Assad rejects talks with Syrian opposition forces

Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad refuses to attend peace talks with armed opposition groups, calling them ‘terrorists’

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad speaks during a TV interview in Damascus, Syria in this still image taken from a video on November 29, 2015.

Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad has refused to negotiate with armed opposition groups, putting proposed talks to end the Syrian war in doubt.

Speaking in an interview with Spanish media, Assad accused the US and its ally Saudi Arabia of pushing forward “terrorist groups” to lead negotiations on the side of the Syrian opposition.

Assad said his regime has to date only held talks with armed opposition groups "to reach a situation where they give up their armaments” and either join the regime or "go back to their normal life."

"They want the Syrian Government to negotiate with terrorists, something I don't think anyone would accept in any country," Assad said.

"There's no point in meeting in New York or anywhere else without defining terrorist groups … For us, in Syria, everyone who holds a machinegun is a terrorist," he added.

"Whenever they want to change their approach, give up the armaments, we are ready...while to deal with them as a political entity, this is something we completely refuse."

His comments comes just a day after Saudi Arabia united a number of Syrian opposition groups against the regime, excluding the Nusra Front, DAESH or the PKK-affiliated PYD.

Both the US and Russia are continuing efforts to form an opposition delegation so that talks with the Assad regime can begin on the date of Jan. 1, 2016 set by international participants for a transition phase aimed at ending the war.

At the end of the two-day conference in Riyadh on Thursday, 100 representatives of opposition groups agreed that Assad should step down before the transition phase begins and that a Syria post-Assad should be an all-inclusive democracy.

"The aim of the political settlement is to create a state based on the principle of citizenship without Bashar al-Assad or figures of his regime having a place in it or any future political arrangements," a joint statement released by the groups said.

They also elected a secretariat of 34 members, including 11 from armed opposition groups, to form a team of negotiators for the proposed talks.

However, Assad continues to reject calls to step down, while his main backers Russia and Iran insist that Assad must play a role in Syria’s future.

Assad also said that he "never thought about leaving Syria under any circumstance."

Despite repeated calls for him to step down, Assad previously told Russian lawmakers during a meeting in Damascus in October that he is willing to to run for another seven-year term in office.

A number of previous attempts by the Assad regime to undertake reforms on the road to democracy after the uprising started failed to convince the Syrian opposition and the international community.

In February 2012, a referendum was held on constitutional reforms which would limit the rule of a president to two seven-year terms while the regime continued to bomb opposition-held parts of the country.

Although Syrian officials said that nearly 90 percent of people backed the reforms with a 57 percent turnout, the referendum was dismissed as a sham by a number of Western officials and was boycotted by the country’s biggest opposition groups - the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria.

Syria also held a presidential election in regime-controlled areas in June 2014, with Assad triumphing over two other candidates with 88 percent of the vote. According to the regime’s constitutional court, the turnout was 73 percent, but this figure has been highly contested.

US Secretary of State John Kerry at the time called the election, which saw 21 candidates barred from running, "meaningless.” The European Union, meanwhile, said that the election was illegitimate and undermined political efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

TRTWorld and agencies