ODFS Director tells Richmond Times: US and Russia Must Join Forces in the Middle EastTuesday, 17 November 2015
The U.S. and other Western nations must put aside their differences with Russia and team up to destroy the Islamic State and other Islamic extremist groups in the Middle East, the cousin and lifelong enemy of Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday in Richmond.
Ribal al-Assad has for years called for the end of his cousin's regime, even before the first battles in the country's civil war four years ago. But the time for that discussion has passed, superseded by the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. On Friday, terrorists armed with rifles and suicide vests laid siege to neighborhoods in Paris, killing at least 129 and wounding hundreds more. ISIS militants have claimed responsibility, and those attacks are believed to have been planned in Syria.
Russia and the U.S. have remained at odds in Syria, with the Russians supporting the president and the U.S. looking for a way to remove him from power.
"I think now we have to wait because the most important and biggest threat we have today is ISIS," al-Assad said of removing his cousin from power. "I think the latest incident, the terrible terrorist attack that happened in Paris, opened the world leaders' eyes and now they are ready to stand together against this threat. ... We cannot allow other rivalries to blind us to the need to work together"
Al-Assad, 40, was forced to flee Syria with his family when he was 9 because of rivalries in the Assad clan, which has held power in Syria since the 1970s. He founded a group called the Organization for Freedom and Democracy in Syria. On Tuesday, al-Assad spoke to a crowd of about 150 people at The Jefferson Hotel as part of the Richmond World Affairs Council's lecture series. The London resident also spoke in an interview Tuesday just before the lecture.
Al-Assad said U.S. allies in the Middle East are becoming a burden and were in large part responsible for turning the Syrian revolution into a sectarian proxy war while the U.S. and Western countries watched. He said the U.S. should reconsider its relationship with some of its allies - including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - that don't value democracy and human rights.
"How can we call our friends a country that still cuts people's heads off, that still cuts people's hands off?" al-Assad said. " A country like Saudi Arabia is not that much different from ISIS."
The U.S. also shouldn't forget that ISIS isn't the only group that subscribes to what al-Assad calls a "perverted Islamist ideology." One of the groups fighting ISIS, al-Nusra Front, is al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. Al-Assad dismissed recent calls to try to find moderate members of that group to form a Western-backed opposition ground force against ISIS.
"As if there are somehow good Islamists and bad Islamists, good terrorists and bad terrorists," he said. "The U.S. has a clear strategy of interest working alongside Russia in making sure groups like ISIS and al-Nusra are defeated. I believe they are the greatest threat the world has faced since the Nazis and it is imperative that we do everything in our power to stop them."
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