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Syria's Assad: no pressure from Putin to step down

Assad claimed Russia never raised the issue of his departure or a political transition [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 July, 2016

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Bashar al-Assad claims his Russian allies never pressured him to step down, as Turkish PM Binali Yildirim urged for his departure to end the conflict.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad never faced pressure from Russia to step down, he revealed during an interview with America's NBC network on Wednesday.

Assad claimed that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov never raised the issue of his departure or a political transition.

"Only the Syrian people define who's going to be the president, when to come, and when to go. They never said a single word regarding this," Assad said.

"The Russian support of the Syrian army has tipped the scales against the terrorists," he said. "It was the crucial factor."

His comments came just before US Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Moscow on Thursday to discuss a way forward with the peace process and joint military operations against Islamic State [IS] and al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Wednesday that there can be no solution to the Syrian conflict or the threat from militants while Assad remains in charge.

[Click to enlarge]

In recent days, Yildirim has repeatedly said Turkey would seek good relations with Syria after diplomatic successes with Israel and Russia, raising speculation of a possible change in Turkish policy.

However in an interview with the BBC, Yildirim said Assad had to go because with him in charge, the conflict would not be solved.

"On one hand, there's Assad and on the other, Daesh. If you ask, should we prefer Assad or Daesh, we cannot choose one over the other. They both have to go - they're both trouble for Syrians," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

"Let's imagine we got rid of Daesh, the problem still won't be solved. As long as Assad is there, the problem won't be solved. Another terrorist organisation would emerge."

He accused the Assad regime of creating IS through its policy of killing its own citizens deliberately.

Despite previously having good relations before the start of Syria's five-year civil war, Turkey has been one of the Syrian regime's fiercest opponents, supporting opposition groups fighting against Assad.

On Wednesday, Yildirim told his party's provincial leaders in Ankara that he was sure Turkey would "normalise" relations with Syria and in the BBC interview, Yildirim said Assad had to change without specifying what kind of change.

"Things must change in Syria but first Assad must change. Unless Assad changes, nothing changes."

The Syrian conflict has left more than 280,000 people dead, although Yildirim said half a million had been killed.

Millions more have been forced to flee their homes inside and outside the country.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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