19 Jan 2014

Assad ‘not giving up power’ in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he has no intention of giving up power and the issue is not up for discussion, accordng to reports.

“If we wanted to give up, we would have done so at the very beginning. We are on guard for our country. This issue is not up for discussion,” he was reported as telling visiting Russian parliamentarians, days ahead of an internationally sponsored peace conference on Syria.

The comments underscored differences between participants ahead of the January 22 talks in Montreux, Switzerland, seen as the most serious global effort yet to end Syria’s three-year conflict, during which Assad has enjoyed Russia’s protection.

The United Nations hopes the talks will bring about a political transition in the country, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that Syria’s future had no place for Assad.

Syria, however, said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that its focus at the peace conference would be on fighting “terrorism”.

Syria’s main political opposition group in exile agreed on Saturday to attend the talks and said three rebel fighting forces also wanted to take part.

Opposition groups have previously demanded the removal of Assad as a condition of any discussions on a possible transitional government.

But the Syrian National Coalition, the exiled opposition body, announced on Saturday that it would attend the talks.

The decision was praised by the US which, with Russia and the UN, is taking a leading role in organising the negotiations.

The path to the talks began in May last year when US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov agreed to try to bring both sides together.