Syrian opposition, West reject Assad ‘peace plan’


A defiant speech by President Bashar al-Assad calling for peace in Syria on his terms has met rejection by the opposition and internationally, with only his ally Iran on Monday backing his stance.

Assad’s plan was “detached from reality,” a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said, while Britain said Assad’s address was “empty”.

The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Europe’s position remained that Assad should step down to permit a political transition.

And Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi told CNN he would endorse any decision by the Syrian people to put Assad on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition noted that Assad had ruled out any dialogue with the rebels, making negotiations impossible.

Only Iran, which is supplying money, military advisors and, according to the United States, weapons to Assad’s regime threw its weight behind its ally.

“The Islamic republic... supports President Bashar al-Assad’s initiative for a comprehensive solution to the country’s crisis,” which rejects “foreign interference,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a statement on his ministry website.

Assad, in his first speech in seven months, on Sunday outlined his vision for a way out of the 21-month conflict that has shattered his country, killed more than 60,000 people according to the U.N., and created a well of instability exploited by Islamic jihadists and fuelled by regional rivalries.

Any resolution of the conflict had to be purely Syrian, Assad said -- though he called those Syrians ranged against him “not a loyal opposition but a gang of killers.”

He stated that most of the anti-regime fighters were foreigners, and said: “The one thing that is sure [is] that those who we face today are those who carry the Al-Qaeda ideology.”

But while his plan calling for an end to violence, dialogue with opposition elements he deemed acceptable, and a vow to stand fast against those he branded “terrorists” and their foreign backers drew wild applause from his Damascus audience, it offered little realistic prospect of ending what has become a civil war.

It was “yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.

“His initiative is detached from reality,” she said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad’s first speech since June was full of “empty promises” and would “fool no one”.

The United States and Europe, which have declared the National Coalition the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, are pressing Assad to leave power as the first step to any process to restore peace in Syria.

“We maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels.

But with Russia and China blocking any U.N. Security Council-approved international action against Assad’s regime, the Syrian war is slipping ever deeper into bloodshed with fears of lasting sectarian fractures.

The United Nations estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed since a brutal crackdown by Assad’s forces on peaceful protests 21 months ago stirred the violence.

Although the toll has climbed sharply in the past six months, and the rebels have grabbed swathes of territory in Syria’s north and east, the war has become a grinding impasse punctuated by shelling, regime air strikes and by car bombs set off by an increasingly radicalized insurgency.

Efforts by the joint U.N.-Arab League peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, have made no more headway than those of his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who resigned in frustration.

Brahimi has said he is working on a plan he hoped would be acceptable to all major powers that envisaged a ceasefire, a transitional government and parliamentary and presidential elections. Crucially, though, it left unspoken whether it conceived Assad remaining in power.