BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday outlined his vision for a road map to end nearly 22 months of violence in Syria but also struck a defiant tone, calling on his countrymen to unite against “murderous criminals” whom he said are carrying out a foreign plot seeking to tear the nation apart.
In a one-hour speech to the nation in which he appeared confident and relaxed, Assad ignored international demands for him to step down and said he is ready to hold a dialogue but only with those “who have not betrayed Syria.” He offered a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution but demanded regional and Western countries stop funding and arming rebels trying to overthrow him first.
The proposal, however, is unlikely to win acceptance from Syria’s opposition forces, including rebels on the ground, who have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president’s departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture. On top of that, Assad’s new initiative is reminiscent of symbolic changes and concessions that his government made earlier in the uprising, which were rejected at the time as too little too late.
Speaking at the Opera House in central Damascus, Assad told the hall packed with his supporters that “we are in a state of war. We are fighting an external aggression that is more dangerous than any others, because they use us to kill each other.”
“It is a war between the nation and its enemies, between the people and the murderous criminals,” he added. The audience frequently broke out in cheers and applause.