Fri, Apr 01, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Al-Assad confident he can form new Syria government

UPBEAT ASSESSMENT:Opposition negotiators quickly dismissed the Syrian president’s remarks and said a political settlement could only be reached under a transitional body

Reuters, MOSCOW and BEIRUT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said it would not be difficult to agree on a new Syrian government including opposition figures, but his opponents responded on Wednesday that no administration would be legitimate while he remained in office.

Al-Assad, bolstered by military victory in the desert city of Palmyra, was quoted by Russia’s RIA news agency as saying a new draft constitution could be ready in weeks and a government that included opposition, independents and loyalists could be agreed.

While the distribution of portfolios and other technical issues would need to be discussed at Geneva peace talks, which resume next month, “these are not difficult questions”, al-Assad said.

Opposition negotiators immediately dismissed al-Assad’s remarks, saying that a political settlement could be reached only by establishing a transitional body with full powers, not another government under al-Assad.

“What Bashar al-Assad is talking about has no relation to the political process,” said George Sabra of the High Negotiations Committee.

The US also rejected al-Assad’s comments.

“I don’t know whether he envisioned himself being a part of that national unity government. Obviously that would be a nonstarter for us,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Syria’s crisis erupted five years ago with protests against al-Assad which were put down with force. It descended into a civil war which has killed more than 250,000 people, drawn in global military powers and helped the Islamic State establish its self-declared caliphate. Nearly 5 million refugees have been driven abroad.

At a conference in Geneva, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on countries to resettle nearly half a million Syrian refugees in the next three years.

“This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity,” he said, though his appeal won immediate responses from only three countries — Italy, Sweden and the US.

Al-Assad told RIA the war had cost more than US$200 billion in economic losses and damage to infrastructure. That is in line with a UN-backed body which estimates physical damage at US$90 billion, with an additional US$169 billion of accumulated losses from a collapse in GDP to less than half of the 2011 level.

Despite al-Assad’s upbeat assessment of the chances for a political solution, his comments reflected deep differences with the opposition. It says that for the last four years international agreements on Syria’s future have centered on the principle of setting up a transitional governing body.

Al-Assad’s opponents have understood that such a body would have full powers, and that he would not play a further role.

However, the president said the very idea of a transitional body was “illogical and unconstitutional.”

“That is why the solution is forming a national unity government which prepares for a new constitution,” he said, adding that its formation would be agreed in Geneva.

Russia’s six-month-old intervention in Syria helped to swing military momentum in al-Assad’s favor, reversing last summer’s gains by insurgents including Western-backed rebels and helping government forces to drive IS out of Palmyra on Sunday.

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