Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gestures during an exclusive interview with AFP in the capital Damascus on Feb. 11, 2016.
Joseph Eid—AFP/Getty Images
July 14, 2016 8:28 AM EDT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the United States is “not serious” about defeating ISIS, while voicing optimism about an end to Syria’s war.

In an interview with NBC News in Damascus on Wednesday, Assad predicted the Syrian army would retake control of the country in a “few months” and credited Russian support for its recent territorial gains in a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

He called U.S. airstrikes against ISIS “illegal” and “counterproductive” and accused the U.S. of seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.

“We wanted to defeat those terrorists, while the United States wanted to manage those groups in order to topple the government in Syria,” Assad said, criticizing U.S. President Barack Obama.

“He’s failed, but that doesn’t mean I win because for him the war is to remove me … for me the war is to restore Syria,” Assad said. “If we can get rid of those terrorists, if we can restore the stability in Syria, this is where we win. Otherwise, you cannot talk about winning.”

Assad also defended himself against accusations of war crimes, arguing there hasn’t been evidence of using chemical weapons or targeting civilians. “We didn’t take any decision to attack any area that doesn’t include terrorists,” he said.

Read more: How Bashar Assad Is Trying to Win the Peace in Syria

Assad said he hasn’t paid much attention to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during their campaigns, arguing they’ll act differently as president than as a candidate.

“We always hope that the next president will be much wiser than the previous one,” he said. “That’s what we hope, but we never saw.”

Watch the full interview above, and read more on NBC News.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.

Read More From TIME
Related Stories
EDIT POST