The United States says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's plan for a national reconciliation conference is “detached from reality” and is an attempt to “cling to power.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in statement following a rare speech by Mr. Assad Sunday that the Syrian leader has lost legitimacy. She repeated calls for him to step down, saying he is proposing dialogue while his government is “deliberately stoking sectarian tensions” and killing its own people.
In his first public speech since June, Mr. Assad called for a political solution to the country's conflict. He told loyalists at the Damascus Opera House that Syria is at war with its “enemies,” but denied the existence of a popular revolution.
He demanded Western and regional powers stop funding and arming Syrian rebels, repeating his longstanding description of the fighters as al-Qaida terrorists seeking to tear apart the country.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Mr. Assad has not understood the demands of the people or his own responsibility for what has happened in Syria.
“That he bears no responsibility at all… He is making the wrong deductions. He is making wrong deductions about the historical process that is happening and continues to happen in Syria. That means he is boxed up in a room and only reads intelligence reports that were given to him with the aim of gaining his favor.”
Davutoglu also said Mr. Assad “does not have a plan for the future” and cannot make progress by denying the existence of the Syrian opposition.
Opposition coalition members repeated their demand for Mr. Assad to leave power as a condition for talks. They have long dismissed his offers of political concessions as too little, too late.
In his speech, Mr. Assad described the opposition as a Western puppet. He also lamented the destruction caused by the civil war, saying there is “no joy while security and stability are absent” on Syrian streets.
His loyalist audience frequently interrupted him with chants of “with our soul, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you” and mobbed him as he left the stage.
The United Nations has estimated that at least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, when President Assad began suppressing what started as peaceful pro-democracy protests. The protests evolved into an armed rebellion aimed at ending the Assad family's four-decade authoritarian rule.