Assad Says He Needs Iranian, Hizballah Forces To Stay In Syria
RFE/RL June 14, 2018
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he needs the assistance of Iranian and Hizballah forces in Syria and they will stay for as long as they deem necessary.
In an interview with Iran's Al-Alam TV late on June 13, Assad said Iran did not have any military bases in Syria, unlike Russia, but he said that if there was "a need for Iranian military bases, we will not hesitate" to provide them.
"Iran is an allied country,as [is] the case with Russia," he said.
Assad said he had received critical support from Iranian advisers and fighters as well as Iraqi Shi'ite militias and the Lebanese fighters in Hizballah's militia in his seven-year civil war against Sunni rebels, which has killed more than a half-million people.
He said those fighters were still needed for the government to regain control an estimated 40 percent of the country that is still controlled by rebel forces.
"Hizballah is a basic element in this war. The battle is long, and the need for these military forces will continue for a long time," Assad told Al-Alam.
Assad stressed that he invited the allied fighters into his country and he would never ask them to leave, as the United States and Israel are demanding, even as part of any peace settlement.
Israel sees Tehran as a mortal foe and has pressed for removal of the Iranian military presence in Syria in talks with Russia and the United States, as well as targeting Iranian fighters and facilities in Syria in a series of deadly air raids this year.
Assad told Al-Alam that Syria's relationship with Iran "will not be part of any settlement" and was "not in the international bazaar."
He said friendly forces will remain in Syria until "terrorism" has been rooted out. Assad frequently refers to his armed rebel opponents as "terrorists," even those not designated as terrorists by the United Nations or other official organizations.
"When Iran or Hizballah sees that terrorism is eliminated, they will tell us that they want to leave back to their homelands," he said.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said during a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week that he had not ruled out the withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria if what he called the "roots of terrorism" are destroyed there.
"That would mean there was no need for the presence of foreign troops in Syria," he said during the call, according to a statement from his office.
With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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