Assad ready to negotiate on "everything" at proposed peace talks

Assad ready to negotiate on
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks to French journalists in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on January 9, 2017
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DAMASCUS – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his government is ready to negotiate on "everything" in proposed peace talks in Kazakhstan but it was not yet clear who would represent the opposition and no date has been set.

Russia said last month it had agreed with Assad, Iran and Turkey that the Kazakh capital of Astana should be the venue for new peace talks after rebels suffered their biggest defeat of the war by being driven from eastern Aleppo.

Russia and Turkey, a major sponsor of the anti-Assad opposition, have also brokered a truce as a step towards reviving diplomacy, though the warring sides have accused each other of many violations.

Assad said the government delegation was ready to go to Astana "when the time of the conference is set".

"We are ready to negotiate everything. We need to talk about negotiation regarding whether to end the conflict in Syria or talking about the future of Syria, everything, it's fully open. There's no limit for the negotiations. But who's going to be there from the other side, we don't know yet. Is it going to be real Syrian opposition - when I say real it means has grassroots in Syria, not Saudi one, or French one or British one, it should be a Syrian opposition to discuss the Syrian issues. So the viability or let's say the success of that conference will depend on that point," Assad told French media after meeting members of French parliament in Damascus on Sunday (January 8).

The main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, is backed by Riyadh.

Rebel groups operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner earlier this month said they had frozen any talks about their possible participation in the Astana talks due to violations of the ceasefire, chiefly in Wadi Barada near Damascus.

Asked if negotiations could include his position as president, Assad said it was tied to the constitution.

"My position is related to the constitution -- and the constitution is very clear about the mechanism in which you can bring a president or get rid of a president. So if they want to change, to discuss this point, they have to discuss the constitution and the constitution is not owned by the government or the president or by the opposition, it should be owned by the Syrian people. So you need a referendum for every constitution. This is one of the points that could be discussed in that meeting of course. But they cannot say 'we need that president or we don't need that president' because the president is related to the ballot box. If they don't need him, let's go to the ballot box," Assad said.

Asked about the retaking of Aleppo by Syrian forces and the many victims it induced, Assad replied that "every war is bad".

"Every war is about killing. That's why every war is bad, you cannot say this is good or, even if it's for a good reason, to defend your country for a noble reason,” he said.

Assad also commented on Donald Trump, saying it could improve relations between the U.S., Russia and Syria.

"If there's a genuine approach or initiative towards improving the relations between the United States and Russia – that will affect every problem in the world, including Syria. So I would say yes, we think that's positive, regarding the Syrian conflict," he said.

(Reuters)