(FILES) This file photo taken on February 11, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an exclusive interview with AFP in the capital Damascus. Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes, erupted in 2011 when government forces turned their weapons on protesters demanding political change. / AFP / JOSEPH EID Image Credit: AFP

Moscow: The brutal five-year conflict in Syria has cost the country over $200 billion (176 billion euros), President Bashar Al Assad said in an interview released Wednesday, insisting Damascus would look to Russia, China and Iran to rebuild the nation.

“The economic damage and the damage to infrastructure exceeds $200 billion,” Al Assad told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

“Economic issues can be settled immediately, when the situation stabilises in Syria, but rehabilitating the infrastructure will take a long time,” Al Assad said in comments translated into Russian.

The Syrian strongman said any future contracts to help rebuild the country would be handed out to companies from nations that had backed Damascus during the bloody conflict.

“Of course we expect that this process will be based on three main countries that supported Syria during this crisis - Russia, China and Iran,” Al Assad said.

Russia has deployed its military to Syria to back up troops loyal to longstanding ally Al Assad with a bombing campaign, and the Syrian leader said Moscow’s forces would be needed in the country for some time to come.

“We need their presence as they are effective in the fight against terrorism even if the situation in terms of security in Syria is stabilising,” Al Assad said, adding that Russia’s bases were also required to maintain “balance in the world”.

Moscow announced it was withdrawing part of its forces from Syria on March 14 after a ceasefire between Damascus and moderate opposition saw fighting drop.

Al Assad also said a transitional government of his war-torn country should include both the regime and the opposition.

He said it would be “logical for there to be independent forces, opposition forces and forces loyal to the government represented there”.

UN-mediated talks involving Damascus and the opposition paused last week with the sides still deadlocked over Al Assad’s fate, whom the opposition insists must leave power before a transitional government is agreed.

Western officials fear the Syrian opposition will drop out of the peace talks in Geneva entirely unless Russia’s ally Al Assad agrees to step down.

In the interview, Al Assad did not touch on his own future, saying only that the makeup of the transitional government should be agreed upon at the negotiations in Switzerland.

“There are many questions that need to be discussed in Geneva, but there are not difficult questions,” Assad said. “I don’t consider them difficult, they can all be resolved.”

The Syrian opposition rejected Al Assad’s statements, saying Syria needs a transitional ruling body with full executive powers and not a participatory government under Al Assad.

“The government, whether it’s new or old, as long as it is in the presence of Al Assad, is not part of the political process,” said George Sabra, a negotiator for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) representing the Syrian opposition at Geneva peace talks.

“What Al Assad is talking about has no relation to the political process,” said Sabra.

Asaad Al Zoubi, an HNC member, said the Syrian people and the Geneva negotiating team want “a transitional ruling body will full executive powers and authorities, including presidential authority”.

“Whereas the regime wants a participatory government,” he said.