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6 Jan, 2013 10:44

President Assad outlines political solution to Syrian conflict

Syria’s president has outlined a plan to end the country's conflict, starting with a halt to international support to “al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.” The solution proposes a new constitution and government, as well as national reconciliation.

President Bashar Assad said that his government had never refused a political solution, but would not negotiate with terrorists. He then stressed that the only solution was a Syrian proposal to end the crisis.“The political solution entails regional and international powers halting their support for armed groups, which will be followed by a halt in our security forces' crackdown against them,” Assad said in his first public address to the people of Syria since June. He claimed the move would be followed by dialogue with all parties who work in Syria’s interests, in the form of a national conference on the creation of a truce and the drafting of a new constitution to be put to public vote. The charter would form the basis of the new Syrian government.The final step would be a national reconciliation process, including amnesty for those imprisoned during the crisis.Assad stated that his government had not yet found any  partners willing to back a solution to Syria’s ongoing crisis. However, he did thank Russia, China and Iran for not “interfering in Syrian affairs.”He also criticized the Syrian opposition, referring to the rebels as “Western puppets” and “terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda.”  "We have terrorists who follow the ideology of al-Qaeda. We brothers fight against these people. Most of them are not Syrian… We will teach them a lesson," Assad said.He called for a national mobilization to fight the “murderous criminals” besieging the country."Everyone must defend it… the attack on the entire nation… every citizen who is aware… and refusing to join solutions is taking the nation backwards," he said.

International condemnation

Reaction from the international community followed Assad’s speech almost instantaneously with the nascent opposition group the National Coalition dismissing it as an attempt to thwart diplomatic solutions to the conflict.While Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague described Assad’s words as “beyond hypocritical” and said that his “empty promises would not fool anyone.” The European Union said that it was time for the Syrian leader to step down following the speech.

Assad gave his speech in Damascus’ central opera house to a throng of staunch supporters, who punctuated his speech with cheers of encouragement.The Syrian leader was mobbed by exultant supporters after the speech. "With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, O Bashar!" the crowd chanted following the speech.According to figures collated by the UN, at least 60,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it began 21 months ago. The UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is pushing for a transitional government, one ambiguous on the question of Assad's future role. Opposition groups have demanded the immediate resignation of the Syrian leader.