Syria says talk of Assad's removal unacceptable

BEIRUT Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:55pm EST

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/Sana

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Credit: Reuters/Sana

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's foreign minister said on Saturday any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad's future was "unacceptable", a week after an international envoy said the president should not be part of a transitional government.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem's comments showed the government has dug in against foreign pressure for a deal with the rebels fighting to topple Assad.

"No one should dare discuss the position of the president ... this is unacceptable," he told Syrian state television in an interview.

World powers have been deadlocked in their efforts to promote a transitional government they hope could prevent more bloodshed in the 22-month-old uprising against Assad, which has turned into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.

United Nations and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently visited Assad and Syrian officials, told Reuters a week ago Assad should not be part of a transitional government.

Syrian officials condemned his comments and said the mediator was biased toward governments supporting the rebels.

Moualem said Assad's proposal earlier this month for a new parliament and constitution was the only way forward out of the conflict. He reiterated the embattled leader's argument that only "nationalistic opposition" could participate.

Their definition excludes the armed opposition or any group that supports intervention in Syria's conflict, even though they are now the driving force of the rebel movement.

The opposition, for its part, has rejected anything but Assad's removal.

International talks in Geneva last June, led by Brahimi, proposed a transitional government but left open Assad's future. The proposal foundered after opposition backers like the United States insisted Assad not play a role, while Russia, Assad's main arms supplier, said foreign powers should not impose restrictions on the transition.

SYRIAN INTERPRETATION OF GENEVA PLAN

In his interview with Syria TV on Saturday, Moualem said Assad's proposed initiative for national dialogue was Damascus's only accepted reading of the Geneva transition plan.

"There were a lot of ambiguities (in the Geneva proposal) and we were unable to clarify them. So this Syrian political program is our interpretation of the transitional period mentioned in the Geneva declaration," he said.

"We will not discuss anything outside of this program."

Assad's pitched a three-stage initiative earlier in January which calls for national dialogue, creation of a new constitution, and a new parliament, followed by national referendums. But the reforms are similar to previous ones made by the Assad, which the opposition rejected as superficial.

Moualem said all those who wanted reform would accept it.

"What more democracy could one want than this?"

The current government, he said, would lay the groundwork for dialogue and transition over the next two to three months. He said efforts would continue despite daily clashes, which now regularly kills more than 100 Syrians per day.

"The question is if the violence doesn't stop should we continue with the dialogue or not? I say we should continue."

The minister also said that Syria's borders, a large portion of which have fallen into rebel hands, should be brought back under control by international efforts.

"This issue is actually something for the United Nations. They should come up with a mechanism, but what mechanism? It must be something that the Syrian government agrees to."

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jason Webb)

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Comments (3)
kenradke11 wrote:
I can see through the last part of the story…can you??

Jan 19, 2013 8:23pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
First time I see some good reporting from Erika Salomon. You can be partial and support the opposition without insulting the readers’intelligence.

At this point the only sensible transitional solution is for the government and the opposition to share power until free and fair elections are conducted with assistance by the international community.

The insurgents are in no position to demand Assad’s departure from power.

“International talks in Geneva last June, led by Brahimi, proposed a transitional government but left open Assad’s future.”

The talks were led by Kofi Annan not Brahimi… and this was RT headline on June 30, 2012:

“Annan: Russia, West agree on transition government for Syria”

Jan 19, 2013 8:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
I find it hilarious that Assad’s father, Hafez, was considered a major ally of the West, because he condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait… His son is no different in any respect as far as foreign policy goes… What changed is the Western imperialistic priorties….

Jan 20, 2013 1:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
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