Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said he is ready to hold talks to end the conflict that began almost two years ago as the U.K. offered aid to rebels against his regime.
“We’re ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms,” Assad told the London-based Sunday Times in an interview. “We’re not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons, to terrorize people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country.”
The uprising against Assad has left more than 70,000 people dead, according to United Nations estimates. The U.S. is providing support to rebel fighters for the first time including medical equipment and food as well as $60 million for the National Coalition.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague today called Assad “delusional” and said he will this week announce further direct assistance for Syrian rebels.
“We’ll be doing more and we have to steadily do more if there’s no diplomatic or political breakthrough,” Hague told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show.” “The situation in Syria now is too dangerous to the peace and security of that entire region to ignore it.”
Assad said any moves by the west to arm Syrian rebels would have consequences. Opposition groups are preparing an alternative government to Assad’s regime.
“Syria lies at the fault line geographically, politically, socially and ideologically,” Assad told the Times. “So playing with this fault line will have serious repercussions all over the Middle East. Any intervention will not make these things better. It will only make them worse. Europe and the United States and others are going to pay the price sooner or later with the instability in this region. They do not foresee it.”
The uprising against Assad, from the Alawite sect that’s an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has taken on a sectarian character, with most of the rebel groups led by Sunni Muslims. Iran, the region’s main Shiite power, supports Assad while Sunni-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey back the opposition.
Hague said that while the U.K. package announced to parliament this week includes non-lethal equipment to help save lives, he didn’t rule out sending weapons. “I don’t rule out anything for the future if this is going to go on for months or years, and more tens of thousands of people are going to die,” he said.
Hague said that while Assad was presiding over the “slaughter” of his own people, Britain was sending humanitarian aid. “This will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times,” Hague said.
In the Sunday Times, Assad accused the British government of being ‘naive, confused and unrealistic” in its approach to the conflict in his country and warned of dire consequences if the West armed its rebels.
“To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries,” he said.
Andrew Atkinson in London at +44-20-7330-7672 or firstname.lastname@example.org