why we just can’t sit it out in Syria.”
Assad told The Sunday Times he was “ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms.”
“We have opposition that are political entities and we have armed terrorists. We can engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists. We fight terrorism,” Assad said.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States would send food rations and medical supplies to the Free Syrian Army that is battling Assad’s government forces. The Obama administration is still not ready to provide Syrian rebels with military equipment.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Mohammed Tawfeeq and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
Rafael Romo and Patrick Gillespie, CNN