Assad Pleased that ‘Transition Between 2 Lebanese Governments Happened Smoothly’

Syrian President Bashar Assad said he was pleased with the “smooth transition” between the two Lebanese governments, unveiling that any conflict would have evolved into civil war in Lebanon.

"What pleases me is that this transition between the two governments happened smoothly, because we were worried," Assad told The Wall Street Journal in a rare interview published Monday.

"It was very easy to have a conflict of some kind that could evolve into a fully blown civil war," he said.

This month, the U.S. returned an ambassador, Robert Ford, to Damascus for the first time since ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's Feb. 2005 assassination.

Assad said that while he sought closer ties with Washington, he didn't see this coming at the expense of his alliance with Iran. The Syrian leader said that he shares the U.S. goals to target al-Qaida and other extremist groups, but that Tehran remains a crucial ally to Damascus.

Assad told The Wall Street Journal that the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen are ushering in a "new era" in the Middle East, and that Arab rulers would need to do more to accommodate their people's rising political and economic aspirations.

"Syria is stable. Why?" Assad said. "Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances."

The Syrian president said he would push through political reforms this year aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to nongovernmental organizations and establishing a new media law.

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