Assad: Syrian opposition ‘make a good joke’

The president said there is a "significant" chance he will stand in presidential elections expected this June

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Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad dismissed the possibility of naming opposition members abroad to a future government as a “joke,” in an exclusive interview with Agence France-Presse.

“They... come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they fled. How can they be ministers in the government?” he asked. “These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke.”

The Syrian opposition threatened on Sunday to pull out from upcoming peace talks with global powers and the Syrian regime after the United Nations invited Iran to attend the conference.

The Syrian National Coalition had only decided on Saturday to attend the conference and talks between Assad’s government and the opposition are due to start in Geneva on Friday.

Assad said the main objective of the Geneva II peace talks this week should be a decision on the “fight against terrorism.”

“The Geneva conference should produce clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism... this is the most important decision or result that the Geneva conference could produce,” he said.

Assad also warned that if his government loses the country’s war it would mean “chaos.”

“Should Syria lose this battle that would mean the spread of chaos throughout the Middle East.”

‘No massacres committed’

The president also said government forces loyal to him have not committed any massacres in the country's bloody conflict.

"The Syrian state has always defended its civilians," he said. "These organizations do not have a single document to prove that the Syrian government has committed a massacre against civilians anywhere," adding that the war in Syria will continue for a long time, though the regime is "making progress."

"We are making progress and moving forward. This doesn't mean that victory is near at hand," he said.

"These kinds of battles are complicated, difficult, and they need a lot of time."

In another show of defiance, Assad said there is a "significant" chance he will stand in presidential elections expected this June, despite local and international opposition demands that he step down.

"I see no reason why I shouldn't stand... (if) there is public desire," he said. "In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant."

Hariri trial

On the topic of the trial of four suspects in the assassination of Lebanon’s former premier, Assad accused the court – the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon - of being “politicized” and aimed at pressuring his ally Hezbollah.

“Nine years have passed since the beginning of this trial. Has justice been served? Every accusation was made for political reasons,” he said on Sunday, days after the tribunal began hearing evidence in the 2005 killing of Rafiq Hariri.

“We have not seen any tangible proof put forward against the parties involved in the case,” added Assad, whose regime came under suspicion in the killing, along with Lebanon’s powerful Shiite group.

“The real question should be: why the timing? Why now? This court was set up nine years ago,” he added.

“I believe that the whole thing is politicized and is intended to put pressure on Hezbollah in Lebanon in the same way that it aimed at putting pressure on Syria in the beginning, immediately after Hariri’s assassination,” he said.

Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in Beirut in February 2005.