Assad Raises Prospect of U.S. Clash in Syria, Hits Back at Trump and Calls Him ‘Animal’

The United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and leave Syria, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of him as an animal by saying “what you say is what you are”, Reuters reports.

In the interview with RT, the Russian state’s international broadcaster, Assad raised the prospect of conflict with U.S. forces if they do not leave Syria. He vowed to recover territory where American troops have deployed, either through negotiations with Washington’s Syrian allies or by force.

Assad, echoing Russia from earlier in the week, said the United States must exit the war-torn country.

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. He 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.

Assad has branded President Donald Trump an “animal” as he hit back at the US leader for describing him with the same derogatory term, Daily Express adds. Before he took office in January 2018, Donald Trump blamed former President Barack Obama for deciding not to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Trump has also blamed his predecessor for supporting Syrian rebels trying to overthrow Assad after a 2011 uprising, saying in 2015 that “Assad may be bad, but we have absolutely no idea who these people are that we’re arming.” Trump branded Obama “the founder of ISIS” and recently wrote on Twitter:

“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”

Trump used the language to describe the Syrian President after his alleged involvement in a toxic gas attack last month. In a tweet the U.S. leader condemned a “mindless chemical attack” in Syria that killed women and children, called Syrian President an “animal” and delivered a rare personal criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin for supporting the Damascus government.

Explaining how he felt about Trump’s insult, Assad claimed he was not moved by Trump’s words, before then retaliating by returning the insult, Newsweek adds. Russian broadcaster RT asked Assad if he also had a nickname for Trump, to which the Syrian president answered:

“This is not my language, so, I cannot use similar language. This is his language. It represents him. I think there is a very known principle, that what you say is what you are. So, he wanted to represent what he is, and that’s normal.”

Assad also stated that Trump’s invention of an insulting nickname did not move him or Syria in the slightest. He said:

“It didn’t move anything and this language shouldn’t move anything for anyone. The only thing that moves you is what people that you trust, people who are level-headed, people who are thoughtful, people who are moral, ethical, that’s what should move anything inside you, whether positive or negative. Somebody like Trump will move nothing for me.”

Russia and Iran’s backing for Assad has allowed Syria’s armed forces to restore control over almost every major population center and vast stretches of territory once lost to ISIS, other jihadis and opposition forces. The Syrian offensive along with a separate offensive by U.S.-led coalition and its allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces have left only remnants of ISIS remaining and Trump has expressed his desire to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Nevertheless, the situation has been complicated by the proliferation of Iranian and Iran-backed forces, to which Washington and its top Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia are opposed.

According to Haaretz, the Syrian President 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.

Assad denied Iranian troops are in Syria, saying there are only Iranian officers who are working with the Syrian army. The U.S., Russia and Jordan are reportedly in talks to strike a deal, in which Syria would agree to pull back Iranian and Iran-backed fighters from an upcoming southern Syrian military offensive in exchange for the relocation of rebels and Israel ceasing hostilities against Syrian government positions.

The deal may also reportedly include the U.S. abandoning its military base in Al-Tanf, located near the border crossing with Jordan and Iraq. Syria, Russia and Iran have long accused the U.S. of using the installation to prop up jihadi fighters linked to ISIS, something Washington has denied.