Bashar al-Assad, Unrepentant, Says He Expects to Rule Syria Until 2021

DAMASCUS, Syria — The guns were silent atop Mount Qasioun, and lights on its slopes twinkled over Damascus as President Bashar al-Assad welcomed visitors to his French-Ottoman palace below. It was possible to imagine, for a moment, that there was no war in Syria.

The blasts that until recently echoed day and night from the mountaintop, shelling rebel-held suburbs, have subsided lately, and Mr. Assad, radiating confidence, was on a mission to persuade the Western public that their governments had made a mistake in backing his opponents.

He promised his guests, half a dozen American and British journalists and policy analysts, that a new era of openness, transparency and dialogue was dawning in Syria, a message that was part of a concerted public-relations push from his top advisers and officials. He spoke of a struggle over identity in the Middle East, and of the right of every Syrian to be a “full citizen, in every meaning of this word.”

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