Assad defiant as foes advance in north Syria
DAMASCUS (AFP) - President Bashar al-Assad has insisted he will not step down and blasted Britain's support for his foes, as opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib visited north Syria on Sunday and hundreds were reported killed in a battle.
"We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms," Assad told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in a rare interview conducted last week in Damascus.
"We can engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists," he said. The offer of talks was aired as UN chief Ban Ki-moon and his Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said they were prepared to broker peace negotiations between Assad's regime and the opposition, after the two sides had proposed a dialogue.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday that Assad, a close ally of Tehran, would contest a presidential election next year and it was up to the Syrian people to choose their own leader.