Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Friday declared he would not join peace talks proposed by world powers, claiming the United States and Saudi Arabia wanted “terrorist groups” to join those talks, Reuters reports, citing Syrian state media.
“Terrorists” is the word Assad uses to describe all the rebel groups fighting his regime.
“They want the Syrian government to negotiate with terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country,” Assad replied when asked whether he would be willing to join negotiations called for by world powers by January 1.
The comments were Assad’s first since Syrian opposition groups including armed rebels met in Saudi Arabia this week to draw up a common platform for negotiations. On Thursday, the groups agreed to negotiate with Assad, but continued to insist he must step down at the start of a political transition.
Asked Friday whether he would be willing to negotiate with the groups, the Syrian president replied, “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.”
Assad said his military position had improved in the fight against insurgent groups in the nearly five-year war, but acknowledged that it was taking its toll.
“The situation on the military level is much better than before, but again, the price is very high,” he said, according to Reuters, and cited foreign aid for rebels, which he referred to as “a lifeline for those terrorists” as being the cause.
Asked if he had thought about stepping down as president and leaving the country, he said, “I never thought about leaving Syria under any circumstances, in any situation, something I never put in my mind.”
Assad stressed said it was up to the Syrian people to decide whether he should leave his post, and claimed he had the support of the “majority of the Syrians”.