Syria's Assad deluded by his inner circle, U.N. envoy Brahimi says

CAIRO Thu Feb 28, 2013 5:08pm GMT

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is seen during a meeting with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby during their meeting in Cairo February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is seen during a meeting with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby during their meeting in Cairo February 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

CAIRO (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been convinced by his inner circle that his country is the victim of a broad conspiracy led by terrorists, U.N./Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Thursday.

Brahimi said hope for a solution to the crisis, which began as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising but has turned into a conflict on largely sectarian lines, lay in the hands of Russia and the United States.

More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in almost two years of fighting. Damascus refers to the rebels, who range from local fighters to foreign jihadists, as "armed terrorist groups".

"He (Assad) sees the protests as a universal conspiracy against his country fuelled by terrorists. And his inner circle is the one that convinces him of that," Brahimi said during a visit to the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

Syria's main opposition coalition this month endorsed an initiative by its president, Moaz Alkhatib, offering to talk to Assad's government about a political transition based on his departure after 13 years in power.

Brahimi praised Alkhatib's initiative, saying it had embarrassed the Syrian government, and called on Washington and Moscow to take a lead.

"If Russia and the United States reached a real agreement, it would be easy for an international decision to be taken, but past meetings between the two states' foreign ministers and their aides were disappointing," he said.

Russia, one of Assad's two main foreign backers along with Iran, has recently distanced itself from him and stepped up its calls for dialogue as his prospects of retaining power have decreased. However, it still insists that Assad's departure, a main demand of the opposition, must not be a precondition.

Washington has repeatedly called on Assad to step down and says he has lost his legitimacy.

(Reporting by Ayman Samir; writing by Yasmine Saleh; editing by David Stamp and Kevin Liffey)

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