Syria: Assad ouster a 'red line'

2016-03-12 18:08
Syrian President Bashar Assad gives an exclusive interview to AFP in Damascus.

Syrian President Bashar Assad gives an exclusive interview to AFP in Damascus.

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Damascus - The Syrian government on Saturday said the ouster of President Bashar Assad remains a "red line", just two days ahead of renewed talks to put an end to the war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said meanwhile that the indirect negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition were likely to go ahead as planned on Monday in Geneva.

The UN-brokered talks are the latest push by the international community to find a solution to Syria's five-year war, which has left more than 270 000 people dead.

Both the government and the main opposition group, the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee, have agreed to attend the talks after the last round collapsed in February.

But the fate of Assad would not be on the negotiating table, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a Damascus news conference.

New government

"We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency... Bashar al-Assad is a red line," Muallem said.

The HNC has repeatedly called for Assad's departure at the start of any transitional period.

"If they continue with this approach, there's no reason for them to come to Geneva," Muallem said.

He said the government's delegation would travel to Switzerland on Sunday, but would leave if the opposition did not show up within 24 hours.

UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura said the meetings in Geneva would not last more than 10 days.

The negotiations would cover the formation of a new government, a fresh constitution, and UN-monitored presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months, the envoy said.

But Muallem said that de Mistura had "no right" to discuss future presidential elections or any agenda items.

"Neither he nor anyone else, whoever they may be, has the right to discuss presidential elections," insisted Muallem.

"This right is exclusively for the Syrian people."

Muallem said the negotiations would aim to form a "unity government" which would then appoint a committee to either write a new constitution or amend the current one.

"Then we will have a referendum for the Syrian people to decide on it," he said, adding that a federal division of Syria was not an option.

The opposition HNC has likewise insisted on the territorial unity of Syria, but says talks must create a "transitional governance body with full executive powers".

Read more on:    syria  |  syria conflict

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