Assad says giving up key powers must be decided in referendum

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said any agreement reached in the anticipated Geneva conference must be approved in a general referendum.


The embattled president was speaking in an interview with Hezbollah television station al-Manar.

Assad said giving up his powers as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the head of the judicial authority requires a constitutional amendment that in turn requires a general referendum.

Asked whether Syria had any preconditions for attendance at the talks, Assad told al-Manar television: “The only condition is that anything to be implemented will be submitted to Syrian public opinion and a Syrian referendum.”

The United Nations has said that a preparatory meeting for a proposed international conference on the conflict in Syria will take place in Geneva next week.

“Very confident”

Assad said he is “very confident” that his troops will prevail over rebel forces in Syria’s bloody civil war which has raged since March 2011, in an interview broadcast on Thursday.

“There is a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of (anti-Israeli) resistance ... (but) we are very confident of victory,” Assad said.

Asked about delivery of Russian S-300 air defense missiles, Assad said Russia has fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but was vague on whether this included advanced S-300 air defense systems.

His actual comments differed from excerpts the TV station conducting the interview had sent to reporters in a text message on Thursday morning.

In that message, the al-Manar quoted Assad as saying Syria had already received a first shipment of such missiles. The Associated Press called al-Manar after receiving the text message, and an official at the station said the message had been sent based on Assad’s comments.

In the interview, Assad was asked about the S-300s, but his answer was general.

He said that Russia’s weapons shipments are not linked to the Syria conflict. “We have been negotiating with them about different types of weapons for years and Russia is committed to Syria to implement these contracts,” he said.

“All we have agreed on with Russia will be implemented and some of it has been implemented recently, and we and the Russians continue to implement these contracts,” he said.

Assad also said that his forces will respond to any future Israeli strike on his country.

Israel struck near the Syrian capital of Damascus earlier this month. Israeli officials said at the time they were targeting suspected shipments of advanced missiles purportedly intended for Hezbollah, a Syria ally.

Asked whether Syria would respond to such strikes, Assad said: “We have told countries that we will respond to any strike with a similar strike.” He says that the manner of the response “depends on the circumstance and timing” of the attack.

He said there was “popular pressure” on him to open a military front against Israel on the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state has occupied since 1967.

“There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan,” he said. “There are several factors, including repeated Israeli aggression,” he added.

Commenting on Hezbollah’s role in Syria, Assad said the Shiite militia is not defending Syria. He said Hezbollah fighters have intervened only in Qusair following Israeli raids on a convoy suspected to be carrying weapons to the Lebanese group.

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