AP Interview: Assad adviser says he may run again

Associated Press
Bouthaina Shaaban, advisor to Syrian President Bashar Assad, briefs the media, at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Shaaban spoke after a meeting between government and opposition delegates with the U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi. (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)
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GENEVA (AP) — President Bashar Assad's adviser said Wednesday it would be difficult to hold a presidential election in Syria, given its raging violence, and she rejected the opposition's call for a transitional governing body.

Bouthaina Shaaban spoke to The Associated Press as both sides claimed a somewhat more positive atmosphere in their negotiations during the peace talks in Geneva regarding the civil war.

Earlier in the day, Louay Safi, a spokesman for the opposition's negotiating teams, said the issue of a transitional government was put on the table for the first time. But he added the government delegation stuck to its demand that putting an end to terrorists was still its No. 1 priority.

"Today we had a positive step forward because for the first time now we are talking about the transitional governing body, the body whose responsibility is to end dictatorship and move toward democracy and end the fighting and misery in Syria," he said.

The government seems "more ready to discuss that issue, but still they're trying to push it to the back of the discussion," Safi said. "We told them that this has to come first, because nothing else can be achieved before we form a transitional governing body."

Shaaban said the other side seemed more willing Wednesday to talk about terrorism, and she described the day's talks as constructive.

"The problem is that they're only interested in transitional government. They're only interested in government, not interested in putting an end to this war," she said, adding nonetheless that the talks ended "on a more positive note."

Despite the apparent small step in the peace talks, chances for a breakthrough before everyone goes home Friday appear almost nil as both sides continue to blame each other for an impasse. Shaaban suggested the government may eventually accept a national unity government that might bring in opponents, but not a transitional body.

"There's nothing in the world called transitional government. We don't mind a large government, a national unity government," she said.

Shaaban hinted for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held this summer may not take place.

"If you think about it now, it's very difficult to imagine how presidential elections could be conducted in such an atmosphere," she said. "The logical thing to do is to try to stop violence and then to launch a political process. Whether it is a presidential election or parliamentary elections that need to be done in the country, you need peace and quiet to be able to achieve that," Shaaban added.

She reiterated what Assad has said: that should there be an election, he sees no reason why he should not run again.

Safi and Shaaban spoke after a meeting between government and opposition delegates with the U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

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