The international peace conference on Syria opened today with deep divisions over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. Meeting in Switzerland, armed rebels and the Assad regime are holding their first direct talks along with representatives of the United Nations, United States, Russia and other world powers. In his opening remarks, Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out the inclusion of Assad in a transitional government, the conference’s stated goal.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way, no way possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern. One man and those who have supported him can no longer hold an entire nation and a region hostage.”
The Syrian regime has scoffed at demands for Assad’s departure. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, dismissed what he called outside interference in Syrian affairs.
Bashar al-Jaafari: “We are here to discuss the future of Syria — Syria as a country, as a whole country. We are here to discuss the future of our own people. We don’t get any lessons from anybody. This is a national Syrian dialogue among the Syrians themselves.