Assad decries ‘isolation’ in face of extremism: French lawmaker

A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on February 25, 2015 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C-L) meeting with French lawmakers. (AFP)

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad no longer wants to “remain isolated in the face of the terrorist threat”, one of the French lawmakers who met him in Damascus on a much-decried private trip said Friday.

Senator Francois Zocchetto was one of several lawmakers who travelled to the Syrian capital and met with high-ranking officials including Assad on Wednesday.

The visit drew an angry response from the French government, which cut diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012.

“Bashar al-Assad is reserved, he does not easily confide in people,” Zocchetto told Radio Classique.

“He said he expected to no longer remain isolated in the face of the terrorist threat.”

The trip was feted by Syrian media as reflecting rising sentiment within Western countries that their governments should re-engage with Assad to try and resolve the four-year conflict and rein in the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, which controls swathes of the country.

But both French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the lawmakers’ talks with Assad, whom they described as a “dictator” and “butcher.”

“(They) have taken it upon themselves to meet with a dictator who is the cause of one of the worst civil wars of recent years,” Hollande told reporters during a visit to the Philippines.

Zocchetto said both the head of the Senate and its foreign affairs commission were made aware of the private trip.

He added that one of the other lawmakers on the visit -- Gerard Bapt from the ruling Socialist party, who did not attend the talks with Assad -- had also informed the presidency and the foreign ministry.

“We do not carry an official message from the French government,” Zocchetto said.

“It’s hard to say that we want to fight against terrorism in France and ignore what is going on in Syria.

“This secular state could disappear tomorrow... because right now there is no longer any moderate Syrian opposition.”

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45