Syria's Assad dismissive of Kerry remark on negotiations

AP News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2015 12:57 PM
Syria's Assad dismissive of Kerry remark on negotiations

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday that only Syrians can decide his future — apparently dismissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's remark that Washington would be willing to talk with Assad to help broker a political resolution to the country's civil war.

Asked about Kerry's statement regarding potential talks with the Syrian government, Assad said, "We are still hearing statements and have to wait for actions. Then we will decide." He added that any "talk about the future of the Syrian president is for Syrian people alone."

Assad said Damascus is not concerned about comments made from abroad, describing them as "bubbles that disappear after some time."

The Syrian leader spoke to Iranian TV after a meeting with visiting Iranian Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia. Tehran is one of Assad's closest allies and strongest backers in his battle against rebels trying to remove him from power.

Kerry said in an interview with CBS News that the U.S. is pushing for Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to help end Syria's four-year conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people since it started four years ago.

Some in the Middle East saw Kerry's statement as a shift in America's policy on Syria after President Barack Obama's repeated calls for Assad to step down. Damascus has long accused Washington and its allies of militarizing Syria's conflict.

Last year, the U.S. joined talks in Switzerland with Assad's foreign minister and members of the U.S.-backed moderate Syrian opposition, but those talks failed when Assad's representatives refused to discuss how to create a transition government.

Asked about Kerry's statement regarding potential talks with the Syrian government, the French Foreign Ministry said Paris' position opposing talks with Assad remained unchanged.

The foreign minister of Turkey, another U.S. ally, also reacted sharply to Kerry's comments, and reiterated Ankara's position that Assad must go.

"What can you negotiate with a regime that has killed more than 200,000 people and used chemical weapons," Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit Monday to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. "What result have you achieved from past negotiations?"

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said in a statement Monday that "bringing down the head of the regime and all officials responsible for crimes against the Syrian people are a main goal of the coalition."

Assad said that international overtures are positive "if they are sincere." He added that such a move should start with "ceasing political support to terrorists, stop financing them and stop sending weapons."

He said that pressure should be exerted on European countries and regional states who give "logistical, financial and military support to terrorists and then we can say that the change has become real."

Also Monday, Syria's Minister of National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar said the Americans "are searching behind the scene" for some way to re-open a direct line of communication with the Syrian leadership to negotiate a political compromise.

"The change has come as a result of a failure in the U.S. policies after a four-year-long crisis," Haidar said in an interview with The Associated Press. He added that all states have "agreed that a political solution doesn't absolutely mean a prior condition that President Assad should step down."

"All have figured out that this condition is non-objective and unachievable and there is no power to implement it on ground," Haidar said.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.