- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2013

The State Department has offered a sharp rebuke to the latest speech by Bashar Assad, calling the Syrian president “detached from reality” and bent on perpetuating his regime’s “bloody oppression of the Syrian people.”

Mr. Assad struck a defiant posture on Sunday when he spoke for roughly an hour from the national Opera House in the Syrian capital of Damascus, ignoring international demands to resign from office and calling on Syrians to defend their country against extremists he said were seeking to destroy it.

While he demanded that Western nations and his Middle Eastern neighbors stop collaborating to fund and arm Syrian rebels, Mr. Assad said he was willing to hold new elections and draft a new constitution. He also called for a national reconciliation dialogue, as long is does not include those fighting for his ouster.

The State Department dismissed the speech as nonsense. In a statement on Sunday afternoon, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Mr. Assad’s speech was “yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition.”

The Syrian president, Mrs. Nuland said, was attempting to subvert efforts by the international community and a U.N. peace envoy to bring an end to the nearly 2-year-old — and increasingly sectarian — civil war in Syria.

“His initiative is detached from reality, undermines the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, and would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people,” Mrs. Nuland said.

“For nearly two years, the Asad regime has brutalized its own people,” she said. “Even today, as Asad speaks of dialogue, the regime is deliberately stoking sectarian tensions and continuing to kill its own people.”

“Asad has lost all legitimacy and must step aside to enable a political solution and a democratic transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The State Department, however, stopped short of saying the United States will do anything more than “support” the international community in bringing about Mr. Assad’s ouster or another resolution to the Syrian conflict.

“The United States continues to support the Geneva Action Group’s framework for a political solution, which was endorsed by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League, and the U.N. General Assembly,” Mrs. Nuland said. “We will continue our efforts in support of Joint Special Representative Brahimi to build international unity behind it and to urge all parties in Syria to take meaningful steps toward its implementation.”

In a report last week, meanwhile, the United Nations revised its estimate of the number of people killed since rebel groups began fighting against Syrian government forces nearly two years ago. The U.N. now estimates that 60,000 people have been killed during the fighting.

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