Britain seeks to arm Syrian terrorists, President Assad says

Accusation comes as UN chief offers to hold peace talks between regime and rebels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 5:27am


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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Britain of wanting to arm terrorists in his country as the UN chief and his Syria envoy offer to broker peace talks between the regime and rebel leaders.

Britain has been pushing to lift a ban on the sale of arms to Syria's rebels, but at a meeting last month European Union foreign ministers ruled that only "non-lethal" aid and "technical assistance" could be given to the opposition.

"How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists and don't try to ease the dialogue between the Syrians?" Assad said in a rare interview with a British newspaper.

"Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in different issues for decades, some say for centuries - I'm telling you the perception in our region," he told The Sunday Times.

"The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of a bullying hegemony."

His comments came as UN chief Ban Ki-moon and his Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said they were prepared to broker peace talks between the Assad regime and the opposition.

A joint statement by the pair said the UN would "be prepared to facilitate a dialogue between a strong and representative delegation from the opposition and a credible and empowered delegation from the Syrian government".

The offer came after both sides in Syria had indicated a "willingness to engage in dialogue", the UN said.

They also warned that both the regime and opposition fighters "have become increasingly reckless with human life" and said perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be brought to justice.

In Tehran on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Assad will take part in next year's presidential election and that it is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leader.

Assad, who took over as president in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez, has repeatedly rejected calls by the opposition, Western and Arab nations to step down. Britain is currently bound by an EU arms embargo which European foreign ministers decided not to lift at a meeting in Brussels last month.