Beirut (AFP) – The Syrian regime will not attend a proposed Geneva peace conference if the aim is for President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power, the country’s information minister said Monday.
“We will not go to Geneva to hand over power as desired by (Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud) al-Faisal and certain opponents abroad,” said Omran al-Zohbi in comments carried by the official SANA news agency.
“President Bashar al-Assad will remain head of state,” he added.
Washington, Moscow and the United Nations are trying to fix a date for the so-called Geneva II talks bringing all sides together to discuss a political solution to the conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people since March 2011.
Syria’s opposition has refused to attend unless Assad’s resignation is on the table. Rebel groups have warned that participants would be considered traitors.
The Syrian information minister’s comments came after US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh on Monday to smooth over differences on Syria.
Saudi Arabia expressed anger after US President Barack Obama stepped back after threatening a punitive strike against Syria over a chemical attack in August on a rebel-held district near Damascus.
While Kerry reiterated that Washington opposes military intervention to end the bloodshed in Syria, Prince Saud said negotiations “shouldn’t just go on indefinitely”, in reference to the proposed peace conference.