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Assad Speech Criticized For 'Empty Commitments'

Assad Calls On Syrians To Defend The Countryi
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January 07, 2013
In a speech on January 6, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called on Syrians to defend their country against religious extremists seeking to destroy the nation, dismissing any prospect of dialogue with the "murderous criminals" he says are behind the uprising. (AP)

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Assad Describes New Peace Initiative

In a rare public appearance, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has outlined a new peace initiative but blasted his opponents as murderers and puppets.
By RFE/RL
There is criticism in many capitals in response to a speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on January 6 in which he outlined a new peace initiative but called his opponents puppets.

In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Assad had simply repeated empty promises.

"It's not possible to make progress with empty commitments and it's not possible to make progress by denying the existence of the Syrian opposition, which is recognized by the whole world," he said.

"I had liaised on Assad's speech this morning with the Swedish foreign minister. We were not really expecting [Assad] to come up with something new, but still we had hope. But unfortunately his remarks show that he cannot fully understand what has been going on and he doesn't have a plan for the future."

In Brussels, a spokesman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc would not alter its demand that Assad step aside to make way for a political transition.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague described Assad's speech as "beyond hypocritical." In a message on Twitter, Hague said the "deaths, violence, and oppression engulfing Syria are [Assad's] own making."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Assad's speech would not help end "the terrible suffering" of the Syrian people. UN spokesman Martin Nesirky quoted Ban as saying in New York on January 7 that the necessary solution was a "political transition that includes the establishment of a transitional government and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations."

Uncompromising Rhetoric

In his speech in Damascus, Assad unveiled a peace initiative including a national reconciliation conference and the drafting of a new constitution.

But Assad's rhetoric was uncompromising. Any reconciliation talks, he said, would exclude "those who have betrayed Syria" -- a reference to the armed opposition, which he described as a "puppet made by the West."

Speaking in a televised address from a Damascus opera house packed with cheering supporters, Assad acknowledged the devastation of the country's 21-month conflict, saying that "suffering is overwhelming the Syrian land."

"Today, I look at your faces and I look at the faces of the sons of my country. They are full of sorrow and pain," he said. "I look at the eyes of the children of Syria; I don't see innocent smiles and I don't hear innocent laughter. I also don't see them playing in a way that puts smiles on their faces. I don't see them playing with toys. I hold the hands of the elderly. I find that the elderly are praying for their sons or for their daughters or for their grandchildren."

But he denied the opposition fighting was a political uprising against his family's decades-long rule, blaming the violence on "murderous criminals" and jihadists.

Opposition forces immediately rejeced the presidential initiative.

"[There was] nothing new in the dictator's speech," Syrian National Coalition member Khalid Hodja told Reuters in Istanbul. "He was describing the uprising in Syria as if [it is] led by foreign countries. In this speech also he was denying the reality of the Syrian revolution."

The Syrian opposition demands Assad step down before any peace negotiations.

The United Nations says as many as 60,000 people have been killed in fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups since March 2011.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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