Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he has never faced pressure from Russia to step aside, even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought greater cooperation from Moscow to help end the Syrian civil war.
Speaking to NBC News in Damascus on July 14, Assad insisted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had never raised the issue of his departure or a political transition.
"Only the Syrian people define who's going to be the president, when to come, and when to go. They never said a single word regarding this," he said.
Assad's fate is a key question in efforts to negotiate a settlement to Syria's civil war. The United States and its allies in the West and the Persian Gulf region want Assad to step aside during or after a period of cease-fire and political transition.
Kerry is reported to be offering a kind of grand bargain to Putin during his two-day visit to Moscow, agreeing to Russia's requests for greater cooperation between Washington and Moscow in battling the Islamic State group in exchange for Russia coaxing more cooperation from Assad to end the war and enter a political transition.