ABC News – Syrian President Bashar Assad said in remarks published Monday that he was prepared “to negotiate everything” at planned talks later this month in Kazakhstan, seeking to cast himself as a peacemaker after his forces’ recapture of Aleppo last month.
However, the upcoming talks, brokered by Ankara and Moscow, are still in doubt as Syrian opposition groups have yet to confirm their participation.
Speaking to French reporters at his Damascus palace, Assad defended his troops’ deadly bombardment of eastern Aleppo, saying the alternative would have been to leave the city’s civilians to the mercy of “terrorists” — a term the government uses for all rebels.
Assad questioned the credibility of Syrian opposition groups backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, which make up the bulk of the armed and political opposition to his rule.
“There’s no limit to negotiations,” Assad said, in remarks carried by Syrian state media. “But who is going to be there from the other side, we don’t know yet. … The viability of the conference depends on that.”
Past Syrian peace talks have run aground on the question of Assad’s future and whether he is to continue as president, with the opposition insisting his departure is a precondition for any reforms.
Assad said the matter could only be resolved through a constitutional referendum.
“If they want to discuss this point, they need to discuss the constitution. You need a referendum for every (constitutional amendment). This is one of the points that could be discussed in the meeting” in Kazakhstan, he said.