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Assad blasts foreign support for rebels

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad told UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Wednesday that no political solution can be reached in Syria without an end to international support for the fighters battling his government, underscoring how far apart the sides remain as global powers attempt to arrange peace talks next month.

“The success of any political solution is tied to stopping support for terrorist groups and pressuring their patron states,” Assad told Brahimi, the joint special representative from the United Nations and the Arab League, in Damascus. It was their first meeting in nearly a year, Syrian state television reported.

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“Only the Syrian people are authorized to shape the future of Syria,” Assad said.

The talks are intended to start a political process that will result in a transitional government. But the sponsors — the United States, which supports the opposition, and Russia, which supports Assad — remain divided on whether that transitional government can include Assad.

Assad and his opponents have laid out incompatible preconditions, with the main exile opposition group saying it will not attend the talks unless Assad’s departure is guaranteed, and Assad saying he will not talk with them unless they put down their arms. The opposition, too, is fractured, with many rebel groups saying they reject the Geneva talks as well as the exile leaders who are their nominal representatives.

Another dispute is over whether Iran will be present at the talks, which Assad favors and Saudi Arabia opposes. The Syrian conflict has in part become a proxy war between Iran, Assad’s closest ally, and Saudi Arabia.

Brahimi has been an advocate of inviting Iran. On Wednesday in Damascus, Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Riza Shebani, reiterated the country’s desire to participate.

“Of course, everyone knows Iran’s efforts to help a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” Shebani said, according to Reuters. “Iran’s absence from this meeting does not benefit the meeting.”

The government frequently criticizes the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and others for supporting rebels it calls terrorists.

The rebellion against Assad began as a movement for political rights but turned violent after the government repressed demonstrators, and it has since devolved into civil war. Extremist fighters have poured into the country, alienating many who initially supported the uprising, increasingly clashing with rival rebel factions, and making the United States reluctant to fully support the armed opposition.

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