Syrian President Bashar Assad said the Syrian presidential election in 2021 would be open to anybody who wants to run and that there would be numerous challenges for the presidency.
Assad, who made the comment in an interview broadcast on Monday on RT, faced two challengers at the 2014 election which he won by a landslide.
“Last time we were three and this time, of course, we are going to have as much as they want to nominate. There are going to be numerous nominees,” Assad said.
Elsewhere in the interview, the Syrian president said the operation to kill Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a trick, since US politics “are no different from Hollywood; it relies on the imagination. Not even science fiction, just mere imagination.”
US President Donald Trump said late last month that Baghdadi blew himself up, dying “like a dog,” and “like a coward” after American forces trapped him inside a dead-end tunnel.
In his interview, Assad hit out at Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, describing him as the enemy of Syria.
Turkey is a key supporter of militants fighting to topple the Syrian government and has recently launched an invasion in northeastern Syria against Kurdish militants.
“We must remember that Erdogan aimed, from the beginning of the war, to create a problem between the Syrian people and the Turkish people, to make it an enemy,” Assad said.
He said the Turkish army initially supported the Syrian army and “cooperated with us to the greatest possible extent, until Erdogan’s coup against the army”.
“Erdogan and his group are enemies because he leads these policies, but until now most of the political forces in Turkey are against Erdogan’s policies. So, we must ensure not to turn Turkey into an enemy, and here comes the role of friends – the Russian role and the Iranian role.”
Assad also did not rule out the possibility of holding a meeting with Erdogan if national interests were at stake.
Describing the Turks as occupiers — “exactly like Israelis” — the interviewer asked Assad about the possibility of a similar meeting with Israelis.
In response, Assad said, “The difference between them (Turkey) and Israel is that we do not recognize the legitimacy of its existence as a state.”
“We don’t recognize the existence of the Israeli people. There is no Israeli people except the one that existed for several centuries BC, and now they are a diaspora who came and occupied land and evicted its people.”
Instead, “the Turkish people exist, and they are a neighboring people, and we have a common history, regardless of whether this history is good or bad or in between – that is irrelevant. Turkey exists as a state and it is a neighboring state,” he said.
Answering a question on how Israel seems to be absent from the events of Syria and the greatest beneficiary of the crisis, Assad stressed that Israel has always been present in the Syrian conflict.
“It has never been absent. It might be absent in terms of language, because we fight its proxies, agents, flunkies, or tools in different ways, some military, some political. They are all tools serving Israel directly or through the Americans.”
Assad also said, “Israel is, in fact, a main partner in what is happening, and as an enemy state, that is expected.”