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Assad: I would leave office if it would help

BEIRUT - Syria's President Bashar Assad said Sunday he would be willing to step down if he thought it would help.

Assad was speaking in an interview with Iran's Khabar TV, parts of which were aired Sunday.

President Assad, approaching the five-year mark in Syria's civil war, which began with protests against his family hegemony over the country's politics, has publicly resisted calls to step down. His message to Iranian TV was couched, however, in language that blamed the West for "supporting terrorism," and he said so long as that continues, he will not step down.

In the interview, Assad also said the air campaign by Russia against terrorists in his country must succeed or the whole region will be destroyed.

He said that Russian campaign has the potential to succeed because it is supported by Iran and has international, if not Western, support. He called on countries that support the armed opposition to stop, which would increase the chances of the campaign to succeed.

Assad's comments are the first since Russia launched an intensive air campaign against rebel positions in Syria Wednesday, saying it is targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist organizations. Some of the airstrikes hit Western-backed fighters.

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Syria's foreign minister made similar comments at the U.N. on Friday, saying that airstrikes against ISIS group "are useless" unless they are coordinated with the Syrian government, as the international community scrambled to respond to Russia's airstrikes in his country.

Addressing the summit of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, Walid al-Moallem said Russia's decision to start bombing targets was based on the Assad government's request and is effective because it supports Syria's efforts to combat terrorism.

"Terrorism cannot be fought only from the air, and all of the previous operations to combat it have only served its spread and outbreak," al-Moallem said.

The United States, which opposes Assad and conducting its own airstrikes against extremists in Syria, has questioned Moscow's assertion that it is targeting Islamic terrorists there, saying the areas hit close to Homs are strongholds of the Syrian opposition to Assad. Allies in the U.S.-led coalition have called on Russia to cease attacks on opposition forces and to focus on fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants.

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