(CNSNews.com) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared Sunday that Western-instigated attempts to topple him have been foiled, and he painted the conflict in Syria as part of a broader campaign by the West to punish countries – including Syria, Iran and North Korea – that refuse to bow to its “hegemony.”
“We paid a dear price in Syria in this war, but we have managed to foil the Western project in Syria and the world,” he said in a speech opening a foreign ministry conference, basking in a series of advances for his army and its allies.
“Our armed forces are realizing one achievement after another every day, one week after the other, crushing terrorists and clearing the lands desecrated by terrorists,” the official SANA press agency quoted him as saying.
He said the support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, “politically, economically and militarily, has made possible bigger advances on the battlefield and reduced the losses and burdens of war.”
Although buoyant, Assad cautioned that it was too soon to declare victory.
“Talking about foiling the Western project in the region doesn’t mean we are victorious,” he said. “They have failed, but the battle is still going on.”
“The signs of victory are there, but signs are something and victory itself is another,” he added.
Assad and his allies accuse the U.S. and partners of supporting “terrorists” trying to unseat him; The declared aim of the U.S.-led coalition, including its backing of some anti-Assad rebel groups, is the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).
‘Returning to normalcy’
Syria is currently hosting the first annual Damascus International Fair in half a decade, an event characterized in state and allied media as evidence that the regime’s firm control is returning and that “normalcy” is on the horizon.
The annual fair in the Syrian capital dates back to 1954. Countries taking part in its 59th iteration, running August 17-25, include Armenia, Belarus, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.
Economy and Trade Minister Mohammad Samer al-Khalil told SANA the number of visitors has exceeded expectations, confirming that Syria has entered a stage of recovery and victory.
“For Syrians, the fair is a symbol that their country is returning to normalcy,” reads a weekend editorial in Iran’s Kayhan, a hard-line paper whose editor is appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It added that the Assad regime “is more determined than ever to rebuild the country as a bastion against American imperialism.”
Assad in his speech challenged the notion that his regime has become isolated as a result of the six-year civil war, and said that when the regime looks to re-establish severed diplomatic relationships, it will be on its terms.
There would be no security cooperation and no re-opening of embassies with countries that do not “cut off their ties with terrorism in a clear and unambiguous way,” he said
Assad added that Syria would in future look “eastward” when it comes to political, economic and cultural relations.
‘Outsmarted’ by Putin
Assad has come a long way since President Obama in August 2011 called on the Syrian dictator to “step down,” 22 weeks after his violent crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests calling for reforms.
Over time rebel groups ranging from Syrian nationalists and Kurds to foreign Sunni jihadists – including ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra – succeeded in seizing control over large swathes of territory, with Assad and his allies on the back foot.
After he flouted Obama’s chemical weapons “red line” in 2013 – more than 1,400 were killed in an attack near Damascus, blamed on the regime – Assad evaded punitive U.S. strikes after his allies in Moscow struck a deal with the Obama administration intended to remove the regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
Then in the fall of 2015, Russia launched airstrikes in Syria, in a campaign ostensibly targeting ISIS but evidently designed to prop up the regime.
Aleppo, one of Syria’s largest cities, finally fell to regime forces, aided by Russian bombing, late last year, a development widely seen as a turning point in the conflict.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Republican nominee Donald Trump accused Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, of having been “outsmarted” by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria.
The Obama administration, he said, had also been “outplayed” by Assad and by Iran. “Nobody can believe how stupid our leadership is.”
Last April, another chemical attack blamed on the regime prompted President Trump to order a cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase. But while the military intervention won praise from some Assad opponents, four months later the regime and its allies continue to make advances on the battlefield.
Last week Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the regime had more than doubled the size of territory under its control in just two months, pushing back ISIS fighters in the center and east of the country. An ISIS stronghold around Deir ez-Zor in the east is the current target, with regime and allied forces advancing from the north and west.
Meanwhile the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance comprising Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen factions – continue to push ISIS out of areas around its self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.