No matter what deal is made in Syria, there will be no government without Bashar al-Assad as its leader, said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly Sunday evening, al-Muallem said that Assad was the “democratically elected” president of Syria, at least until the next presidential election, in the middle of next year. Anyone who wants to can run against Assad, he said, but according to Syrian law, candidates must live inside the country.
In recent weeks, the United States and other Western countries have discussed the idea of replacing Assad. Although military action led by the U.S. is no longer on the agenda, Washington is continuing to apply pressure on Damascus, in the hope that forces opposed to Assad within the government will force him to quit, thus paving the way for a negotiated settlement on the future of the country.
But al-Muallem shot that idea down, saying that as long as Assad's term was not up, he would remain the leader of Syria, no matter what deals the West tried to impose on the Syria. “No one has a right to question his legitimacy,” al-Muallem said in an interview before his UN speech. “We will not go to any international forums in order to hand over power to illegal rebel groups that have their origins outside Syria,” he added.
The United Nations is planning an international forum in Geneva to discuss the future of Syria, and Syrian opposition groups are also unclear about whether or not they will participate. While Ahmed al-Jarba, the head of the opposition as recognized by the UN, has said that he would participate in the meeting, other Syrian rebel leaders have said that they won't until and unless there is a commitment by Assad to step down. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon met over the weekend with al-Jarba for the first time.