Prospects for peace talks on Syria in Geneva next month have taken a hit after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the conference would need to be voted for by the people.
In an interview with Al-Manar, a television station linked to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Assad also hinted that Russian anti-aircraft missiles have been delivered.
However, these claims have been dismissed by some US and Russian media. Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted its source as saying that delivery of the S-300 air defence missile systems was only planned in the second quarter of 2014.
Describing the public approval needed for peace talks, Assad said: “Any implementation of any meeting, including Geneva, should be subject a referendum of the Syrian people. This is our only condition – anything else is useless. That is why we are relaxed and would attend.”
The opposition, who want Assad to step down and Hezbollah fighters leave Syria before talks in Geneva, scoffed at the President’s plan.
“This is a joke. There is no freedom in Syria and no security. It’s impossible to live in Syria. How can we hold a referendum under the regime of a dictator while there is a war going on?” said opposition
Syrian National Coalition member Ahmed Kamal.
The Syrian National Council is trying to overcome internal struggles in preparation for any peace talks. Concessions include broadening the body by adding 14 members of a liberal bloc led by human rights activist and Christian writer Michel Kilo.