In a rare interview, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he will not step down and has criticized Britain for supporting opposition fighters in Syria's two-year conflict.
In a televised interview with Britain’s “Sunday Times” newspaper, Assad lashed out at the British government, calling its involvement in the Syrian crisis “naïve” and “unrealistic.”
"How can we expect to ask Britain to play a role [in the Syrian conflict] while it is determined to militarize the problem?" Assad asked. "How can you ask them to play a role in making the situation better, more stable? 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? This is not logical."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague responded to Assad’s allegations by calling his remarks “one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times.”
"This is a man presiding over this slaughter, and the message to him is that we, Britain, are the people sending food and shelter and blankets to help people driven from their homes and families in his name," Hague said. "We're the people sending medical supplies to try to look after people injured and abused by the soldiers working for this man, President Assad."
Britain, along with most of Western Europe, the United States, and several Arab states has backed the Syrian opposition in rejecting any role for Assad in a future Syrian government.
It has also pushed for the lifting of a European ban on arms supplies to Syrian rebels. The European Union, however, has rejected the call, allowing only for the provision of nonlethal and technical assistance.
More than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict between government forces and opposition rebels calling for Assad’s ouster.
But Assad told the “Sunday Times” he would not stand down, saying it was “absurd” to believe such a move would stop the fighting.
Assad also said he would engage in dialogue with the “opposition” but not with “terrorists.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the international envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, have said they are ready to broker peace talks between Assad and the opposition.
The Assad interview, taped last week at Assad’s palace in Damascus, airs as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing a Mideast diplomatic tour that focuses largely on the Syrian conflict.
The United States last week committed itself for the first time to sending nonlethal aid to anti-Assad factions, as well as $60 million for sanitation and education services in areas of Syria already under opposition control.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and the "Sunday Times"