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Syria says ready to consider Russian air defense deal - paper

RIA Novosti

20/08/2008 11:27 MOSCOW, August 20 (RIA Novosti) - Syria is ready to discuss deploying Iskander missile-defense systems on its territory, but it has not received any proposals from Russia, the country's president told a Russian business daily.

President Bashar Assad, who arrived in Russia on a two-day working on Wednesday, said in an interview with Kommersant before his trip: "Our position is that we are ready to cooperate with Russia in any project that can strengthen its security... I think Russia really has to think of the response it will make when it finds itself closed in a circle."

Israeli media reported on Monday that Russia was planning to place Iskander surface missiles in Syria and its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, in a response to a U.S. missile shield in Central Europe and U.S.-Israeli military aid to Georgia.

When asked if Syria, a major importer of Russian arms, would agree to consider the Russian air defense offer, Assad said: "In principle, yes. We have not yet thought about it." He said the issue of installing Iskander missile-defense systems had been raised by Syria several years ago.

Speaking on the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia over Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia, Assad said: "On this issue we fully support Russia. The war, which was unleashed by Georgia, is the culmination of attempts to encircle and isolate Russia."

Georgia launched a major offensive to seize control of South Ossetia on August 8, prompting Russia to send several hundred tanks and thousands of troops into the region. Moscow announced the end of its operation to "force Georgia to peace" on August 12.

"We oppose all these attempts, as we think that this is a continuation of U.S. Cold War-era policy. What Russia has done is to defend its legitimate interests," Assad told the newspaper.

The Syrian president said that Russia is facing a situation similar to that once faced by Syria.

"Georgia started the crisis, but the West is blaming Russia. Everywhere there is total disinformation, distortion of facts, and international attempts to isolate Russia."

Answering a question on whether Russia could become a "rogue state," Assad said: "The resolution of the important problems in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe is impossible without Russia... I think that after the crisis with Georgia, Russia has become only stronger."

"It's important that Russia takes the position of a superpower, and then all the attempts to isolate it will fail," Bashar Assad said.

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