Syrian President Assad Addresses Russia's Air Campaign In His Country



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In a televised interview Sunday — his first comments since the campaign was launched last week — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Russia's air campaign against "terrorists" must succeed.

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Russia is escalating its air campaign against opposition groups in Syria. And now the embattled Syrian president is sounding more confident. President Bashar al-Assad told Iranian television that the coalition of Syria, Russia and Iran must succeed, or else terrorism will destroy the region. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: After long stretches of absence from the public eye, Assad has made two public appearances in recent days, talking to reporters in Moscow and now in an interview with Iran's Khabar Television.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Assad spoke confidently about the latest cooperation with Russia in Iran, saying it has a large chance of success. He added that it must succeed to prevent a disaster in the region that would spread far beyond Syria's borders. The Syrian leader also argued that the Western-backed coalition, led by the United States, can only achieve a stalemate on the ground that will prolong the suffering of the Syrian people. The U.S. military says its campaign against the Islamic State will not be diminished by the Russian airstrikes, announcing several more strikes in both Syria and Iraq against ISIS targets.


ASSAD: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Assad also addressed a crucial issue for Syrian rebel groups and Western powers, his own future. He said if stepping down from power would solve the Syrian crisis, he wouldn't hesitate. But he also repeated that Syria's domestic politics are an internal matter and something for the Syrian people to decide, not outside powers. In Moscow, officials said Russian fighter jets flew 20 sorties over Syria and hit 10 ISIS targets. But those claims were greeted with skepticism in the West. British Prime Minister David Cameron said Moscow was making a terrible mistake by using its military might to prop up the Assad regime. He accused the Russians of primarily targeting other rebel group in Syria and not the Islamic State. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond added that Syria is a million miles from being able to hold the free and fair elections proposed by Russia and Iran. Turkey's president added his voice to the criticism, saying that Russia is making a grave mistake with its military escalation in Syria. The Turkish military meanwhile says a Russian jet violated Turkish airspace Saturday, and two Turkish jets were scrambled to intercept it. Separately, Syrian activists say ISIS fighters have destroyed another famous ruin, the nearly 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph in the city of Palmyra. The group has already blown up two ancient temples there since seizing the city in May. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.