Bashar al-Assad today took to Syria's airwaves to outline a new peace initiative that wasn't terribly likely to result in peace of any kind. Staunchly refusing to step down, Assad said he's now ready to negotiate with those "who have not betrayed Syria," dismissing rebels as "terrorists who carry the ideology of al-Qaeda" and "servants who know nothing but the language of slaughter," and calling for a "war to defend the nation." The speech, held at the Damascus Opera House amid a backdrop of photos of those slain in the 22-month-old conflict, was Assad's first appearance since June, notes the AP.
While Assad's audience was appreciative—at times interrupting him with chants of "With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, O Bashar!" —Syria's rebels and the world at large were not, with the opposition blasting the speech as specifically aimed at thwarting a diplomatic resolution, notes Reuters. "Assad simply wanted to cut the road to reaching a political solution that may result from the forthcoming American-Russian meeting with (UN mediator Lakhdar) Brahimi, which the opposition would not accept unless he and his regime leave," a National Coalition spokesman said. The EU responded with a new call for Assad to step down, while Britain's foreign secretary blasted the speech in a tweet as "beyond hypocritical. Deaths, violence, and oppression engulfing Syria are his own making, empty promises of reform fool no one."