Beirut: Syria`s foreign minister laid out a hard line, insisting that Bashar Assad will remain Syria`s president at least until elections in 2014 and might run for another term, conditions that will make it difficult for Syria`s opposition to agree to UN-sponsored talks on ending Syria`s civil war.
Any deal reached in such talks would have to be put to a referendum, Walid al-Moallem said in a TV interview yesterday, introducing a new condition that could complicate efforts by the US and Russia to bring the two sides together at an international conference in Geneva, possibly next month.
The wide-ranging comments by al-Moallem, a regime stalwart with decades in top positions, reflected a new confidence by Assad`s government, which 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," the foreign minister said. He suggested that the regime is digging in.
Asked by Lebanon`s Al-Mayadeen station when the civil war might end, he said: "That depends on when the patience of those conspiring against Syria will run out."
The uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, turned into an armed insurgency in response to a harsh regime crackdown and escalated into a civil war.
The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people, uprooted more than 5 million and devastated large areas of the country.
The conflict has taken on strong sectarian overtones — most of the armed rebels are Sunni Muslims, a majority in Syria, while Assad has retained core support among the country`s minorities, including his own Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, along with Christians and Shiite Muslims.
Al-Moallem spoke at a time when Syria`s fractured political opposition was bogged down in internal power struggles.