Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview Monday that “factors are not yet in place” for peace talks despite efforts by world powers to convene a meeting next month.
In the wide-ranging exchange broadcast on Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television, Assad also said he was willing to run for a third term in office.
His comments came as US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been pushing for a peace conference next month in Geneva, said any attempt by Assad to be re-elected would extend the country’s civil war.
“No time has been set, and the factors are not yet in place if we want (a US-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2) to succeed,” Assad told Al-Mayadeen.
“Which forces are taking part? What relation do these forces have with the Syrian people? Do these forces represent the Syrian people, or do they represent the states that invented them?” the embattled leader asked.
The United States and Russia have been trying to organize the Geneva 2 conference — first announced last year — on the heels of a deal which Syria accepted to destroy its chemical arsenal by mid-2014.
Assad has systematically refused to recognize as legitimate the National Coalition opposition umbrella group, which insists on his ouster, a demand the regime rejects.
“How can these forces represent the Syrian people if they live abroad. They don’t dare to come to Syria… But claim to control 70 percent of Syrian territory,” through fighting on the ground, he said.
“There are many questions about the conference… What is the framework of the conference?” Assad asked.
He has also repeatedly accused the Coalition of working under the orders of regional and Western backers.
“The solution (to Syria’s war) must be a Syrian solution, regardless of whether foreign powers recognise it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Syrian people recognises it,” said Assad.
“The issue is a Syrian issue… Whether the conference is held or not is not what matters most. The most important issue is, should the conference be held, will it succeed or not? That is the question. And up until now, the factors are not yet in place for it to succeed.” Asked whether he would run for re-election, Assad, who succeeded his later father in 2000, said: “My answer depends on two factors. The first is the personal desire, and the second is the will of the people.
“Regarding the first point, the one related to me personally, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t run in the next election.”
Brahimi in Baghdad
Assad’s interview also came as UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was in Baghdad on the second leg of a regional tour to raise support for the peace conference, which according to the chief of the Arab League should be held on November 23.
The Syrian leader said he would welcome Brahimi back to Damascus as long as “he sticks to his mandate and does not overstep it.” “He is tasked with a mediation mission. A mediator should be neutral,” said Assad.
Brahimi has not visited Damascus since late 2012 when he came under harsh criticism from Syrian authorities for urging Assad not to run for re-election.
In the interview Assad also described Syria’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terror group”, the blanket term used by his regime to refer to opponents and rebels that have risen against him since March 2011.
And he charged that oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia, a backer of the Syrian opposition, was carrying out US policy against his regime.