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Syria Denies Reports Of President Assad's Defiant Comments

Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Louai Beshara
AFP/Getty Images
Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian government says a report by Russian media that said President Bashar Assad is not willing to step aside are "not accurate."

Reuters reports that state media said that the Russian news service Interfax "did not conduct an interview" with Assad.

Earlier on Sunday, according to the U.S.-funded Voice of Russia, Interfax ran a story that reported Assad told Russian MPs in Damascus that "if we wanted to surrender we would have surrendered from the start."

When asked about calls from the West and opposition forces for him to step down, Interfax reports he said, "this issue is not under discussion."

The BBC calls this a game of "diplomatic poker." They explain:

"The latest comments attributed to President Assad do not change his position in any way. Even so, Syrian state media moved quickly to say the report of his remarks by a Russian news agency was inaccurate.

"This may or may not be so. But in the game of bluff that the government and the opposition have been playing ahead of the talks, neither side wants to be seen as the obstacle to negotiation.

"That does not mean they are actually prepared to negotiate or compromise, but they do not want to be stigmatized as the main problem in the way of that process."

Remember, it was just Saturday that the Syrian coalition agreed to attend peace talks in the Swiss city of Montreux on Wednesday.

Defiant comments like the one reportedly made by Assad could scuttle those talks.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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