BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a newspaper interview Saturday that he won't step down and will instead "face the storm," raising new doubts about a U.S.-Russian effort to get Assad and his opponents to negotiate an end to the country's civil war.
In the Syrian capital Damascus, meanwhile, a powerful explosion went off in the 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.
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 in his country, 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 conflict. 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.
Assad has dismissed those trying to topple him as foreign-backed terrorists. Many in the political opposition say the Syrian president and his inner circle cannot be expected to negotiate in good faith after they brutally suppressed peaceful protests.
Assad compared himself to the skipper of a ship riding Syria's turbulent seas, saying "the country is in a crisis and when a ship faces a storm, the captain does not flee."