(CBS News) – Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday that only Syrians can decide his future – apparently dismissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark that the U.S. would be willing to talk with the Assad regime to help broker a political resolution to the country’s civil war.
Asked about Kerry’s statement regarding potential talks with the Syrian government, Assad said, “We are still hearing statements and have to wait for actions. Then we will decide.” Assad added that any “talk about the future of the Syrian president is for Syrian people alone.”
Assad said Damascus is not concerned about comments made from abroad, describing them as “bubbles that disappear after some time.”
The Syrian leader spoke to Iranian TV after a meeting with visiting Iranian Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia. Tehran is one of Assad’s closest allies and strongest backers in his battle against rebels trying to remove him from power.
Kerry said in an interview on Sunday with CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the U.S. is pushing for Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to help end Syria’s four-year conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people since it started four years ago.
“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome,” Kerry said. “Why? Because everybody agrees there is no military solution. There is only a political solution.”
Some in the Middle East saw Kerry’s statement as a shift in America’s policy on Syria after President Barack Obama’s repeated calls for Assad to step down. Damascus has long accused Washington and its allies of militarizing Syria’s conflict.
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf later clarified that Kerry was not suggesting that the U.S. would negotiate with Assad himself.
“By necessity, there has always been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of this process,” Harf said. “It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate — and the Secretary was not saying that.”
She added, “Our policy has not changed — there is no future for a brutal dictator like Assad in Syria, and we remain committed to pursuing all diplomatic avenues to negotiating a political solution.”
Last year, the U.S. joined talks in Switzerland with Assad’s foreign minister and members of the U.S.-backed moderate Syrian opposition, but those talks failed when Assad’s representatives refused to discuss how to create a transition government.
Asked about Kerry’s statement regarding potential talks with the Syrian government, the French Foreign Ministry said Paris’ position opposing talks with Assad remained unchanged.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said in a statement Monday that “bringing down the head of the regime and all officials responsible for crimes against the Syrian people are a main goal of the coalition.”
Assad said that international overtures are positive “if they are sincere.” He added that such a move should start with “ceasing political support to terrorists, stop financing them and stop sending weapons.”
He said that pressure should be exerted on European countries and regional states who give “logistical, financial and military support to terrorists and then we can say that the change has become real.”
Also Monday, Syria’s Minister of National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar said the Americans “are searching behind the scene” for some way to re-open a direct line of communication with the Syrian leadership to negotiate a political compromise.
“The change has come as a result of a failure in the U.S. policies after a four-year-long crisis,” Haidar said in an interview with The Associated Press. He added that all states have “agreed that a political solution doesn’t absolutely mean a prior condition that President Assad should step down.”
“All have figured out that this condition is non-objective and unachievable and there is no power to implement it on ground,” Haidar said.