Syria Says No to Peace Talks Aimed at Removing Assad
The Syrian regime will not attend a proposed Geneva peace conference if the aim is for President Bashar Al-Assad to hand over power, the country's information minister said Monday, according to AFP.
"We will not go to Geneva to hand over power as desired by (Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud) al-Faisal and certain opponents abroad," Omran al-Zoubi said in comments carried by the official SANA news agency.
"President Bashar Al-Assad will remain head of state," he declared.
Washington, Moscow and the United Nations are trying to fix a date for the so-called Geneva II talks, aimed at bringing all sides together to discuss a political solution to the conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people since March 2011.
The Western-backed Syrian opposition has refused to attend unless Assad's resignation is on the table.
The more extreme Islamist groups fighting to topple Assad have declared that attending peace talks or negotiating with the regime would be an act of betrayal.
The Syrian information minister's comments came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh on Monday to smooth over differences on Syria.
Saudi Arabia expressed anger after U.S. President Barack Obama stepped back after threatening a punitive strike against Syria over a chemical attack in August on a rebel-held district near Damascus.
While Kerry reiterated that Washington opposes military intervention to end the bloodshed in Syria, Prince Saud said negotiations "shouldn't just go on indefinitely", in reference to the proposed peace conference.
Assad has declared that foreign support for rebels must stop for peace to take place in the war-battered country.
Saudi Arabia has been trying to push a draft UN resolution that would strongly condemn "widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights" by the Syrian government and "any" abuses by anti-government armed groups.
The Saudis have openly backed the rebels trying to oust Assad and, according to some reports, have provided them with some arms.