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'Assad can't be part of peace deal'

Syrian opposition says Assad can’t be part of any peace settlements and must step down.

Syrian opposition says Assad can’t be part of any peace settlements and must step down. Picture: AFP

CAIRO - The opposition Syrian National Coalition is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war but President Bashar al-Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement, members agreed after debating a controversial initiative by their president.

The meeting of the 70-member Western, Arab and Turkish-backed coalition began on Thursday before Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is due for talks in Moscow, one of Assad's last foreign allies, and as UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi renews efforts for a deal.

After an angry late night session in which coalition president Moaz Alkhatib came under strong criticism from Islamist and liberal members alike for proposing talks with Assad's government without setting what they described as clear goals, the coalition adopted a political document that demands Assad's removal and trial for the bloodshed, members said.

A draft document seen by Reuters that was circulated for debate said Assad cannot be party to any political solution and has to be tried, but did not directly call for his removal.

"We have adopted the political document that sets the parameters for any talks. The main addition to the draft is a clause about the necessity of Assad stepping step down," said Abdelbasset Sida, a member of the coalition's 12 member politburo who has criticized Alkhatib for acting alone.

"We removed a clause about a need for Russian and US involvement in any talks and added that the coalition's leadership has to be consulted before launching any future initiatives," he added.

Still, the agreement marked a softening of tone by the coalition because previously it had insisted that Assad must step down before any talks with his government could begin.

In an indication that Syria's strongman remains defiant, Brahimi said Assad had told him he will remain president until his term ends in 2014 and then run for re-election.

Brahimi told al-Arabiya television he wants to see a transitional government formed in Syria that would not answer to any higher authority and lasts until UN-supervised elections take place in the country.

"I am of the view that UN peacekeepers should come to Syria as happened in other countries," Brahimi said.