Bashar al-Assad 'informed' on US-led airstrikes against IS

Syrian President says regime has no plans to work with US and denies ever using barrel bombs

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has revealed that he is kept informed about the US-led coalition battling Islamic State militants in Syria, but says he has no desire to join the coalition.

In an interview with the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Assad defended his government's actions during the Syrian conflict, which broke out in 2011.

Bowen pointed out that there had been no incidents between the American military and Assad's Syrian Air Force since international airstrikes began in September, suggesting there was communication between the two sides.

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Assad confirmed that this was true, but denied there was any direct co-operation with the US. "Through a third party – more than one party – Iraq and other countries," he said. "Sometimes they convey a message, general message, but there's nothing tactical."

The Syrian president said his government did not have the "will" or the "want" to join the US-led coalition, claiming that he could not be in alliance with a country that "supports the terrorism".

He added that any suggestion that his regime was fighting a "moderate" opposition was a "fantasy" and denied dropping barrel bombs indiscriminately on rebel-held areas.

"I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven't heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots," he said.

Bowen described this as a "flippant" response amid evidence that the barrel bomb has become the most notorious weapon in the regime's arsenal.

"The mention of cooking pots was either callousness, an awkward attempt at humour, or a sign that Mr Assad has become so disconnected from what is happening that he feels overwhelmed," he said.

Bowen added that Assad looked "remarkably relaxed" for a man who has been at the centre of the Syrian catastrophe for the last four years.

"His end has been predicted repeatedly since the war started," said Bowen. "Instead, he is looking as secure as ever."

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