AMMAN, Jordan -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has the right to decide whether to participate in elections next year, Information Minister Omran Zoubi told reporters in Damascus on Tuesday, insisting that Syrians want him to remain in office.
"The people demand this," he said, adding that the ballot box will show their support for him rather than for "the opposition, the Americans, the traitors and the spies."
His words matched statements by other government officials. Assad said in an interview with Italy's Rai 24 network that he would take his cue from the people on whether he will run, and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, speaking with Sky News Arabia on Saturday, dismissed any talk of Assad's resignation.
The statements come at a time of intensifying diplomatic efforts to end the bloody 30-month-old conflict between the government and armed opposition groups, with a peace conference scheduled for mid-November. However, officials from the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, have repeatedly demanded Assad's non-participation in any transitional government as a precursor to talks.
Meanwhile, 20 experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons crossed into Syria on Tuesday from neighboring Lebanon en route to Damascus. They are responsible for eliminating all of Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.
Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba said Friday at a news conference that "removing the chemical weapons is not enough to end the tragedy the Syrian people are experiencing," adding that "the principal issue is the existence of a regime that cannot be part of a solution."
Bulos is a special correspondent.