Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has firmly rejected the demand by the Syrian rebels for a “transitional body” with full executive powers in favor of calling for a national unity government to transition to a new constitution, he said in an interview published on Wednesday.
In the interview with Russian state media RIA Novosti, which was quoted in Deutsche Welle (DW), Assad says the national unity government should be composed of different political forces – “opposition, independent, the current government and others.”
CBS News quoted excerpts from the interview in which Assad rejects the opposition’s terms, saying that political transition should be from one constitution to another under a national unity government.
“First of all, regarding the definition of the ‘transitional period,’ such a definition does not exist,” Assad said. “Thus, the transition period must be under the current constitution, and we will move on to the new constitution after the Syrian people vote for it.”
“Neither the Syrian constitution, nor the constitution of any other country in the world includes anything that is called a transitional body of power,” he added according to CBS. “It’s illogical and unconstitutional.”
He also expressed support for the new round of peace talks in Geneva coming in April and said that Russia, Syria’s main ally, will maintain a military presence in the country. Syria’s civil war has raged since 2011, though there has been a sharp decline in violence since the recent U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire took effect.
The High Negotiations Committee, the umbrella body representing the Syrian opposition at the peace talks, swiftly rejected Assad’s idea of a national unity government.
“International resolutions speak of… the formation of a transitional body with full powers, including presidential powers,” HNC senior member Asaad al-Zoabi said according to NDTV, adding “Assad should not remain for even one hour after the formation” of this body.
The fate of President Assad is a hotly debated issue in the Syrian peace talks. The two parties remain in gridlock as the “transitional body” idea, which would involve Assad stepping down, remains the key demand for the Syrian opposition. The United States, including President Obama himself, has repeatedly called for Assad to step down. White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated that his inclusion would make any proposal a “non-starter,” according to NDTV.
“I don’t know whether he envisioned himself being a part of that national unity government. Obviously that would be a non-starter for us,” Earnest said.
Assad’s comments come just days after the Syrian army drove ISIS out of Palmyra, one of the most ancient, historically significant and archaeologically rich cities in the world. Syrian troops taking back the world-famous desert city is an enormous boost to the morale of the Syrian government forces and the forces fighting against ISIS extremists.
“The Syrian army is determined to liberate every region,” Assad said in the interview. “We are being supported in this by our friends — Russian support was central and key in achieving these results.”
CBS reported on the United Nations’ plan for a lasting peace in Syria.
“A roadmap for a transition in Syria outlined in a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in December calls for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations which would establish ‘credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance’ within six months and set up a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution to be followed by U.N.-supervised elections.”
Assad told Russian media that the war has cost his country $200 billion so far, and expressed his readiness to cooperate with all “sincere” efforts to fight terrorism.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged greater efforts by the international community to help solve the region’s refugee crisis at the Geneva conference.
[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]