- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Syrian President Bashar Assad says Iran-back Hezbollah fighters are playing a completely legitimate role in bolstering Syria’s military against terrorists and that he has “strong confidence” Russia will also continue to support his embattled regime.

In a rare interview that aired Tuesday night on Hezbollah’s Lebanon-based al-Manar television network, the Syrian leader also said that Iran’s support for his government will not wane as a result of the recent nuclear accord reached between Tehran and several world powers, including the U.S.

According to an English-language summary of the interview posted on al-Manar’s website, Mr. Assad claimed that Western powers — presumably a reference to the Obama administration — attempted during the nuclear negotiations to coerce Iran to back away from supporting the Syrian government, but that Tehran refused.

The translation also maintains that Mr. Assad asserted that Sunni Muslim terrorists now operating in Syria are a tool of “Zionist” aggression — an apparent insinuation that Israel and Washington are colluding with jihadis in the nation to try and overthrow the Syrian government.

With regard to Russia, an Agence France-Presse article on the interview quoted Mr. Assad as saying: “We have strong confidence in the Russians, as they have proven throughout this crisis, for four years, that they are sincere and transparent in their relationship with us.”

The Syrian leader described Russia as “principled,” asserting that “the United States abandons its allies, abandons its friends.”

Mr. Assad was also quoted as describing Hezbollah’s presence in Syria as “legitimate” because his government had invited them to take part in the war. The powerful Lebanese Shia movement, along with Russia and Iran, has been backing the Assad regime since the 2011 start of the war the has left more than 240,000 people dead and millions displaced.

The conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in March of that year. It devolved into a multi-front civil war after Syrian military forces loyal to the Assad regime engaged in a bloody crackdown against the demonstrators.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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