Syria Rejects Talks With Armed Groups

Syria Rejects Talks With Armed GroupsSyria Rejects Talks With Armed Groups

In his first comments since Syrian opposition and militant groups agreed on a common position in international talks with the Syrian government, President Bashar al-Assad said on Friday he would not negotiate with foreign-backed armed “terrorist” groups.

“They (world powers) want the Syrian government to negotiate with terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country,” Assad said in an interview with Spanish news agency EFE published on Syrian state media, Reuters reported. He said that after backing the armed opposition, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the West now want “the terrorist groups to join these negotiations”, adding they “cannot be opposition while it’s related and beholden to any other country, to a foreign country”.

Assad noted that he would negotiate with a genuine Syrian opposition but that armed groups would have to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty.

After two-days of Saudi-sponsored talks in Riyadh this week trying to form a united position ahead of potential early January talks with the government, the Syrian political opposition alongside rebel factions agreed to negotiate with government’s representatives to end a destructive five-year war that has drawn in the United States, Russia, Europe and Middle Eastern countries. The Riyadh conference set up a 34-member committee to oversee peace talks. The committee will then select a negotiating team. The committee is heavily stacked with rebels groups.

Among the rebel members are the Ahrar Al-Sham group, which has close ties to the Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, and Free Syrian Army groups. Many of the rebels have received support from outside powers to topple Assad.

 Assad Will Not Step Down

The role of Assad in a transitional or future government has been a major sticking point in international talks to end the conflict, with Russia and Iran insisting the Syrian people must have a say in the president’s role.

Assad said he still had support in the country and would not step down.

Faced with a threat from the Islamic State militants, a wave of refugees and Russia’s bombardment of IS positions over the past few weeks, the West has softened its stance on Assad, leaving his role in a transition ambiguous in international peace talks joined by top diplomats from 20 nations in Vienna last month.

The opposition’s insistence that Assad step down before a transition will complicate talks, as Syria’s ally Russia has said the Syrian people should decide on Assad’s rule.