Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is hinting that Western nations, including Australia, are secretly doing deals with his country despite openly criticizing him and calling on him to step down.
Assad made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Australia's SBS News.
He accused Western countries of “double standards” for openly criticizing his government, in public, but continuing to deal with him in private.
“They attack us politically and then they send officials to deal with us under the table, especially the security, including your [the Australian] government,” he told SBS.
“They don't want to upset the United States. Actually most of the western officials they only repeat what the United States want them to say. This is the reality,” added Assad.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has in the past called Assad a murderous tyrant, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has described him as a butcher.
In the interview President Assad responded to those condemnations and said, “These statements, I just can say they are disconnected from our reality, because I'm fighting terrorists.”
“Our army is fighting terrorists, our government is against terrorists, the whole institutions are against terrorists. If you call fighting terrorism butchery, that's another issue,” he added.
“Terrorists” is the term the Syrian government uses to describe all rebels fighting to oust Assad, including both jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda-affilliated Al-Nusra Front, as well as Western-backed rebels.
Assad also had a message for Australians thinking about coming to Syria to fight. Australia, like many other countries around the world, has fallen victim to the phenomenon of “radicalization” - locals travelling to Syria to fight alongside jihadist groups, then coming back to their home countries to carry out terrorist attacks there.
“If there are foreigners coming without the permission of the government they are illegal, whether they want to fight terrorists or want to fight any other one,” Assad told SBS.
“It's the same. It's illegal, we can call it,” he added.