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Only Syrians Can Tell President When To Go, Assad Says

Syrian President Bashar Assad, in apparent response to Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks last week in support of opposition forces in Syria, says only the Syrian people can tell him to step down.

"Only Syrian people can tell the president stay or leave, come or go. No one else," he said in an interview to Britain's Sunday Times.

It was a rare TV interview for the Syrian president, whose regime has battled rebels as well as calls to step down for nearly two years.

NPR's Nicole Beemsterboer reported on Assad's interview for our Newscast unit. Here's what she said:

"President Bashar al-Assad is calm and collected in his first TV interview with western media in over a year. He tells the Sunday Times of London Kerry's efforts are a waste of time: He will not discuss his country with any foreigners and calls on international powers to stop all support for terrorists — the term his regime uses to define all anti-government armed groups.

" 'We have friends. We discuss our issues with our friends. We listen to their advice and in the end it's our decision as Syrians to make what's good for our country.'

"Russia and Iran are steadfast supporters of the Syrian regime. On Saturday the Iranian foreign minister accused the U.S. and Britain of double standards, pointing to the U.S. promise of $60 million in non-lethal aid for the opposition amid economic sanctions against the Syrian government."

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reported last week, the Obama administration is offering more direct aid to the rebels; the announcement was made during Kerry's meeting with Syrian opposition figures in Rome.

Here's what Michele said in her two-way with Morning Edition host Renee Montagne:

"What's different about [the aid] it is it's directly to the Syrian opposition, and to rebels who are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad's regime. You know, the administration's been very worried about the rise of jihadists in Syria. They're among the best-armed and most effective fighters. So the idea of this aid is to help more moderate rebels, and mainly to help the political opposition deliver basic services in liberated areas of Syria, to show that there is an alternative to Assad and the extremists, as you heard Kerry say in that quote.

"So what the administration is asking from Congress is $60 million. And that's on top of aid that's gone to Syrians for humanitarian issues. This new aid will help with administrative functions, things like security, sanitation and education in those liberated zones inside Syria. And the U.S. is also sending technical advisors to the Syrian opposition council's offices in Cairo to get a handle on that aid."

The aid includes food rations and medical supplies — but no weapons. Some Syrian rebels say the U.S. aid is not helpful without arms.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.