BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he believed peace talks in Kazakhstan would lead to local “reconciliation” deals with rebels, a sign of his confidence in a process launched by his Russian allies after the opposition’s defeat in Aleppo.
Assad told a Japanese TV station he hoped the conference would be a platform to discuss “everything” but that it was unclear if there would be political dialogue “because it is not clear who will participate”.
Russia set the new diplomatic process in motion after its air force helped the Syrian government and allied, Iran-backed militia defeat rebels in Aleppo city’s east last month - the diverse opposition’s biggest defeat of the war.
Rebels due to attend the talks say they will discuss only shoring up a ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia last month - and which the rebels say has been widely violated by the government and its allies - as well as humanitarian issues.
Local reconciliation agreements are the Damascus government’s preferred method for pacifying rebellious areas. They amount to the effective surrender of rebels in a particular area, typically after years of government siege and bombardment.
Assad said insurgent groups would give up their weapons and receive a government pardon under such agreements.
“So far, we believe that Astana will be about talks with terrorist groups over a ceasefire” that would facilitate reconciliation deals, Assad said in excerpts from the interview published on Twitter by the presidency.
He said the conference’s priority would be “reaching a ceasefire to protect lives, and to permit humanitarian aid to reach different areas of Syria”. Moscow has also said the main purpose of the meeting is to consolidate the truce.
Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has pushed the Astana talks with help from Iran and Turkey, which backs the opposition but has switched its priorities to fighting Kurdish groups and Islamic State militants.
In a statement published by its embassy in Kazakhstan, Iran said it saw the Astana talks as “an opportunity to establish a dialogue between the government and the Syrian opposition that will end the war and humanitarian crisis in the country and help achieve stability and peace in the region”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that the United States had been invited to the Astana talks. Iran has said it opposes any U.S. presence.
A number of Turkey-backed rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner have agreed to attend.
Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut/Mohamed el Sherif in Cairo and Parisa Hafezi in Turkey; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich