BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad reiterated Tuesday that his country was facing a foreign conspiracy and pledged to restore order and combat “terrorists with an iron fist.”
The Syrian president also slammed some members of the Arab League as serving foreign interests and defended his conduct in dealing with unrest in his country, now in its tenth month.
“The foreign conspiracy is no longer a secret to anyone because what was planned behind closed doors is now clear before the people,” Assad said in his fourth public speech since unrest gripped his country in March 2011.
Assad said that there had been foreign intervention in order to fabricate a revolution in his country, adding that such meddling in Syria’s affairs was “a mixture of foreign and Arab [intervention], the Arab one being the worst."
“The priority today is to restore security and this will be achieved by striking terrorists with an iron first, and there will be no compromise with terrorists or those who terrorize citizens or those who conspire against this country,” Assad said.
Assad, facing unprecedented protests against his rule, also took aim at the Arab League, which in November 2011 suspended Syria’s membership after the government failed to implement a peace plan intended to end the crisis, accusing some members of working on behalf of foreign interests.
"There are Arab countries who attempted to play an ethical, objective role and there were others who stood neutral and others who are implementing instructions from foreigners," Assad said.
"The same countries who claim they care for the Arab people used to advise us to reform but they do not have knowledge of democracy. They thought we would not go along with reform but when we did, that was disturbing for them. So they moved to the Arab League," the Syrian leader said.
Regarding events on the streets, Assad insisted “terrorists” were thwarting attempts to bring in reforms in his country.
Assad, who has been accused of being behind a crackdown the U.N. estimates has killed over 5,000 people, said no orders had been issued to shoot civilians.
“There is no cover for anyone who is committing crimes and there are no orders to shoot anyone,” Assad said.
He also said that carrying out reform in Syria should not be linked to the crisis on the ground, given that such a connection would justify foreign intervention.
Assad said the timing of parliamentary elections, earlier promised to take place by February, would be decided after a national referendum to decide on the new constitution, which he said could possibly take place in March.
"After the committee in charge of amending the constitution is done, there will be a national referendum because the constitution is an issue that matters to every citizen ... the referendum might take place in March," he said.
“The parliamentary elections will be tied with the new constitution to the wishes of the political forces and the timetable for the elections will be determined by [the new constitution],” he said.
Assad also said that his government was ready to launch national dialogue with other political parties.
"We do not have any restraints in terms of dialogue and when we find that all parties are ready for it, we will be ready to begin,” he said.
He said Syria needed a national opposition but one that was free of foreign interference.
"We need a national opposition ... not one that resides in embassies and takes orders from outside,” Assad said.
The Syrian president also attacked international media, saying it aimed to spark fear in Syrian citizens.
“What is hoped from this unprecedented media attack is for us to become fearful, and there are 60 channels dedicated to working against Syria ... working inside and outside of Syria,” he said.
Describing the challenges facing his country as a historic battle, Assad, 46, said his country would be victorious if it persevered.
“If this battle carries great risks then victory is very near, as long as we are able to withstand [the conspiracies]," the head of the ruling Baath Party said.