US described the vow by Bashar Assad to retake all of Syria as 'delusional', with the Saudi foreign minister insisting that Assad would not be allowed to remain in power.
Assad (R) said this week his army intends to recapture all of Syria eventually [Anadolu/AFP]
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is "deluded" if he thinks there is a military solution to the war in Syria, nearly five years into a brutal conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, a US official said.
In an exclusive interview with AFP released earlier, the defiant Syrian strongman vowed to recapture Syria as a whole and keep "fighting terrorism."
"He's deluded if he thinks that there's a military solution to the conflict in Syria," deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Friday.
"All we're looking at, if the Syrian regime continues the fighting, is more bloodshed, more hardship and, frankly, a greater hardening of positions on either side."
The conflict has fueled the meteoric rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, which controls large swathes of the country.
Rebel forces also hold significant territory.
Assad spoke hours before world powers agreed on an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in Syria within a week, but doubts soon emerged over its viability, especially because it did not include IS or al-Qaeda's local branch.
"The proof is in the pudding," Toner cautioned, in reference to the deal.
"We need to see action on the ground on the part of those parties, and that includes the regime. That includes the opposition. They need to stop the fighting, and then we can determine who is part of this process and who is not."
||The Syrian president, bolstered by Russian and Iranian military assistance, appeared confident of his ability to achieve victory in the civil war
No Assad in the future
Bashar al-Assad will not be ruling Syria in the future and Russia's military interventions will not help him stay in power, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a German newspaper in an interview published Saturday.
"There will be no Bashar al-Assad in the future," al-Jubeir told newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
"It might take three months, it might take six months or three years - but he will no longer carry responsibility for Syria. Period."
Saying that the Syrian people's determination to topple Assad was unbroken despite heavy Russian airstrikes and persecution within the country, al-Jubeir criticized Russia's involvement in the five-year-long war.
He said that Assad's previous calls for help to his own military, Iran, Hizballah and Shia militia forces from Iraq and Pakistan were all in vain.
||Now he called the Russians, but they won't be able to help him either
--Saudi's FM on Assad
Russia entered the war on Sept. 30 2015 in support of the Syrian president. At least 250,000 people have been killed, 11 million made homeless and hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe since the conflict began in 2011.
Moscow has said its air strikes are against the extremist militant groups IS and the Nusra Front, but other countries and rebel groups say the attacks target civilians.
Asked about a more direct military involvement with "boots on the ground", al-Jubeir said such discussions were currently underway among the member states of a US-led coalition against IS.
"If the coalition should decide to deploy special forces in the fight against IS in Syria, Saudi Arabia will be ready to participate," he said.
At a peace and security conference currently underway in Munich, major powers said a peace deal could only be reached if Moscow stops bombing insurgents other than IS.
But Russia pressed on with its airstrikes in support of Assad, who vowed to fight until he regained full control of the country.
On Friday as well, Iran extended an olive branch to Saudi Arabia when the Iranian foreign minister said both countries must overcome strained relations and work for stability in Syria and the Middle East, a day after Syrian peace talks brought the rivals to the same table for the first time in months.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference hours after his Saudi counterpart addressed the event, Zarif said he wanted to stop the bickering and had a simple message: “We need to work together.”
“Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot exclude each other from the region,” he said, referring to Riyadh as “our Saudi brothers.” “We are prepared to work with Saudi Arabia ... I believe Iran and Saudi Arabia can have shared interests in Syria.”
Ties have worsened since the kingdom’s execution in January of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr prompted attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia subsequently cut all ties with Iran.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who spoke in Munich before Zarif, made no references to Iran and underscored the differences over Assad’s future, telling EU ministers and diplomats that the Syrian leader would be removed. “That’s our objective and we will achieve it,” he said.