Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s priority is to defeat “terrorists” before holding elections, but he is ready to call parliamentary and presidential polls if necessary, a Russian lawmaker who met him on Sunday said.
The remarks are a first indication of Assad’s response to a call by his Russian allies for new presidential and parliamentary elections, as Moscow tries to use its clout with Damascus to end almost five years of conflict in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has launched air strikes against Assad’s opponents in Syria, called for the elections in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
Assad visited Moscow last week on his first known trip outside Syria since the start the conflict that is estimated to have killed 250,000 people.
The Syrian state news agency SANA made no mention of elections in its account of Assad’s meeting on Sunday with a visiting Russian delegation.
SANA reported that Assad has told the visitors that “the elimination of terrorist groups” would lead to the political solution sought by both Syria and Russia.
Asked after the meeting whether Assad was ready for early elections, Russian parliamentary deputy Sergey Gavrilov told Reuters his impression was that “the first aim (of Assad is) the struggle with and victory over … terrorism, and after that the elections – parliamentary and president elections”.
Damascus views all the groups fighting it as terrorists.
Insurgents operating in Syria include Islamic State, the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, other jihadists, and groups with a nationalist agenda seen as moderate by Assad’s foreign opponents and fighting under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army”.
In a separate interview with Russian state television, Gavrilov said Assad was “ready for broad dialogue with all responsible political forces that care about Syria. He is ready for parliamentary elections, constitutional reform, presidential elections if necessary”.
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