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Defiant Assad determined to ‘face the storm’ in Syria

Refusal to leave puts US-Russia talks in doubt

An explosion in a Damascus neighborhood killed three people on Saturday, according to Syrian state television.  Syrian officials said the blast was caused by a car bomb.

SANA photo via Associated Press

An explosion in a Damascus neighborhood killed three people on Saturday, according to Syrian state television. Syrian officials said the blast was caused by a car bomb.

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a newspaper interview Saturday that he will not step down and will instead ‘‘face the storm,’’ raising new doubts about a US-Russian effort to get him and his opponents to negotiate an end to the country’s civil war.

In Damascus, meanwhile, a powerful explosion went off in the capital’s Ruken al-Deen neighborhood, killing three people and wounding five, Syrian state TV reported. It said the blast was caused by a car bomb and that experts were dismantling other explosives in the area.

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On the diplomatic front, Syria’s political opposition has said any transition talks must lead to Assad’s ouster. However, the Syrian leader told the Argentine newspaper Clarin in comments published Saturday that he won’t leave before elections are held, and suggested he might seek another term.

Assad’s comments were the first about his political future since the United States and Russia agreed earlier this month to try to bring the Syrian regime and the opposition to an international conference for talks aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the war.

Such a gathering is envisioned for next month, but no date has been set, and neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed coalition group, has made a firm commitment to attend.

The Syrian president’s remarks highlighted the difficulties the United States and Russia face in getting the two sides to agree on the terms of negotiations.

More than 70,000 people have been killed and several million displaced since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war.

Assad has dismissed those trying to topple him as foreign-backed terrorists. Many in the political opposition say he and his inner circle cannot be expected to negotiate in good faith after they brutally suppressed peaceful protests.

In his comments Saturday, Assad appeared to play down the importance of any summit, saying Syria’s future will be determined by its people. ‘‘We have said from the very beginning that any decision about reforms in Syria or any other political action are local decisions and it is not permissible that the US or any other state interfere in them,’’ he said.

Assad compared himself to the skipper of a ship riding Syria’s turbulent seas, saying, ‘‘when a ship faces a storm, the captain does not flee.’’

‘‘The first thing he does is face the storm and guide the ship back to safety,’’ Assad was quoted as saying by the Argentine newspaper.

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