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Assad Speech 'Detached from Reality', Says U.S.

The United States State Department says Assad's speech is another attempt to cling to power.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 1/7/2013, 3:44 AM

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus
Reuters

The United States was not impressed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Sunday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to AFP, that Assad's speech "is yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people's goal of a political transition. His initiative is detached from reality," she said.

In a rare speech he gave earlier on Sunday, Assad offered a road map to end Syria's civil war but said that the first step was for foreign powers to stop supporting armed rebels seeking to topple him.

"Right after that, our military operations will cease," he said, adding, without elaborating, that a mechanism would be set up to monitor any such truce.

The government would then step up contacts to convene a national dialogue conference with opponents "inside and outside" Syria who do not take orders from abroad.

"We will hold dialogue with (those who are) the masters (of their decisions) not the slaves (of foreign powers)," Assad said, according to AFP.

The national dialogue conference would draft a charter which would then be put to a referendum. Parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government would follow, he added.

Any resolution of the conflict, however, had to be purely Syrian and "there must be agreement at the national dialogue conference."

"We are now faced with a state of war in every sense of the word, an external aggression more deadly and dangerous than conventional wars implemented through a handful of Syrians and many foreigners," Assad said, according to AFP.

He said the conflict was not between the government and the opposition but between the "nation and its enemies," saying of his opponents: "This is not a loyal opposition but a gang of killers.

"The one thing that is sure (is) that those who we face today are those who carry the Al-Qaeda ideology," Assad said, repeating previous assertions that "foreign terrorists" are behind the uprising.

The main armed opposition group the National Coalition, swiftly rejected the plan, saying Assad's speech was directed at those ready to see him remain in power.

Assad will not accept "any initiative that does not restore stability to his regime and put him at the helm of control," spokesman Walid al-Bunni told AFP.

"He wants negotiating partners of his own choosing and will not accept any initiative that could meet the aspirations of the Syrian people or ultimately lead to his departure and the dismantling of his regime."

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria said in a statement Assad's plan represented "nothing," and that he was "a war criminal waiting to be judged."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad's first speech since June was full of "empty promises" and would "fool no one."

In Brussels, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, "We will look carefully if there is anything new in the speech but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Assad to order his security forces to end their violence, rather than making vague expressions of "readiness for a ceasefire."

The United Nations estimates that over 60,000 people have died in fighting since anti-Assad riots first broke out in Syria in March 2011. Each side has accused the other of human rights abuses, including targeting civilians for slaughter.