Syrian presidency seeks end to terrorism before initiatives
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

BEIRUT: The Syrian presidency said on Tuesday political initiatives could not work in Syria before terrorism had been wiped out, sticking by its long-held position on how to end the war after its Russian allies called for new elections.

The presidency said in a statement it was clarifying reports that President Bashar al-Assad had told a Russian delegation on Sunday he would be ready to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections called for by his allies in Moscow.

The Russian foreign minister, in an interview broadcast on Saturday, said Syrians needed to prepare for both parliamentary and presidential elections, part of an effort by Moscow to advance a political track towards ending the conflict.

In a statement, the presidency said the Syrian state would welcome any political solution approved by the Syrian people that preserves national unity.

But it added that Assad had repeatedly said that the defeat of what he called terrorism must come before any initiative.

“No initiative or ideas can be implemented, and their success guaranteed, before the elimination of terrorism and the restoration of security and stability to the whole country,” the statement said.

The statement did not state Assad’s position on the idea of holding elections.

The Syrian state describes all the groups fighting it as terrorists. The insurgents include jihadist groups such as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State, and other factions including Islamist groups and those fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.

Russia has been mounting air strikes in Syria in support of the Syrian military since Sept. 30.

A Russian lawmaker who met Assad on Sunday as part of a delegation told Reuters the Syrian leader’s priority was to defeat terrorists before holding elections.

That lawmaker and another also said Assad told them he would be willing to hold parliamentary and presidential elections if necessary.

Syria’s last presidential election was in June, 2014. The vote was won overwhelmingly by Assad but dismissed as a sham by opponents, with much of the country at war and millions forced from their homes.

Assad is believed to control a quarter or less of Syrian territory, but the bulk of people still in the country are in the main cities of western Syria that he holds.

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