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Assad promises elections for Syria crisis once insurgency is 'eradicated'

President Bashar al-Assad has told a visiting Russian delegation that eradicating "terrorist" groups could bring about a solution in Syria. Assad said he was willing to hold elections once all insurgents were defeated.

According to Syrian state media reports, President Assad told the visiting Russian delegation that Moscow's entry into the conflict was "the writing of a new history" which would determine the future of the region and the world. Assad said that eradicating insurgency groups would lead to a satisfactory solution in the crisis.

"The eradication of terrorist organizations will lead to the political solution that Syria and Russia seek, and which will please the Syrian people and preserve Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity," state news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying.

Assad also expressed his "appreciation for the Russian position in support of the Syrian people, expressed most recently with the Russian air force's support of the Syrian army in its war against terrorism," SANA quoted.

Russia trying to speed up democratic process

Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers announced that Assad was willing to take part in an early presidential election, hold parliamentary elections and discuss constitutional changes - but only after the "terrorist" forces were defeated.

"He is ready to conduct elections with the participation of all political forces who want Syria to prosper," lawmaker Alexander Yushchenko said, after meeting Assad.

But a future for Assad in Syrian politics has become a major sticking point in the pursuit of a political solution. While Russia strongly supports Assad and the idea of reserving a role for him in the political transition, international opposition, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey - as well as Syrian rebel groups - say Assad must go if the conflict is to be resolved.

Coordinating airstrikes

Assad's comments come as top diplomats from Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were discussing new ideas to revive a failed political transition in Syria to end the war - now in its fifth year, as daily airstrikes from both the US-led coalition and Russia have turned the conflict into an international issue.

The war, which has killed 250,000 Syrians and has displaced millions, has turned more complex as Russia, as well as a US-led coalition, have started attacking different insurgent groups in Syria in separate and uncoordinated air campaigns.

Moscow has invited the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to coordinate their air campaign targeting the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) with Russian forces. But the US-led coalition has so far refused to cooperate with Russia's operations beyond a basic agreement intended to prevent mid-air incidents.

Opposition groups and Washington have said the Russian air campaign was mainly aimed at reinforcing Assad, who has faced major setbacks from advancing various insurgency groupings. These include Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels, IS Islamists as well as smaller militant groups.

But Russian airstrikes have also enabled a government ground offensive on a number of fronts, backed by allied troops from Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

ss/rc (AP, AFP)

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