MOSCOW: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is ready to stand in a new presidential election, a Russian lawmaker told AFP from Damascus on Sunday.
“He is ready to conduct elections with the participation of all political forces who want Syria to prosper,” Russian lawmaker Alexander Yushchenko said by phone after meeting Assad in the Syrian capital.
Assad said he was ready to take part in the polls “if the people are not against it,” Yushchenko said after attending a one-and-a-half hours long meeting that included other Russian lawmakers and various other figures.
“He is absolutely sure of himself.“ Yushchenko, who is a member of the Communist Party.
He stressed that Assad was ready to discuss constitutional reform and eventual elections only after Syria is “liberated” from the self-styled Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
The announcement is expected to anger Western-backed moderate rebels as well as Washington and its allies who say there is no future for Assad in post-conflict Syria.
Some of his opponents say he should step down during a transition, while others insist on his immediate resignation.
Russia, which is one of the main backers of the Assad regime, says it is up to the Syrian people to decide his fate.
On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was time to start preparing for elections in Syria and also said Moscow was ready to provide air support for Western-backed “patriotic” rebels battling both jihadists and Assad.
The offer of help apparently represented a marked shift in Moscow’s position.
Russia had previously only used the word “patriotic” to describe groups backing Assad.
Representatives of Syria’s Western-backed opposition rejected Russia’s offer, saying Moscow should first stop bombing moderate rebels.
Syria last held presidential elections in June 2014, with Assad re-elected for a seven-year term with 88.7 percent of the vote.
The election was dismissed by the opposition and condemned internationally.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday evening made his first foreign visit since Syria’s war broke out in 2011, and held talks with his main backer and counterpart Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Wednesday.
According to a transcript of their meeting published on the Kremlin website, Assad thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his military support.
United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry and King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Saturday called for greater international efforts to restore stability to Syria without President Bashar al-Assad at its helm.
The two countries backed the aim of a “unified, pluralistic and stable country for all Syrians,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
The Saudi talks follow a meeting Friday in Vienna between Kerry and the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on ways to end the Syria conflict.