April 20, 2015 / 12:12 PM / in 3 years

French, Syrian intelligence agents in contact: Assad on French TV

PARIS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told French television the intelligence services of his country are in contact with their counterparts in France, which has severed diplomatic ties with Assad and insists he must leave power.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen during the filming of an interview with the BBC, in Damascus February 9, 2015. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Assad, who added there had been no actual co-operation between the two sides despite the contacts, made the comments to France 2, according to extracts of an interview the public TV channel was due to broadcast in full on Monday.

“There are some contacts but there’s no co-operation,” Assad told the journalists who interviewed him.

When asked if there was any exchange of information, he said “no”, adding that the contacts had been with French intelligence services staff who had visited Syria.

There was no immediate response from the French Foreign Ministry to an emailed request for comment.

Over 220,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which began when protests inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings erupted in March 2011 and were repressed by security forces.

Islamic State militants have seized on a conflict involving a far broader opposition uprising against Assad’s leadership to seize parts of Syria, as well as parts of neighboring Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in March Paris wanted a political solution to the crisis in Syria but that Assad was not part of it. He said any solution that put Assad “back in the saddle” would be a gift to Islamic State militants.

EU foreign ministers, in a line also backed by Washington, also said after a March meeting that the Assad government could not be a partner in the fight against Islamic State, which has seized parts of Syria and Iraq. Russia hopes a united front will be formed against Islamic State and has backed Assad in the war.

Reporting By Brian Love and Chine Labbe; editing by Mark John

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