A Syrian national dialogue must begin before there can be discussions of President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said.
Calls for Assad’s resignation before dialogue starts would make talks impossible, Jamil, who oversees Syrian economic affairs and led the country’s delegation for talks in Moscow, told reporters yesterday in the Russian capital. “After the dialogue begins, there’s nothing that should prevent the discussion of any issue -- and that is a question that can be discussed as well.”
The Syrian opposition has ruled out negotiations until Assad resigns, with the Syrian National Council demanding that the president step down before any transition talks are held.
“There is no room for dialogue with the Syrian president,” Burhan Ghalioun, a member of the Syrian National Council, told Al Arabiya television in an interview yesterday. “He is no longer a president, people no longer consider him a president.”
“I think this is a game,” he said, in which Assad’s regime is calling for dialogue in a new attempt to buy time.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters “we didn’t see anything terribly new” in Jamil’s statements.
“The Syrian government knows what it needs to do,” she said of calls for Assad to step down. “There is no need to complicate it, as the deputy prime minister appeared to do.”
International efforts have failed to halt a 17-month uprising against Assad that has claimed more than 23,000 lives. United Nations military monitors are leaving the country after the two warring sides failed to observe an April cease-fire and UN envoy Kofi Annan resigned this month complaining about “name-calling” among UN member states.
Arab League foreign ministers who met in Doha, Qatar, on July 22 urged Assad in a statement to step down in exchange for safe passage out of the country. The U.S. and its European allies also are seeking to force Assad to quit, while Russia and China have vetoed UN resolutions designed to accelerate his departure.
President Barack Obama’s comment on Aug. 20 that any discovery that Syria’s chemical weapons are being moved or used may force him to reconsider U.S. military action shows the West is looking for an excuse to invade the Middle Eastern country, Jamil said.
“A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the U.S. president said at a White House news conference.
Jamil, who met Lavrov yesterday, made his second visit to Moscow in less than three weeks. Syria said it may get oil products from Russia and has also asked its Soviet-era ally to provide a loan and air transportation to the rest of the world.
Syrian Security forces killed at least 195 people across the country yesterday, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Syrian Network for Human Rights.