There is no expectation of peace in the near future as the Syrian President refuses to step down and to create a transitional governing body.
On the 6th of January, over one thousand enthusiastic supporters packed the Syrian Damascus Opera House to listen to President Bashar al-Assad. The crowds welcomed the country’s controversial leader with applause and calls of support.
The speech was mostly a repeat of old rhetoric, suggesting that the Syrian government is the victim of colonialism. He claimed that the rebel forces were simply puppets of the West: “Do we hold dialog with gangs which are given orders by the outside? Do we hold dialogue with dummies? Their roles, given to them by the west?
“We are now in a state war in every sense of the word we are now confronting a vicious external war.” He describes the enemies as “agents” and holds them responsible for fuelling terrorist activities.
The President emphasised the independence of Syria and called on other nations to stop their intervention in the political process. “It is a war between the nation and its enemies, between the people and the murderous criminals.”
He claimed that Afghanistan was trying to ‘divide’ and weaken Syria, and that they were Syria’s enemy. Assad made clear, however, that he would negotiate with Russia, China and Iran, as they had not betrayed his regime.
Assad made clear that any handover of power must be constitutional, and he proposed new elections and pledged to open a dialogue between the regime and the people. In response to the speech, the Iranian Foreign Minister praised the Syrian President on his ‘comprehensive political process’.
The Syrian National Council flatly rejected the proposal and said that the only solution is for Assad to step down from leadership. They reject Assad’s proposed solutions as fake promises and state they will only accept his resignation.
“To resist this unacceptable regime and for the Free Syrian Army to continue its work in liberating Syria until every inch of land is free,” a spokesman for the SNC told Reuters.
The speech dashes hopes for a negotiated settlement and means that peace is even less probable for the Syrian rebels.
Margaret Nuland from the US State Department criticises the speech as ‘detached from reality’ and says it is ‘another attempt by the regime to cling to power’. The EU took a similar stance: “We maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition.”
However on Monday, the Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki held a cabinet meeting to apply the national program suggested by Assad. Assad argues that terrorism cannot stop his solution from unravelling.
Syrian expert Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma noted that the speech did not indicate any space for negotiation. “Assad’s speech also challenges the West to rethink its policy, because the war is nowhere near an end.”
Assad points to the West’s colonial past and he promised to continue fighting ‘as long as there is one terrorist left’.
Only hours after his speech, fights raged across the area of Aqraba, a few miles from the Damascus Opera House and continued throughout the night and Monday. These violent clashes reportedly occur around the capital and the Northern provinces.