Syria Says Assad Will Remain President Until 2014

BEIRUT (AP) -
 Security personnel loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad stand guard at a checkpoint in Damascus Wednesday. (REUTERS/ Alaa Al-Marjani)

Security personnel loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad stand guard at a checkpoint in Damascus Wednesday. (REUTERS/ Alaa Al-Marjani)

Syria’s foreign minister laid out a hard line Wednesday, saying Bashar Assad will remain president at least until elections in 2014 and might seek another term, conditions that will make it difficult for the opposition to agree to U.N.-sponsored talks on ending the civil war.

Any deal reached in such talks would have to be put to a referendum, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem added in a media interview, introducing a new condition that could complicate efforts by the U.S. and Russia to bring both sides together at an international conference in Geneva, possibly next month.

Drawing a tough line of its own, the main exile-based political group, the Syrian National Coalition, reiterated that any negotiations require “the head of the regime, security and military leadership to step down and be excluded from the political process.”

While the Assad regime has agreed in principle to attend peace talks, the opposition has not, insisting it first get international guarantees on the agenda and timetable. The coalition has been meeting for the past week in Turkey but spent most of that time arguing about membership issues, rather than making a decision about Geneva.

In his wide-ranging comments, al-Moallem, an Assad stalwart with decades in top positions, reflected a new confidence by the government. The regime had seemed near collapse during a rebel offensive last summer but has scored a number of battlefield successes in recent weeks.

“Our armed forces have regained the momentum,” he told the Lebanese station Al-Mayadeen, suggesting that the regime is digging in. Asked when the civil war might end, he said: “That depends on when the patience of those conspiring against Syria will run out.”

Both the regime and the opposition still bet on a military victory but are being pressured by their backers to attend the Geneva talks, the international community’s only plan at the moment for trying to end the war.

Chances of success seem slim, with a host of issues remaining open, including a detailed agenda, the list of participants and a mechanism for implementing any possible agreement.