Al-Assad welcomes meeting led by US, Russia

Al-Assad welcomes meeting led by US, Russia

Al-Assad welcomes meeting led by US, Russia

A Free Syrian Army rebel is seen in a damaged street in Deir ez-Zor. Syria's president has again dismissed calls for his resignation during an interview. REUTERS photo

A U.S.-Russian peace initiative to end Syria’s civil war is welcome but not likely to succeed, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said May 18, while ruling out any resignation from his post in an interview with an Argentine newspaper.

“To resign would be to flee,” he told daily Clarin when asked if he would consider stepping aside as called for by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “I don’t know if Kerry or anyone else has received the power of the Syrian people to talk in their name about who should go and who should stay. That will be determined by the Syrian people in the 2014 presidential elections,” al-Assad said.

Al-Assad spoke to Clarin and the Argentine state news agency Telam in a lengthy interview in Damascus in which he also denied that his government had used chemical weapons against the civilian population. His comments come amid a rare joint push by the United States and Russia to convene a peace conference in Geneva that would bring together members of the regime and the rebels fighting to oust al-Assad.

“We have received the Russian-U.S. approach well and we hope that there will be an international conference to help Syrians overcome the crisis,” Clarin quoted al-Assad as saying. [But] we do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria. And we don’t think that the forces that support the terrorists want a solution to the crisis.” There is confusion in the world over a political solution and terrorism,” he said.

“They think that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground. This is unrealistic.” Al-Assad also reiterated that the opposition was too fragmented to negotiate an agreement. “They are not a single entity,” he said. “They are different groups and bands, not dozens but hundreds. They are a mixture and each group has its local leader. And who can unify thousands of people? We can’t discuss a timetable with a party if we don’t know who they are.”

Most concrete result of Obama meeting

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the most concrete result of the meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was a “Syria without al-Assad.”

“If a step is to be taken after the Geneva conference, that will be without al-Assad. There is also no problem with strengthening the Syrian opposition,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the daily Hürriyet during his U.S. trip. The prime minister has announced he will visit Russia and regional countries to find a solution to the two-year long crisis after his trip.

“I saw him [Obama] more determined. They are not thinking of a military step either. If we could get the ‘expected result’ from the Geneva conference, then it would be possible to take different measures,” he said.

Telam quoted al-Assad as denying that his government has used chemical weapons against its civilian population, saying it would have been impossible to hide the mass casualties if the government had used the arms.

“The accusations against Syria regarding the use of chemical weapons or my resignation change every day. And it is likely that this is used as a prelude to a war against our country,” he said. “They said we use chemical weapons against residential areas. If they were used in a city or a suburb with only 10 or 20 victims, would that be credible?”

Their use, he said, “would mean the death of thousands or tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Who could hide something like that?”