BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad predicted a global catastrophe should the West invade his country, and representatives of Syria’s notoriously divided opposition struggled Thursday to form a united government-in-exile against Assad’s beleaguered rule.
In an interview with the Russian RT television channel, Assad sketched an apocalyptic scenario should the West mount an invasion of Syria, where foreign-backed armed rebels are fighting to depose him.
“I think the price of this invasion, if it happens, is … too big,” Assad, speaking in English, told the Russian station in one of his infrequent recent interviews. “More than the whole world can afford. … We are the last stronghold of secularity and stability in the region. And coexistence, let’s say. It will have a domino effect … from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”
The Syrian president, whose family has ruled the country for 40 years, has frequently depicted his government as stoutly manning the ramparts of stability in a volatile region beset by religious, ethnic and political divides. He has previously warned that his government would not fall without igniting a regional conflagration.
The Syrian president said he believed an invasion of his country was unlikely, but he stressed that in the event of such an attack “nobody can tell what’s next.”
Most independent experts agree that the United States and other foreign powers supporting the Syrian opposition are extremely unlikely to deploy troops to Syria. The Syrian opposition itself has rejected the notion of a foreign invasion and instead has called on Washington and other nations to provide the rebels with advanced weaponry and air support.
Meanwhile, in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, various disparate elements of the Syrian opposition were struggling to form a unified coalition that could serve as a kind of government-in-exile and facilitate aid from allies in the West and the Arab world. New disagreements have reportedly emerged in five days of talks in Doha, the Qatari capital.
Opponents of Assad have bickered for months about fundamental issues such as whether armed insurrection was the correct path, the role of religion in a new Syria and future representation of the nation’s many minorities, including Christians, Kurds and Alawites – the sect that includes Assad and his top security chiefs. Bringing the highly diverse opposition coalition under a single umbrella group has proved difficult, though participants in the meeting in Doha expressed confidence that a unified opposition body will emerge this week.
“I’m sure we shall find the best solution to create a leadership that can face its challenges and do the best for the Syrians in these difficult times,” a leading dissident, Riad Seif, told reporters in Doha, where anti-Assad delegates from various factions have been thrashing out their differences behind closed doors. “We’d like to come to a real agreement in which everybody is satisfied and then to work later as one team to do all our best for the Syrian revolution, to get rid of this terrible regime.”