Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his future could only be decided through the ballot box, in an interview with Russian television where he warned the country could face a protracted war.
Al-Assad told state-run Russia Today (RT) that whether the president can “stay or leave” is a “popular issue” and “the only way [it] can be done [is] through the ballot boxes.”
“It is not about what we hear. It is about what we can get through that box and that box will tell any president to stay or leave very simply,” said the president, speaking in English, with his words translated into Arabic.
In the interview with Russia Today correspondent Sophie Shevarnadze recorded in Damascus, he also denied Syria was in a state of “civil war” — rather, a new kind of battle he calls “terrorism through proxies” — but said the conflict could be “a long-term war” if the rebels continued to receive support from abroad.
“You have divisions, but division does not mean civil war,” he said.
Al-Assad described as “unprecedented” the support that he said the rebels were receiving from abroad in terms of arms, money and political backing.
“So, you have to expect that it is going to be a tough war and a difficult war. You do not expect a small country like Syria to defeat all those countries that have been fighting us through proxies just in days or weeks,” he said.
If the support for rebels from abroad stopped, he said, “I can tell that in weeks we can finish everything.”
“But as long as you have a continuous supply in terrorists, armaments, logistics and everything else, it is going to be a long-term war,” he said.
“I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country,” al-Assad said in excerpts from the interview that were posted on Russia Today’s Web site on Thursday. “I am Syrian, I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria.”
Al-Assad also warned against foreign military intervention.
“I don’t think the West is headed in this direction, but if it does, nobody can predict the consequences,” he told the station.
It was not clear when the 26-minute interview took place. Al-Assad was seen in a gray suit and tie, casually talking and also walking with Shevarnadze outside a house. Shevarnadze said during the broadcast that she met al-Assad in a “newly renovated” presidential palace in Damascus.
Al-Assad has made only a few appearances in public since the revolt began in March last year. Last month, state TV showed him praying on the floor of a Damascus mosque for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Meanwhile, Peter Maurer, the head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, said his organization can no longer cope with the worsening situation in Syria.
“The seriousness of the crisis is deepening with every day and this trend has been uninterrupted since summer,” Maurer said.
The Red Cross has improved its transportation and logistics, making it easier to bring in truckloads of food and medicine, but it has become overwhelmed by the dire need of hundreds of thousands of people struggling inside Syria, he said.