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U.S. caution over Syria talks prompts opposition doubts

By Dasha Afanasieva ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Senior Syrian opposition figures are questioning whether they should attend peace talks next month following U.S. warnings that the swift departure of President Bashar al-Assad from power cannot be guaranteed, opposition sources said on Friday. Speaking after meeting U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford in Istanbul this week, they said he had told them not to expect quick results from the talks, due to start in Switzerland on January 22, and that it was not up to Washington to remove Assad.

Nobody can stop Assad from running again

The Syrian government said Thursday that nobody can prevent the country's embattled President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election next year. "Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP, shortly after Russia criticised statements that he wanted to seek another term. "President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide," he said.

Nobody can stop Assad from running again

The government said Thursday that nobody can prevent Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election next year. "Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP, shortly after Russia criticised statements that he wanted to stay in office. sk/ram/hc/hkb

Russia signals to Syria's Assad to stay silent on re-election

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian diplomat signaled on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should refrain from statements suggesting he might seek re-election because it could fuel tension before planned peace talks. Russia has been Assad's most important international ally during Syria's civil war, but the remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to Interfax news agency appeared to be a rare public criticism of Assad by Moscow.

Russia rebukes Assad for speaking out on new term

Russia on Thursday issued a rare criticism of its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying statements that he wanted to run in presidential elections in 2014 risked harming the atmosphere ahead of peace talks. "Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer," Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Interfax news agency in an interview.

Syria aims to expel rebels from town on road to capital

Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a broad offensive on Friday aimed at expelling rebels from the town of Adra, northeast of Damascus, state news agency SANA said. The industrial town, the scene of fierce fighting for three days, is strategically located on a main road into the capital. The fighting follows a string of army victories against opposition fighters, particularly in Damascus province, where rebel positions have been under siege for more than a year.

Assad win may be Syria's best option: ex-CIA chief

The sectarian bloodbath in Syria is such a threat to regional security that a victory for Bashar al-Assad's regime could the best outcome to hope for, a former CIA chief said Thursday. Washington condemned Assad's conduct of the conflict, threatened air strikes after he was accused of targeting civilians with chemical weapons and has demanded he step down. The United States is also supplying millions of dollars in "non-lethal" aid to some of the rebel groups fighting Assad's rule.

Assad must go for settlement in Syria: British FM

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must stand down to allow for any peaceful settlement to the 33-month-old conflict in his country. "We have always been very clear that a peaceful solution in Syria must require the departure of President Assad," Hague told a press conference in Kuwait's capital after talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.

Syria's Assad to lead during transition

Syria's Bashar al-Assad will remain president and lead any transition agreed upon in Geneva peace talks planned for next month, a government minister insisted on Wednesday. "If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva 2 to hand the keys to Damascus over (to the opposition), then he might as well not go," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in remarks carried by the official SANA news agency. "The decision rests with President Assad. He will lead the period of transition, if there is one. He is the leader of Syria... And he will remain the president of Syria."

A Syria solution must have Assad's blessing

No solution proposed at Syria peace talks next month will be implemented without President Bashar al-Assad's approval, the deputy foreign minister said in remarks published Sunday. "The Syrian (government) delegation at Geneva will be working under Assad's directives, and any solutions proposed will have no impact unless Assad approves of them," Faisal Muqdad said in remarks in the Syrian press. He lashed out at Western calls for Assad to step down, saying the president "represents Syria's sovereignty and unity".
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