BEIRUT (Reuters) - A senior Syrian official rejected on Tuesday the idea of a “transitional period” leading towards the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, as sought by Western states.
On a visit to Syria’s ally Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said the Syrian people had voted for Assad in a presidential election in 2014 and had shown there was no alternative to his leadership.
His comments from Tehran, broadcast by Syrian state TV, mark the first detailed Syrian government remarks since foreign powers that support opposing sides in Syria’s civil war - including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States - met in Vienna on Friday in an effort to revive peacemaking.
“We are talking about a national dialogue in Syria and an expanded government and a constitutional process. We are not at all talking about what is called a transitional period,” Mekdad said. That idea existed “only in the minds of those who do not live in reality”, he added.
Russia, another key ally of Damascus, has said Syria should prepare for early parliamentary and presidential elections. Assad won a new seven-year term by a landslide last year in a vote his critics condemned as a sham.
“What is also important...is what the Syrian people have confirmed, which is that there is no alternative to the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad,” Mekdad said.
“He is an elected president by the Syrian people and by a large majority, in transparent and democratic elections, and everyone must respect constitutional measures in Syria.”
He also said Syria had not received official notice of any meeting with members of the Syrian opposition, after a Russian official said Moscow might bring them together next week.
The intensified diplomacy has followed Russia’s military intervention on the side of Assad, with Moscow talking of the need for political progress towards ending a war that has killed 250,000 people and created millions of refugees since 2011.
But there is no sign of a breakthrough on the biggest obstacle standing in the way of diplomatic efforts: the question of Assad’s future. The United States and its Arab allies including Saudi Arabia want a transition away from his rule.
Mekdad was in Tehran to meet his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who said on Monday Iran would quit Syria peace talks if it found them unconstructive, citing the “negative role” of Saudi Arabia.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said earlier on Tuesday that Syrian government officials and members of the country’s splintered opposition could meet in Moscow next week.
Writing by Tom Perry and Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Trevelyan