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Germany 'could mediate in Syria conflict,' says Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told the newsmagazine Spiegel that he would welcome Germany as a mediator in the conflict wracking his country. He also admitted having made mistakes.

In the exclusive interview to be published in print on Monday, President Assad said he would be glad if German envoys were to come to Damascus "to speak with us about the true state of affairs."

Germany was, however, one of only two countries outside Syria to receive a positive assessment from the Syrian leader, who said he believed "the West would rather trust al Qaeda than me." Otherwise, only Russia, Syria's long-time ally, was praised by Assad as "true friends" that "understand what is really at stake here much better."

In contrast, he accused US President Barack Obama, who has accused Assad of carrying out chemical weapons attacks against his own people, of having "nothing but lies to offer."

In the interview, he said he did not think it was possible to solve the conflict in Syria by negotiating with the rebels who have been staging an armed uprising after four decades of Assad family rule.

"In my view, a political opposition does not carry weapons," he is quoted as saying. "If someone drops his weapons and wants to return to daily life, then we can discuss it."

'Presidential errors'

Assad also said his government may have made errors in cracking down so hard initially on protests that began peacefully, but said he was committed to fighting "terrorism" and "defending the country."

"Each of us makes personal errors. We all make errors. A president, too, makes errors," he said. "But even if there were errors in the implementation, our fundamental decision was right."

Assad also again denied any involvement of his government in chemical weapons attacks near Damascus on August 21 that killed hundreds of people, once more blaming them on the rebels. He said his government would cooperate fully with international chemical weapons inspectors, stating that "they will receive all data from us."

The United Nations Security Council last week adopted a resolution that demands the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons amid international concern sparked by the August poison-gas attacks.

Assad candidacy 'uncertain'

The Spiegel also said Assad, who has previous rejected all calls to step down, was prepared to call elections before his term ends in August, and that he hadn't yet decided whether to run for the presidency again.

"If I don't have the will of the people behind me then I won't run again," the magazine quotes him as saying.

The conflict in Syria, which began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement over two years ago, has evolved into a full-blown civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

tj/pfd (AP, Reuters)