BEIRUT: Chances of a negotiated solution to the conflict roiling Syria that could include the departure of President Bashar Assad, as suggested by a top official, are virtually nil, experts and the opposition say.
"This is another delaying tactic," said Thomas Pierret, a lecturer in contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh. "The regime has opted for a military solution and will not change until it falls."
He said Russia has "never been seriously interested in a smooth exit."
"Russia initially supported a military solution thinking that it would succeed, like in Chechnya, and when it recognised its mistake, it was too late -- the regime was doomed."
On Tuesday, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said the regime was willing to negotiate Assad's departure.
"As far as his resignation goes -- making the resignation itself a condition for holding dialogue means that you will never be able to reach this dialogue," he said during a visit to Moscow.
He added: "Any problems can be discussed during negotiations. We are even ready to discuss this issue."
The Syrian opposition, however, has ruled out any dialogue unless Assad leaves power, thereby giving up the iron-fisted control of the country his family has wielded for four decades.
Political sources in Damascus, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while Jamil was in Moscow, he discussed the possibility of organising a presidential election open to all candidates, including Assad, under international supervision.
But Assad's candidacy has been rejected by the United States, European countries and several Arab states.
"The regime cannot organise such elections, because the result would be a humiliation for Assad, a veritable political execution," said Pierret. "It cannot hope for a decent election result after destroying almost all of the cities in the country."
In addition, he said, "organising elections presumes the regime controls most of the country's territory, which is not the case".
Rime Allaf, another Syria expert, echoed Pierret's views.
"Qadri Jamil is either wrong, or it is a propaganda exercise to show that the regime wants to save the country, and all of this is to buy time," said Allaf, a researcher at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, more commonly known as Chatham House.
"The regime's line has always been to say, 'we want dialogue, but Assad is untouchable'. Anyway, it is too late -- it cannot have dialogue with all of these massacres."
The opposition, too, has dismissed Jamil's remarks as a delaying tactic.
"Every time the regime wants to buy time, it calls for dialogue," said Burhan Ghalioun, former chief of the opposition Syrian National Council, the largest anti-Assad opposition group. "It doesn't think for a moment to stop the war on the people."
"If it were serious about dialogue, it would stop the war."
Ghalioun described Tuesday's overtures as "a way to dupe international public opinion into thinking reform is still possible, while in reality, the army continues to shell Syria's cities and carry out daily massacres."
On the ground, he said, "there is no going back for the opposition."
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of grassroots activists, described the idea of a nationwide vote as "insulting."
"The notion of the regime staging an early election, when hundreds of thousands of Syrians are displaced, thousands have been killed, and the wounded are prohibited from reaching hospitals for health care, is insulting," said Omar Idelbi of the LCC.
"We have no trust in the regime or its figureheads," Idelbi told AFP by telephone.
"We want all the regime and its figures to go, and after so much death, the opposition on the ground can accept nothing less."
Activists say more than 23,000 people have been killed since March 2011, as what began as a brutal crackdown on peaceful anti-regime protests has descended into a war between government forces and opposition fighters.
The United Nations puts the death toll at 17,000 and says hundreds of thousands more have fled to Syria's neighbours while another 2.5 million still in the country are in desperate need of aid.