BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria's foreign minister laid out a hard line Wednesday, saying Bashar Assad will remain president at least until elections in 2014 and might seek another term, conditions that will make it difficult for the opposition to agree to U.N.-sponsored talks.
Any deal reached in such talks would have to be put to a referendum, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem added in a TV interview, introducing a new condition that could complicate efforts by the United States and Russia to bring both sides together at an international conference in Geneva, possibly next month.
Drawing a tough line of its own, the main exile-based political group, the Syrian National Coalition, reiterated that any negotiations require "the head of the regime, security and military leadership to step down and be excluded from the political process."
While the Assad regime has agreed in principle to attend peace talks, the opposition has not, insisting that it first get international guarantees on the agenda and timetable. The coalition has been meeting for the past week in Turkey but spent most of that time arguing about membership issues.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that while Russia and the United States have asked him to convene a meeting as soon as possible, "there are still many elements that we have to clear." He said there is still no agreement on a date, on who will participate, and on the membership of a united opposition delegation.