BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday no date had been set for an international conference on ending his country’s civil war and cast doubt on whether it could succeed if held now.
With Western and Arab countries hoping the talks can start a political transition that would see him leave office, Assad once again indicated he had no intention of quitting, saying he might run for re-election in 2014.
“Personally, I don’t see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next presidential elections,” Assad told Syria’s Al Mayadeen TV when asked if he thought it was suitable to hold the election, as scheduled, in 2014.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Sunday after meeting international envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi that the peace conference, known as Geneva 2, was scheduled for November 23. Brahimi said the date had “not been officially set”.
Remaining confident and animated throughout the two-hour interview, Assad, whose forces have made recent gains, told his interviewer: “There is no date so far ... and current factors do not help in holding it.”
He said opposition groups that had been invited to the talks represented foreign powers rather than Syrians. He criticized Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States and also the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which he described as a terrorist group.
“Many questions about this conference are still on the table,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah in Paris it was hard to see Assad’s ally Iran playing a constructive role at Geneva 2 unless it backed plans for a transitional government.
“… it’s very hard to see how Iran can be constructive in the absence of their willingness to come for the purpose of the negotiation,” Kerry told reporters.
“If they accept Geneva 1, and want to be constructive in helping to set up a transitional government, that’s a different issue,” he said, referring to talks in the Swiss city in June 2012 when nations agreed for a political transition, but, due to resistance from Russia, did not say Assad must quit.
Assad inherited power from his father in 2000 and was confirmed in an election in which he ran unopposed. He was re-elected in 2007. The Assad family has ruled Syria, where parliament is considered a rubber stamp, for more than 40 years.
Street protests in 2011 were met with force and then developed into a full-scale rebellion and a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions.
Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Robin Pomeroy