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      Syria: No One Can Stop Assad from Running Again

      Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister reacts to Russian criticism about Assad's declared intentions to seek re-election in 2014.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 12/20/2013, 2:39 AM

      Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
      Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
      AFP photo

      Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister said on Thursday that nobody can stop embattled President Bashar Al-Assad from seeking re-election.

      "Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told the AFP news agency, shortly after Russia criticized statements that Assad wanted to seek another term in 2014.

      "President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide," he declared.

      "I shall ask the opposition: why a Syrian national does not have the right to be a candidate? Who can prevent him? Any Syrian national can be candidate," said Muqdad. "The ballot boxes will decide who will lead Syria."

      Earlier Thursday, in a rare criticism of its ally Assad, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that "Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer.”

      Bogdanov said Assad and all parties should steer clear of stoking tensions ahead of the peace talks planned for Geneva in January aimed at ending the conflict raging in Syria since 2011.

      While the opposition insists on Assad's ouster, three years into a brutal war that has killed an estimated 126,000 people, the Syrian regime has repeatedly said he would run in 2014 polls.

      Muqdad also told AFP his country has formed a nine-member delegation supported by five advisers to take part in the so-called Geneva-2 peace talks brokered by the United States and Russia.

      "We are ready by all means and will announce the names of our delegation very quickly," he said.

      The official declined to answer whether the regime would be ready to negotiate with its Islamic Front foes from the battlefield.

      "We shall see the results of the discussions because the Americans are given the task of establishing an opposition delegation," he said.

      Muqdad said there would be no "red lines" at the negotiating table or preconditions set "but we shall not allow any intervention in the discussion among Syrians."

      He said that opposition members and "even independents" could sit alongside the regime in any agreed transitional arrangements to end the Syrian conflict.

      French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said several days ago that the Geneva II conference is in trouble and that the moderate opposition to the Syrian regime was in "serious difficulty".

      While the Western-backed opposition has agreed to take part in the Geneva peace conference, the extreme Islamist rebels have declared that attending peace talks or negotiating with the regime would be an act of betrayal.