Syrian state media have dismissed as “inaccurate” a report that President Bashar al-Assad told visiting Russian lawmakers he has no intention of giving up power and the issue is not up for discussion.
The conflicting reports come just days ahead of an internationally sponsored peace conference on Syria.
The Russian news agency Interfax had quoted Assad as saying “if we had wanted to give up, we would have surrendered from the start.”
“This issue is not up for discussion,” he reportedly said Sunday in remarks translated into Russian.
Syria’s government and the opposition are due to participate in peace talks in Switzerland beginning Wednesday, with Assad’s role in Syria’s future expected to be a key stumbling block.
The Geneva 2 meeting aims to create a transitional government with full executive powers.
While few expect the talks will reach this goal, its supporters are hoping the discussions will at least result in increased humanitarian access and local cease-fires to make life easier for Syrian civilians.
The Syrian National Coalition – the country’s main political opposition grouping in exile – has agreed to attend the talks. A senior SNC official said its leadership will meet later Sunday in Istanbul to name members of the delegation.
The Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks and its decision to go was welcomed by the United States, Britain and Russia.
But the SNC has little influence on the ground in Syria and many rebel military units have rejected its authority.
The Syrian government considers all rebel forces to be terrorists, and has tried to shift the focus of the talks from forming a new government to fighting extremism.
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