Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Iranian state television on Thursday that there is a difference between the policies Ankara endorses and the Turkish people's view of Syria.
Referring to strained relations with Turkey following Syria's shooting down of one of its military fighter planes, Assad said there was a difference between the stance of Turkish officials and the positive view of the Turkish people towards Syria.
Assad criticized neighboring Turkey, the relations with which have worsened following the shooting down of one of its military jets by Syrian forces last Friday. “What we see now shows the stance of some Turkish officials, but not all,” he said. “The policies of the Turkish officials lead to the killing and bloodshed of the Syrian people.”
Turkey has sharply criticized Assad for his regime's crackdown on an uprising against his rule and said Syria is now a threat to its security following the downing of the jet. In a sign of the tension, Turkish journalists reportedly canceled a planned interview with Assad after a close aide to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told media executives that Assad should not be given "the opportunity to spread propaganda" at such a time. The Hürriyet daily's Ertuğrul Özkök, Kanal D anchorman Mehmet Ali Birand and Habertürk's Amberin Zaman abandoned plans to interview Assad, while the Cumhuriyet newspaper's Utku Çakırözer is still planning to go to Damascus for the interview on Sunday, the Taraf daily said on Friday.
The one-hour interview coincides with a marked escalation of violence inside Syria and a flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of a planned meeting in Geneva in an effort to end the spiraling violence. Diplomats said the talks involving UN Security Council members and key regional countries would focus on a proposed transition plan to open the way for a unity government.
“The responsibility of the Syrian government is to protect all of our residents. You have a responsibility to eliminate terrorists in any corner of the country,” Assad told Iranian state television. “When you eliminate a terrorist, it's possible that you are saving the lives of tens, hundreds or even thousands.”
The besieged Syrian leader has rejected any solution imposed from outside the country. “We will not accept any non-Syrian, non-national model, whether it comes from big countries or friendly countries. No one knows how to solve Syria's problems as well as we do,” he said.
Assad added that he does not believe the crisis will result in military action in Syria, saying that what took place in Libya was “not a solution to be copied because it took Libya from one situation into a much worse one.” He added, “We all now see how the Libyan people are paying the price.”
While the United States and its allies have called for Assad to step aside, Iran and Russia have continued to support the Syrian leader and criticized what they say is foreign interference in the country.
In recent years Iran's Shiite theocracy has strengthened its alignment with Syria's nationalist secular government to further its opposition to Israel and as a counterweight against Sunni powers in the region such as Saudi Arabia. Western diplomats say that in recent months Tehran has boosted its support for Assad through training, weapons and communications expertise to assist Syrian forces in fighting rebel groups.
Assad was scornful of such reports that Iranian forces and fighters from Lebanon's militant Hezbollah resistance movement were helping to direct Syrian army operations. Assad said, “This is a joke that we hear many times in order to show that a rift has been created within the army and that therefore there is not an army.”
The Syrian leader thanked Iran for being such a loyal friend and said Damascus would repay such loyalty, saying, “We are on the same front, and the name of this front is being independent and making national decisions.”