UN chief "disappointed" by Assad's speech on Syria crisis

UNITED NATIONS Mon Jan 7, 2013 11:33pm IST

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/Sana

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Credit: Reuters/Sana

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced disappointment on Monday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rejection of peace talks with his enemies made in a defiant weekend speech that his opponents described as a renewed declaration of war.

Ban was "disappointed that the speech by President Bashar al Assad on 6 January does not contribute to a solution that could end the terrible suffering of the Syrian people," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said of the president's Sunday speech at the Damascus Opera House.

"The speech rejected the most important element of the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012, namely a political transition and the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that would include representatives of all Syrians," Nesirky told reporters.

He said Ban "reaffirms his long-held view that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria."

Ban and U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi "continue to work towards a political solution to the conflict through a political transition that includes the establishment of a transitional government and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations," he added.

Nesirky said that Brahimi met on Sunday with the president of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz Alkhatib, and was planning to meet with the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar on Monday. On Tuesday, Brahimi will meet with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Brahimi is also working hard on a "possible meeting" with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, Nesirky said.

So far, a year of intensive U.N.-Arab League diplomacy has failed to make a dent on the war in Syria, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

Brahimi is now concentrating on healing the rift between Russia and the United States on Syria as the 21-month-old conflict there becomes increasingly gruesome and sectarian, U.N. officials and diplomats say. That rift has left the U.N. Security Council in a deadlock.

The crux of their disagreement is whether Assad should go now, as the rebels, Washington and the Europeans want, or later, as Moscow would prefer, after a period with a transitional leadership that could include members of Assad's government.

Russia has repeatedly said it is not wedded to Assad, although it has refused to abandon him. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's assault on what began as peaceful protests in March 2011 but eventually became a full-blown civil war.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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