Q&A: Leaving Lebanon?

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TIME: Can you tell me when you will you be out of Lebanon?

ASSAD: Out completely?

TIME: Yes.

ASSAD: Actually, our discussion should be with Terji Roed-Larsen, United Nations envoy, who is coming back in March. It [withdrawal] should be very soon and maybe in the next few months. Not after that. I can't give you a technical answer. The point is the next few months.

TIME: Could you give me a timetable?

ASSAD: It's a technical issue, not political. I could not say we could do it in two months because I have not had the meeting with the army people. They may say it will take six months. You need to prepare when you bring your army back to your country. You need to prepare where you will put the troops.

There are two factors. The first is security in Lebanon. The security in Lebanon is much better than before. They have an army, they have a state, they have institutions. The second thing, which is related to Syria, is that after withdrawing we have to protect our border. We need to talk about our borders, because when Israel invaded in 1982, they reached that point. It was very close to Damascus. So we will need [fortifications for the troops] along the border with Lebanon.

President Assad also discussed relations with the U.S., the Iraqi insurgency, the presence of Palestinian groups in Syria and the prospect of internal reform in his country. Read more about the interview in the upcoming issue of TIME and on TIME.com.