Russia has never pressed me to go, says Syria’s president

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad says he has never faced pressure from Russia to step aside.

As Moscow prepared for the arrival of US secretary of state John Kerry for talks with Vladimir Putin on how to revive peace efforts in Syria, president Assad insisted that neither the Russian president nor the foreign minister had ever raised the issue of his departure from office or a political transition of power.

“Only the Syrian people define who’s going to be the president, when to come, and when to go. They never said a single word regarding this,” he said in an interview in Damascus with the American channel NBC news.

He also said the British journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in 2012 was responsible for her own death. Colvin, an American-born war correspondent who worked for the British newspaper The Sunday times, died in a bombardment in the rebel-held Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. She was 56 and had already lost an eye when she was shot in Sri Lanka. Her family is now suing the Syrian government, claiming she was targeted by the Assad regime to stop her uncovering government atrocities.

They contend that they have information indicating the Syrian military intercepted Ms Colvin’s communications and unleashed rocket fire which killed her and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

But the Syrian president denied Ms Colvin was ever a target.

“It’s a war and she came illegally to Syria. She worked with the terrorists, and because she came illegally, she’s been responsible of everything that befall on her,” said Mr Assad, speaking in English.

Asked if she was responsible for her own death, Assad replied “Of course.”

Mr Assad’s future is a key question in efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement to Syria’s five-year civil war.

Moscow and Washington have backed a road map that calls for a nationwide ceasefire and talks on a “political transition” that would be conducted in Geneva. But there has been little progress towards a resumption of talks this month, and the prospects for such a transition now appear slim., despite UN Syria envy Staffan de Mistura pushing for an August date for talks to resume.

Before leaving Washington, secretary of state Kerry said he hoped he and president Putin could somehow advance this (the peace process) in the important ways that people want us to.”