In an exclusive interview with ABC News to air on Wednesday, Syria's internationally condemned ruler Bashar al-Assad spoke to Barbara Walters. The sit-down marks Assad's his first television interview with the American media since his regime embarked on its brutal crackdown on anti-government protestors 10 months ago. Violence arising from the protests has claimed more than 4,000 lives--even though human rights activists say that number understates the actual body count.
The interview--conducted by Walters in Damascus--will air on December 7th, first on ABCNews.com and Yahoo! News' Newsmaker series (6AM ET), then on "Good Morning America" (7AM ET), "The View" (11AM ET), and "World News with Diane Sawyer"" (6:30PM ET). "Nightline" will air a Special Edition: "Barbara Walters in Syria: Assad Speaks" at 11:35PM ET.
The interview comes at a fraught moment in U.S.-Syria relations. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a rare, high-profile meeting with Syrian opposition activists in Geneva, Switzerland to show further American support for their effort to topple Assad. The United States also announced Tuesday that it is returning American envoy Robert Ford to Damascus to resume his work trying to give political space to the Syrian people amid the harsh crackdown. Ford had been recalled to Washington for consultations last month amid growing security concerns for himself and other American diplomatic personnel.
"We certainly believe that if Syrians unite, they together can succeed in moving their country to that better future," Clinton said ahead of her meeting with the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, in Geneva on Tuesday. "I think Syrians both in exile and inside Syria are behaving with great courage and commitment and are inspired and motivated by the aspirations of freedom and democracy that are sweeping the Arab world."
Since August, the United States, European Union, and Canada have all called on Assad to step down, while imposing severe economic sanctions on the country. Clinton has charged that the Assad regime's crackdown is responsible for the vast majority of deaths stemming from the anti-government unrest.
The United Nations top human rights official, Navi Pillay, told journalists last week that she believes that the official count of 4,000 fatalities in the conflict is understated, and that Syria is on the cusp of civil war. She recommended that the Syrian regime be referred to the UN Security Council for investigation of crimes against humanity; so far, such measures have been rebuffed by Russia and China, which as members of the UN Security Council, have full veto power.
But there are other signs that the international community is forging consensus that the Assad regime has lost its legitimacy to rule. Last week, both the Arab League and Turkey--both influential Muslim-majority powers in Syria's region--said they would impose sanctions on Assad's regime for its crackdown. The Arab League has also called for a monitoring mission from Arab nations to enter the country to try to halt human rights abuses.
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