Syrian President Bashar Al Assad with UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus, yesterday.
DAMASCUS: President Bashar Al Assad insisted in a meeting yesterday with visiting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that Syrians alone will decide on the fate of an initiative for Geneva peace talks.
The encounter came a day after the Red Crescent evacuated hundreds of civilians from a besieged town near Damascus, in an operation that saw rare cooperation among the regime, its opponents and the international community.
Brahimi has been travelling the Middle East to muster support for proposed peace talks dubbed Geneva II. The Syrian leg of the tour is the most sensitive, as Brahimi needs to persuade a wary regime and an increasingly divided opposition to attend.
During his last visit to Damascus in December, Brahimi was heavily criticised in the Syrian media for asking Assad if he intended to step down at the end of his presidential term in mid-2014. The Algerian’s latest meeting with Assad lasted less than one hour, and his spokeswoman only said he was hopeful that Saudi Arabia, a main backer of Syria’s opposition, would take part in the proposed talks.
Assad flatly rejected that possibility, insisting that “the Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria’s future,” state media quoted him as telling Brahimi.
“Putting an end to support for the terrorists and pressuring the states that support them is the most important step to prepare... for dialogue,” Assad said, using his regime’s term for rebels.
“The success of any political solution is linked to putting an end to support funnelled to terrorist groups,” the Syrian leader added. State television reported that Brahimi agreed with Assad that Syrians themselves need to find a solution to the conflict that has been ravaging the country since March 2011.
“The efforts being made for the Geneva conference to be held are focused on finding the way for the Syrians themselves to meet and to agree on solving the crisis as quickly as possible,” the envoy was quoted as saying.
In an interview this month, Assad himself cast doubt on the possibility of his regime attending, saying he would not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels or to foreign states.
The main opposition National Coalition has said it will refuse to take part in any talks unless Assad’s resignation is on the table, and some rebel groups have warned anyone who goes will be considered a traitor.AFP