Assad attends Eid Al Fitr prayers
Assad attends Eid Al Fitr prayers Reuters

A senior member of the Syrian opposition rejected on Tuesday night remarks by Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister, who said the country was ready to discuss the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad as part of a negotiated settlement to 17 months of bloodshed.

The official, Burhan Ghalioun, labeled Assad a “criminal” and said, “There is no room to negotiate with a criminal.”

Ghalioun said that the entire Syrian people see Assad as criminal, and so the opposition will not be able to hold discussions with him. He also said that if the Syrian government really wants to save the country it should “treat Assad as what he is - a criminal.”

Ghalioun is a member of the opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council (SNC). He headed the group until last May, when he announced he would step down. He was replaced by Abdel Basset Sayda.

“All this talk about negotiations is only intended to waste more time,” Ghalioun said. “It would be most appropriate that the criminal named Bashar Assad be arrested and stop his killing spree.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Qadri Jamil, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs, said that Syria was ready to discuss Assad’s resignation, but rejected the idea of making Assad’s resignation the condition for any future negotiations, a demand made not only by the opposition but also Washington and several big European states.

The comments came one day after U.S. President Barack Obama issued a direct warning to Assad, saying he should heed U.S. warnings to neither use nor move chemical or biological weapons.

“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Obama told reporters at the White House. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime -- but also to other players on the ground -- that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

He added, “That would change my calculus; that would change my equation.”

Jamil waved off Obama’s threat as part of U.S. election politics rather than an actual declaration of intent. “Obama’s threats are simply propaganda linked to the U.S. elections,” he said.