Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has questioned the credibility of Syrian opposition groups taking part in Moscow talks, describing the opposition representatives as “puppets paid from the outside.”
“We will go to Russia, we will go to these negotiations, but there is another question here: Who do you negotiate with?” Assad asked in an interview with the US magazine, Foreign Affairs, published online on Monday.
“Who do you negotiate with? As a government, we have institutions, we have an army, and we have influence, positive or negative, in any direction, at any time. Whereas the people we are going to negotiate with, who do they represent? That’s the question,” he added.
Assad went on to say, “When you talk about the opposition, it has to have meaning. Opposition means national; it means working for the interests of the Syrian people. It cannot be an opposition if it’s a puppet of Qatar or Saudi Arabia or any Western country, including the United States, paid from the outside. It should be Syrian.”
The Syrian president said even armed militant groups in the country don’t consider all of the opposition groups in Syria as true representatives of the opposition, asserting that the Syrian government only recognizes those opposition groups that are national and perceive dialogue with such groups as “fruitful.”
“We have a national opposition. I’m not excluding it; I’m not saying every opposition is not legitimate. But you have to separate the national and the puppets. Not every dialogue is fruitful,” the Syrian president added.
Assad’s remarks come as a new round of talks between Syrian government officials and representatives of opposition groups has kicked off in the Russian capital.
The meeting is taking place behind closed doors at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s headquarters. Representatives of over 30 opposition groups are taking part in the talks.
The talks will close on Monday.
Russian officials announced early December that they planned to launch inclusive talks on Syria after international efforts failed to bring an end to the country’s bloody conflict.
Syria has been grappling with a deadly crisis since March 2011. The violence fueled by Takfiri groups has so far claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, according to reports. New figures show that over 76,000 people, including thousands of children, lost their lives in Syria last year.
Over 7.2 million Syrians have also become internally displaced due to the ongoing crisis, according to the United Nations.
Western powers and their regional allies – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – are supporting the militants operating in Syria.
The government of Assad has vowed to push ahead with its efforts to root out terrorism in the country and establish national reconciliation.