Middle East

Syria's Assad says 'opposition' could join new government

Bashar al-Assad (file photo) Image copyright AP
Image caption President Assad said all matters could potentially be resolved at talks in Geneva

Syria's president has said "opposition forces" could form part of a new government, the shape of which could be agreed at peace talks in Geneva.

Bashar al-Assad told a Russian news agency he would expect it to consist of "independent forces, opposition forces and forces loyal to the state".

Indirect talks between the government and opposition resumed this month.

The opposition insist Mr Assad must step down, though the government says his fate is not up for discussion.

The president has previously said it is up to the people of Syria to decide who governs them.

A spokesman for the main opposition umbrella group at the UN-led talks dismissed Mr Assad's latest comments.

"The government, whether it's new or old, as long as it is in the presence of Bashar al-Assad, is not part of the political process," said George Sabra, of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Reuters news agency reported.

"What Bashar al-Assad is talking about has no relation to the political process."

The major powers backing rival sides in the war agree that there must be a political transition process, a new constitution and elections in Syria, but so far the talks in Geneva have not produced any signs of progress.

'No walkouts'

Speaking to RIA Novosti, Mr Assad said despite deep differences between the two parties, the format for a new government could emerge from the talks.

"There are many questions that need to be discussed in Geneva, but there are not difficult questions," he said. "I don't consider them difficult, they can all be resolved."

Mr Assad did not spell out what he meant by "opposition forces". The Syrian government does not recognise rebel groups, which it commonly refers to as "terrorists", while there has long been a tolerated political opposition inside Syria.

Mr Assad said a new draft constitution could be drawn up "within a few weeks" and would then need to be put to a national vote.

The HNC has accused the Syrian government of trying to scupper the negotiations by refusing to discuss Mr Assad's future.

At the end of the previous round of talks last week, the UN's special envoy said both sides were taking the process "very seriously", noting the atmosphere had been more constructive than previously with "no breakdowns; no walkouts; and no de-legitimisation".

The talks are expected to resume in the first half of April.