Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing a two-year rebellion against his rule, will run for a third term in 2014 if the people want him to, his foreign minister said on Wednesday.
“Do you want the president to resign before the (Geneva 2 peace) conference, that is not possible,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the Beirut-based Arab news channel Mayadeen, which is close to Syria and its ally Iran.
The United States and Syria’s ally Russia are trying to organise a peace conference in Geneva to find a solution to end the bloodshed in Syria and hope to convene it in June.
“Will President Assad run for a third term or won’t he? That will depend on conditions in 2014 and the will of the people,” Muallem added.
“If the people want him, he will present himself, and, if they don’t, he won’t. Mr Assad is in constant touch with his people,” Muallem said.
“The Americans have no say on who governs Syria,” he added.
“Until the next presidential election, he will remain the president of the Syrian Arab Republic.”
Western and Arab governments are demanding that Assad step down as part of efforts to end the deadly conflict in Syria which activists say has killed more than 94,000 people since it erupted in March 2011.
“If we reach an agreement in Geneva, and I hope we will, it will be put to a referendum and if the people approve what we agreed upon, I can assure you it will be fully respected,” Muallem said.
Muallem has already said earlier this month that the Syrian government will, in principle, send delegates to the Geneva 2 conference.
In Istanbul, meanwhile, opposition spokesman Khaled al-Saleh lashed out against Muallem’s comments.
“It is clear that this is just media talk. It has no value, no weight,” Saleh told reporters on the sidelines of an opposition National Coalition meeting.
“Bashar al-Assad is no longer accepted by the Syrian people, ever since they took to the streets in mass protests all across Syria,” he said.
Earlier this month, Assad told Argentine newspaper Clarin that he had no plans to resign.
“To resign would be to flee,” he said when asked if he would consider stepping aside as called for by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“I don’t know if Kerry or anyone else has received the power of the Syrian people to talk in their name about who should go and who should stay. That will be determined by the Syrian people in the 2014 presidential elections.”
Assad has ruled Syria since 2000, when he took over on the death of his father Hafez.
He was elected in 2000 and again in 2007, virtually unopposed.