BEIRUT: Syria’s information minister said Tuesday the Syrian people had decided President Bashar Assad should be nominated for another term and would pressure him to stand in polls this year.
The comments were the strongest indication yet that Assad intends to extend his rule and are sure to anger opposition politicians and fighters.
Assad’s status in any future political order in Syria has been a stumbling block to bringing both sides to a peace conference scheduled to be held in Geneva on Jan. 22. Iran’s participation has been another.
The opposition, represented by a Western-backed coalition, has demanded that the conference aim to remove Assad from power, while Damascus has insisted that he stay. The opposition has also said Iran, Syria’s staunchest ally, cannot have any role in talks.
In a televised news conference, Information Minister Omran Zoubi said Assad’s decision was personal and had not been announced yet, but that the “Syrian street” wanted him to run.
“I can assure you that there is a popular Syrian decision to nominate President Bashar Assad for the presidency of the republic,” he said.
“It is his personal decision, which concerns him personally, but I also assure you that the Syrian street will pressure President Bashar Assad to nominate himself for the presidency of the republic.”
Last month, a Russian diplomat signaled Assad should refrain from statements suggesting he might seek re-election because it could fuel tension before the planned peace talks. Moscow has been a vital ally to the Syrian president.
Zoubi also restated the government’s position that any agreement reached at the Geneva conference – known as “ Geneva II” – would need to be approved by a referendum or it would not be valid.
He urged Turkey to close its border with Syria and expel fighters from its territory and said the regime wanted Iran to attend the talks.
U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon Monday sent invitations to 30 countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to attend a Syria peace conference this month, but did not include Iran.
Iranian media reported Tuesday that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran would not accept any preconditions for participating in the Geneva talks.
“If we get invited officially then we will take part at the meeting,” he said during a meeting with visiting Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad, according to the report.