BEIRUT Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a speech on Monday, three months into popular unrest against his 11-year rule, in which he promised to hold a national dialogue but blamed the unrest on a foreign conspiracy carried out by saboteurs and extremists.
Here are highlights of the speech given at Damascus University.
** PROMISED REFORMS:
ON NATIONAL DIALOGUE:
"The committee does not hold dialogue, it presides over dialogue. It has decided to hold a consultative meeting in the next few days and will invite more than a hundred personalities to discuss with them the criteria and mechanisms, and after that dialogue will begin immediately."
"A schedule will be specified that says the time for dialogue will be a month or two depending what the participants decide in the consultative meeting.
"This dialogue is a very important issue which we have to give a chance because all of Syria's future, if we want it to be successful, has to be dependent on this dialogue in which all different parties on the Syrian arena will participate."
ON POLITICAL LEGISLATION:
"If we complete the Parties law and the Elections law -- the most important legislation in political reform -- we can immediately start national dialogue, which will discuss all of these laws."
ON PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS:
"The parliamentary elections, if they are not postponed, will be held in August. We will have a new parliament by... August and I think we can say that we are able to accomplish this package (of reforms)...in September, this package will be complete."
ON EXTENDING AMNESTY:
"I will ask the Justice Ministry to carry out a study about extending the parameters of the amnesty, even if it's in another decree."
ON MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD:
"There are several issues dating back three decades during the confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, this black period in the 80s. There are still new generations paying the price for this period -- not having jobs, not given security permits for different purposes."
"We cannot live for more than three decades in this black period ... There are other issues to do with passports ... about two years ago we gave instructions to all embassies to begin giving passports... A large number of these people still felt scared and did not go to the embassies to pick up their passports even after the last amnesty. There is still some fear that is preventing people from taking up the state apparatus on its initiative."
ON TACKLING CORRUPTION:
"It is important to work quickly to reinforce institutions with advanced legislation and with executives who have responsibilities rather than just a position or a chair."
"I told many delegations that the state can deal with, combat or reduce corruption at the high levels..."
"A committee has been formed to prepare legislation and mechanisms to combat corruption with the aim of isolating it and turning it into a rarity rather than as a common phenomenon."
** NATURE OF UNREST:
ON POLITICAL SOLUTION:
"The solution is to solve the problem with our own hands."
"What do we say about these political positions? About the pressure from the media, the advanced telephones that we started seeing spreading in Syria in the hands of saboteurs, the fabrications? We cannot say these are acts of goodwill, this is definitely a conspiracy."
"There is no political solution with those who carry guns and kill people."
"In some cases, peaceful marches were used as a shroud which gunmen hid under, and in other cases they used to carry out attacks on civilians, police and soldiers."
"What is happening today has nothing to do with development or reform. What is happening is sabotage."
"There will be development without stability, no reforms through sabotage or chaos."
"We have to distinguish between them (protesters, and others who have legitimate demands) and saboteurs. The saboteurs are a small group that tried to exploit the kind majority of the Syrian people to carry out their many schemes."
"Those are (people) characterized by having extremist and 'takfiri' way of thinking ... Today, the creed we see (among those people) is not different from what we saw decades ago ... He sows destruction under the name of reforms and spreads chaos under the name of freedom."
** CONSEQUENCES OF UNREST:
ON GOING AFTER SABOTEURS:
"We will work on chasing down and holding to account everyone who spilled blood or sought to spill it."
ON DEPRESSED ECONOMY:
"It is important now to work together to restore confidence in the Syrian economy. The most dangerous thing we face in the next stage is the weakness or collapse of the Syrian economy, and a large part of the problem is psychological."
"We cannot allow depression and fear to defeat us. We have to defeat the problem by returning to normal life."
"I call on each person or family who left their city or village to come back as soon as possible, and I affirm the support of the Syrian government for the people who left Jisr al-Shughour and the surrounding villages to Turkey."
"There are those who give them the impression that the state will exact revenge, I affirm that is not true. The army is there for security.
ON SUPPORT FOR ARMY:
"The most important point is for life to go back to normal even if this crisis or another one lasts for months or years, we have to adapt to it and contain it for it to be a limited crisis.
"Until the army returns to its barracks, we have to support the army and help the army and ask it to help us.
"The sons of the army are brothers of every Syrian citizen. The army has always been about honor and dignity."