The office of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad issued a statement Tuesday claiming to welcome “any political solution” to the Syrian civil war, days after insisting that an election is out of the question until Assad achieves “victory over terrorism.”
Chinese news outlet Xinhua quotes the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) as publishing a statement from Assad’s office on the matter:
Regarding the remarks of the Russian MP who met with President Bashar al-Assad and later gave statements that the president was ready to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections, we say that the Syrian state would welcome and adopt any political solution so long as it preserves the unity of Syria, curbs the bloodletting and serves Syrian interests.
The Russian MP in question is Aleksandr Yushchenko, who visited Assad this week and told media outlets the head of state was open to elections, but only after “victory over terrorism” has been achieved. As the Assad regime considers all opposition forces in the country to be “terrorists,” not just the Islamic State, many interpreted this statement as a rejection of elections until all opposition is defeated, guaranteeing reelection for Assad.
Xinhua notes that terrorism also made an appearance in the new statement from Assad’s office: “It stressed, however, that no idea or initiative can be implemented without countering and defeating terrorism first.”
Sergey Gavrilov, another Russian lawmaker who visited Damascus this week, echoed these statements: “the first aim [of Assad is ‘the struggle with and victory over … terrorism, and after that the elections–parliamentary and president elections.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Monday that the Russian government was looking to convince Assad to hold elections. The last presidential elections in Syria occurred in June 2014, and Assad won with 88 percent of the vote. The U.S. Department of State declared the election a “sham.” Lavrov also shared Assad’s reflections with Secretary of State John Kerry. According to the State Department, “They focused on their shared pursuit of options to achieve a political transition and discussed the potential for future multilateral meetings on the topic.”
The SANA reports on Assad’s meetings with international actors have not mentioned the topic of holding elections. The most recent SANA report notes that Assad has met with French opposition leaders seeking to soften France’s stance against Assad. In that meeting, Assad allegedly accused France of “supporting and providing political cover for the armed terrorist organizations in Syria.”
The French government is currently investigating Assad over accusations of crimes against humanity, while the French government has emphasized the need for a “precise timetable” in which Assad will step down from power. Assad himself has not given any indication he is ready to discuss stepping down, save the Xinhua report claiming he would consider “any political solution,” presumably including elections.
The United States has sent the international community mixed signals regarding Assad’s tenure. President Obama has called Assad a “tyrant” before the United Nations and demanded he step down immediately, accusing him of “drop[ping] barrel bombs to massacre innocent children.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, has called the “long-term presence of Assad” in Syria necessary to destroying the Islamic State.