Assad draws new peace plan for Syria

International

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sounding defiant, confident, and, to critics, out of touch with the magnitude of his people's grievances, proposed on Sunday what he called a peace plan to resolve the country's 21-month uprising with a new constitution and cabinet.

"The first part of a political solution would require regional powers to stop funding and arming (the rebels), an end to terrorism and controlling the borders,'' he said.

Assad also ruled out talks with the armed opposition and pointedly ignored its central demand that he step down, instead using much of a nearly hourlong speech to justify his harsh military crackdown.

In his first public speech at the Damascus Opera House since June 2012, he repeated his longstanding assertions that the movement against him was driven by "murderous criminals" and foreign-financed terrorists, and appeared to push back hard against recent international efforts to broker a compromise.

"Everyone who comes to Syria knows that Syria accepts advice but not orders," he said. His speech came a week after the United Nations envoy on the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, visited Damascus in a push for a negotiated solution. "Who should we negotiate with - terrorists?" Assad said. "We will negotiate with their masters."

Assad said Sunday that he was open to dialogue with "those who have not betrayed Syria," a likely reference to tolerated opposition groups that reject armed revolution.

Yet Assad's speech appeared unlikely to satisfy even those among his opponents who reject the armed rebellion, since it made no apology for the arrests of peaceful activists or for airstrikes that have destroyed neighborhoods. Assad gave no sign of acknowledging that the movement against him was anything more than a foreign plot or had any goals other than to inflict suffering and destroy the country.

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