Bashar al-Assad Vows to Retake ‘Every Inch’ of Syria


Syria’s president promised to retake “every inch” of the country from his foes on Tuesday in a defiant speech that appeared to reject the humanitarian relief effort and peaceful transition of power that the United States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations have pressed for since last fall.

The speech by President Bashar al-Assad was his first major address since the effort to mediate an end to the civil war broke down in Geneva in April. It reflected his sense that Russian intervention in the war has bolstered his position — and his ability to remain in power for the foreseeable future — as the war enters its sixth year.

Mr. Assad’s defiance was notable partly because of efforts in recent months by Secretary of State John Kerry and other leaders of a 17-nation collaboration, known as the International Syria Support Group, to set a series of deadlines and limits that Syria could not violate.

Every one of the directives has been broken. A cease-fire devised in Munich in February collapsed. Mr. Kerry’s demand at that time — that humanitarian access had to begin within weeks — was briefly observed in a few towns before access was again largely blocked.

“The speech was, unfortunately, vintage Assad — unrepentant and damaging to international efforts to end the brutal civil war that has ravaged the country for more than five years — the same international efforts that his principal backers, Russia and Iran, support,” Mark C. Toner, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday night. “His remarks show once again how delusional, detached and unfit he is to lead the Syrian people.”

Mr. Toner argued that Syria was defying not just Mr. Kerry, but also its two most vital allies, Russia and Iran.

Mr. Kerry was in Beijing and, because of the time difference, could not be reached for his reaction to Mr. Assad’s speech, Mr. Toner said.

Three weeks ago in Vienna, Mr. Kerry appeared before reporters to declare that if Mr. Assad continued to obstruct humanitarian convoys, the West would help the United Nations relief agency conduct airdrops of supplies to starving towns, beginning June 1. The deadline passed with little comment by Mr. Kerry or the State Department. It remains unclear when those airdrops will commence, if at all.

At the same Vienna conference, Mr. Kerry rejected the notion that President Obama and other allies would not use force to stop the Syrian government’s indiscriminate bombings or enforce humanitarian access.

“If President Assad has come to a conclusion there’s no Plan B,” he said, “then he’s come to a conclusion that is totally without any foundation whatsoever and even dangerous.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, David E. Sanger and Rick Gladstone