By Karin Laub
The Associated Press
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a newspaper interview Saturday that he won’t step down before elections and that the United States has no right to interfere in his country’s politics, 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 capital Damascus, a car bomb killed at least three people and wounded five, according to Syrian state TV. It said bomb experts dismantled other explosives in the area.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said eight people were killed, including four members of the security forces. Discrepancies in death tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Syria.
Assad’s comments to the Argentine newspaper Clarin were the first about his political future since Washington and Moscow agreed earlier this month to try to bring the Syrian regime and the opposition to an international conference for talks about a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The U.S. and Russia have backed opposite sides in the conflict, but appear to have found common ground in the diplomatic push.
The White House and the Kremlin envision holding the meeting next month, but no date has been set. Neither Assad nor the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed coalition group, has made a firm commitment to attend.
In the interview, Assad seemed to play down the importance of such a conference, saying a decision on Syria’s future is up to the Syrian people and that the U.S. has no right to interfere.