03/03/2013 03:59 GMT | Updated 03/03/2013 10:47 GMT

Syrian President Bashar Assad Warns Britain Against Arming The Rebels

Syrian president Bashar Assad has accused Britain of "bullying" in its approach to the conflict in the country.

After fighting that has killed an estimated 70,000 people in two years, Assad said the British government was "naive, confused and unrealistic" in its approach to the conflict in his country and warned of dire consequences if the West armed its rebels.

But Britain dismissed his claims, with Foreign Secretary William Hague branding him "delusional".


Assad warned the West against military intervention

The Syrian President used a rare interview, with the Sunday Times (£), to warn against arming the rebels, saying: "We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter."

He said: "To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries... The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony...

"How can we ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarise the problem?

"How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supply to the terrorists?"

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Hague, who did not rule out arming the rebels in the future, said: "This is a man presiding over this slaughter.

"The message to him is we, Britain, are the people sending food, shelter, blankets to help people driven from their homes and families in his name.

"We are the people sending medical supplies to try and look after people injured and abused by soldiers working for this man, President Assad."

He added: "I think this will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times."

Assad told the Sunday Times: "We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms.

"We are not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons, to terrorise people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country."

He added: "We have opposition that are political entities and we have armed terrorists. We can engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists. We fight terrorism."

On Thursday Foreign Secretary William Hague promised to increase support for the Syrian opposition, including equipment supplies and humanitarian assistance, as US secretary of state John Kerry announced £39 million in funding for rebel forces.

Assad said: "The British government wants to send military aid to moderate groups in Syria, knowing all too well that such moderate groups do not exist in Syria.

"We all know that we are now fighting al Qaida, or Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al Qaida, and other groups of people indoctrinated with extreme ideologies."

The President said the British people did not want to be involved in Syria - yet claimed the government was pushing for an end to the arms embargo.

He added: "That is what I call detached reality - when you're detached from your own public opinion."

And he warned of the consequences of military intervention: "Any intervention will not make these things better. It will only make them worse.

"Europe and the United States and others are going to pay the price sooner or later with the instability in this region. They do not foresee it."