Assad says UN-backed Syria talks yielded ‘nothing’


DAMASCUS: Bashar Assad said Monday that three years of UN-brokered peace talks have yielded “nothing,” in part because the opposition does not represent anyone and is merely a “vocal phenomenon.”

Assad spoke to reporters after the latest round of talks in Geneva ended last week without making any progress toward ending the nearly seven-year civil war. The UN envoy to Syria has criticized the regime, which refuses to discuss anything besides fighting terrorism.

The opposition has long called for a transitional period in which Assad would have no role, something the regime refuses to consider.

Assad praised an alternative track of negotiations expected to be hosted in Sochi by Russia, a close ally whose military intervention since 2015 has tipped the war in his favor.

“We certainly believe that anything is better than Geneva, because Geneva has achieved nothing after three years,” Assad said.

Assad said the talks at Sochi would examine whether Syria needs a new constitution or to amend its current one. He said legislative elections would also likely be discussed.

The main opposition group in Geneva has criticized the Sochi initiative, calling it an attempt to create an alternative track to the internationally supported peace talks.

Assad has portrayed the opposition delegation in Geneva as a proxy of hostile foreign powers.

Assad spoke after meeting a Russian government delegation. He said the visit was a chance to promote economic cooperation, “particularly now that we started the reconstruction phase.” He did not specify any particular projects.

Assad also called US-backed Kurdish fighters “traitors,” ramping up the rhetoric against the forces controlling more than a quarter of the country.

“When we talk about those referred to as ‘the Kurds’, they are in fact not just Kurds. All those who work for a foreign country, mainly those under American command… are traitors,” he said.
“This is how we see these groups working for the Americans,” he said.

Assad had criticized the semi-autonomous Kurds in the past, but his latest remarks, released by the presidency on social media, were more virulent than usual.

The Kurdish minority accounts for an estimated 15 percent of Syria’s population and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) control a large chunk of territory in the country.

Both Damascus, backed by Russia, and the Kurds, backed by a US-led coalition, have fought Daesh in recent months.
But their common enemy has been defeated across much of the country now, leaving the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces and regime forces in an uneasy face-off.

Some regime officials had in the past made overtures to the Kurds, suggesting some level of autonomy could be eventually be discussed, but Assad’s latest comments augur poorly for any future talks.

Meanwhile, reports said French President Emmanuel Macron said Daesh will be defeated in Syria by the middle or end of February and that Assad cannot be ignored in the aftermath of a military victory but must one day answer for his crimes, according to a TV interview.

Macron noted in a wide-ranging interview with TV station France 2 that Iraqi authorities declared Daesh defeated this month and said, “I think by mid-end February we will have won in Syria. Bashar Assad will be there.”

Under those circumstances, “We have to talk to everybody, we have to talk to Bashar Assad and his representatives,” the French leader said, adding: “Afterward, he must answer for his crimes before his people, before international justice.”

The France 2 interview was recorded five days ago, during a global climate summit Macron hosted two years after the signing of the landmark Paris climate agreement.

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