Takeaway from Assad's speech? There will be no meaningful dialogue. (+video)
It was a defiant speech reminiscent of his earlier ones, those of his father, former President Hafez al-Assad – and of Muammar Qaddafi in the waning months of his failed effort to survive his own uprising in 2011. He ruled out talks with "extremists" who know "nothing but the language of blood." Since he has defined all of those taking up arms against his government as "extremists" and terrorists, that would seem to rule out negotiations with anyone that matters on the other side of Syria's civil war. In his words, the rebels are "killers and criminals."
To be sure, anyone going into a negotiation would want to do so from a position of strength. It's possible that Assad is striking a maximalist, defiant tone in public while entertaining compromises behind the scenes. But there were no indications of even a moderation of tone toward his opponents, routinely described as "terrorists" or agents of foreign powers, which would usually be taken as a signal that some sort of overture was being made.
Prospects for a negotiated way out of Syria's bloodletting were always scant. But some glimmers of hope came this week, amid signs that the UN was successfully pushing Russia, a key backer of Assad, toward possible talks. Yesterday, Saudi Arabia and Egypt renewed calls for talks, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr saying that "it is up to the Syrian people to decide the conditions of [Assad's] exit from power” and for a "peaceful handover of power."