President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Wednesday that Syria needs a national unity government to secure the transition to a new constitution, rejecting the “transitional body” demanded by the opposition seeking his removal.
In the interview to Russian media, Assad said Syrian refugees will begin returning home when they see hope for improvement, adding that one of the main causes of migration is Western sanctions against Syria.
“First of all, regarding the definition of the ‘transitional period,’ such a definition does not exist,” Assad said in the interview with Sputnik, a state news agency, which published excerpts on its website.
He said the term political transition means the transition from one constitution to another. “Thus, the transition period must be under the current constitution, and we will move on to the new constitution after the Syrian people vote for it,” Assad added.
His comments run counter to demands by the Syrian opposition for a “transitional body with full executive powers.” The two sides held UN-mediated talks earlier this month.
A roadmap for a transition in Syria — outlined in a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in December — calls for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN that would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months, and set up a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution to be followed by UN-supervised elections.
Assad said a national unity government would be formed by various Syrian political forces — “opposition, independent, the current government and others.”
But, he added, “Neither the Syrian constitution, nor the constitution of any other country in the world includes anything that is called a transitional body of power. It’s illogical and unconstitutional.”
Early Wednesday, Syria’s state-run news agency said Assad sent a message to the UN secretary-general reiterating his readiness to cooperate with all “sincere” efforts to fight terrorism.
Assad also thanked Ban Ki-moon for the UN chief’s statements welcoming the Syrian army’s recapture of the town of Palmyra and its world-famous archaeological site from the Islamic State.
Ban had said on Sunday that the world body is “encouraged and fortunate” that Syrian troops retook Palmyra. SANA says Assad also urged the UN chief to support the Syrian government’s efforts in rebuilding Palmyra.
Assad is also quoted as saying his country is ready to cooperate with all “sincere and serious” efforts to fight terrorism.
The Syrian president further said that the brutal five-year conflict cost the country over $200 billion (176 billion euros), insisting Damascus would look to Russia, China and Iran to rebuild the nation.
“The economic damage and the damage to infrastructure exceeds $200 billion,” Assad told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
“Economic issues can be settled immediately, when the situation stabilizes in Syria, but rehabilitating the infrastructure will take a long time,” Assad said in comments translated into Russian.
The Syrian strongman said any future contracts to help rebuild the country would be handed out to companies from nations that had backed Damascus during the bloody conflict.
“Of course we expect that this process will be based on three main countries that supported Syria during this crisis — Russia, China and Iran,” Assad said.
Russia has deployed its military to Syria to back up troops loyal to longstanding ally Assad with a bombing campaign, and the Syrian leader said Moscow’s forces would be needed in the country for some time to come.
“We need their presence as they are effective in the fight against terrorism even if the situation in terms of security in Syria is stabilizing,” Assad said, adding that Russia’s bases were also required to maintain “balance in the world.”
Moscow announced it was withdrawing part of its forces from Syria on March 14, after a ceasefire between Damascus and moderate opposition saw fighting drop.
Russia has, however, continued air strikes against Islamic State jihadists and played a key role in helping Assad’s forces reclaim the ancient city of Palmyra at the weekend.