Syrian opposition, West skeptical of Assad’s peace plan

AFP, DAMASCUS

Tue, Jan 08, 2013 - Page 6

A defiant speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad calling for peace on his terms has met rejection by the opposition and internationally, with only his ally, Iran, yesterday backing his stance.

Al-Assad’s plan was “detached from reality,” a US Department of State spokeswoman said, while Britain said al-Assad’s address was “empty.”

The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Europe’s position remained that al-Assad should step down to permit a political transition.

In addition, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told CNN he would endorse any decision by the Syrian people to put al-Assad on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition said that al-Assad had ruled out any dialogue with the rebels, making negotiations impossible.

Only Iran, which is supplying money, military advisers and, according to the US, weapons to al-Assad’s regime threw its weight behind its ally.

“The Islamic republic ... supports President Bashar al-Assad’s initiative for a comprehensive solution to the country’s crisis,” which rejects “foreign interference,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a statement on his ministry’s Web site.

Al-Assad, in his first speech in seven months, on Sunday outlined his vision for a way out of the 21-month conflict that has shattered his country, killed more than 60,000 people according to the UN and created a well of instability exploited by Islamic jihadists and fueled by regional rivalries.

Any resolution of the conflict had to be purely Syrian, al-Assad said — though he called those Syrians ranged against him “not a loyal opposition, but a gang of killers.”

While his plan calling for an end to violence, dialogue with opposition elements he deemed acceptable, and a vow to stand fast against those he branded “terrorists” and their foreign backers drew wild applause from his Damascus audience, it offered little realistic prospect of ending what has become a civil war.

It was “yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition,” US Department of Staet spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.

“His initiative is detached from reality,” she said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said al-Assad’s first speech since June was full of “empty promises” and would “fool no one.”