Syria's Assad: Improving Air Defenses to Stop Israeli Strikes, Ready to Confront U.S. Troops

Syrian president denies Iranian troops are present in the war-torn country and says the U.S. must leave

Syria's President Bashar al Assad attends an interview with a Greek newspaper in Damascus, Syria in this handout released May 10, 2018.
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview on Thursday that the only way to stop Israeli air strikes is by improving the country's air defenses. "We are doing that," he said.

In a televised interview to RT in Damascus, Assad denied Iranian troops are in Syria, saying there are only Iranian officers who are working with the Syrian army.

Assad, echoing Russia from earlier in the week, said the United States must exit the war-torn country. "The Americans should leave, somehow they are going to leave," he said.

Assad interview with RT.

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Responding to U.S. President Donald Trump's description of him as "Animal Assad," the Syrian leader said: "What you say is what you are." 

Assad said he would recover areas of Syria held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and that U.S. forces should learn the lesson of Iraq and leave the country. 

Assad also said the government had "started now opening doors for negotiations" with the SDF, a Kurdish dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where U.S. forces are stationed.

"This is the first option. If not, we're going to resort to ... liberating those areas by force," he said, adding "the Americans should leave, somehow they're going to leave."

Trump said in April he wanted to withdraw American troops from Syria relatively soon, but also voiced a desire to leave a “strong and lasting footprint”.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on April 30 the United States and its allies would not want to pull troops out of Syria before diplomats win the peace.