Mar 3 2013
Syrian president Bashar Assad has accused the British government of being "naive, confused and unrealistic" in its approach to the conflict in his country and warned of dire consequences if the West armed its rebels.
In an interview with the Sunday Times Mr Assad said Britain was sacrificing peace talks to push for an end to an EU arms embargo, which would allow rebels to be armed.
Warning this would accelerate the road to war, he rejected the possibility of help from Britain to end the conflict, saying: "We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter."
"To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries... The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony...
"How can we ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarise the problem? How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supply to the terrorists?"
But Mr Assad also indicated that he was ready to hold peace talks with Syrian rebels to bring to an end a conflict that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives over the last two years.
He said: "We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms. We are not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons, to terrorise people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country."
He added: "We have opposition that are political entities and we have armed terrorists. We can engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists. We fight terrorism."
On Thursday Foreign Secretary William Hague promised to increase support for the Syrian opposition, including equipment supplies and humanitarian assistance, as US secretary of state John Kerry announced £39 million in funding for rebel forces.
Mr Assad said Mr Hague was misguided in his offer of assistance to rebels, saying: "The British government wants to send military aid to moderate groups in Syria, knowing all too well that such moderate groups do not exist in Syria.