Middle East

Two women walk past a huge billboard bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus on May 27, 2014
Growing jihadist threat has made the West rethink its position, says Syrian president

Western countries that back the revolt in Syria have started to shift position on the conflict because of the danger posed to them by jihadists, according to President Bashar al-Assad.

"The United States and the West have started to send signs of change. Terrorism is now on their soil," said Assad, according to remarks published in a Lebanese newspaper that backs the Damascus regime.

Leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations have said they will tighten their defenses against the risk of terror attacks by jihadists returning from Syria.

And Assad said "current and former US officials are trying to get in touch with us, but they do not dare to because of the powerful lobbies that are pressuring them."

Syria's war began as a peaceful movement demanding political change, but later morphed into an armed rebellion attracting foreign jihadists after the Assad regime unleashed a massive crackdown against dissent.

The war has killed more than 162,000 people and forced nearly half the population to flee their homes.

Al-Akhbar also quoted Assad as saying he rejects negotiations with the exiled, main opposition National Coalition.

The regime and the coalition held talks in Switzerland earlier this year, but they yielded no concrete results.

The Assad regime maintains that the war will only end with internal dialogue, while opponents say it is impossible to organize genuine political dissent in a country ruled with an iron fist for nearly half a century.

"What will dialogue with the exiled opposition lead to? Nothing, because it has no impact," the paper quoted the president as saying.

He insisted that conditions in Syria have "changed" since he was swept back to power by a June 3 election deemed a "farce" by the opposition.

"People expressed their opinion (at the polls) and we have to respect that," Assad said.

The election, which Assad won with 88.7 percent of the votes, was held only in regime-controlled territory.

Assad said the so-called Geneva peace process had "ended, because the circumstances have changed".

"The state will be victorious, even if it takes time to crush all the terrorists," he added.

Separately, Syrian state news agency SANA quoted deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad as blaming Western backers of the revolt for delays in the handover of Syrian chemical weapons.

"Western states are responsible for any delays in closing this file, because they are politicizing" the process, Muqdad said.

While he did not specify how so-called Western support to "armed terrorist groups" was delaying the handover, it may have been a reference to the continued presence of some chemical stockpiles in areas under rebel control.

Under a deal brokered by the United States and Russia after a chemical attack near Damascus that killed hundreds last August, Syria agreed to hand over its chemical weapons.

Last week, the mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's arsenal urged Damascus to hand over its remaining agents.

(AFP)

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