BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, was dismissed on Tuesday for leaving the country and acting without government permission after meeting U.S. officials in Switzerland, state media said.
The sacked minister is a member of what President Bashar al-Assad calls the “patriotic opposition” - political parties that consider themselves rivals to the president but have not joined the 2-1/2-year revolt against his rule.
“Jamil was dismissed because he left his center of work without prior permission and did not follow up on his duties ... Additionally, he undertook activities outside the nation without coordinating with the government,” said a statement posted on Syria TV.
U.S. and Middle East officials told Reuters that Jamil met the former American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, on Saturday in Geneva.
The two discussed the proposed “Geneva 2” talks that aim to launch negotiations between Assad’s government and the rebel movement seeking his removal.
“He saw Ford after meeting Russian officials in Moscow. The meeting was long but useless,” the Middle East official said, asking not to be named.
“Jamil put forward what Ford apparently regarded as unworkable proposals regarding the Geneva talks. He also unsuccessfully tried to win U.S. backing to including him on the opposition side in the Geneva talks,” he said.
Syria’s conflict began as a peaceful protest movement against four decades of Assad family rule, but has degenerated into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
The United States and Russia are keen to get peace talks started but the rebels want assurances that Assad will be removed, while Assad’s government rejects any preconditions over the deal.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Tuesday Syria would attend the planned peace talks but that it was up to Syrians to decide their political future and leadership.
State television said Moualem made the remarks during a meeting with international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus, in which he said Syrians also rejected “any form of foreign intervention”.
(This story is refiled to remove extraneous word in first paragraph)
Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Editing by Alison Williams