Hezbollah leader Nasrallah tells U.S. to talk to Assad if it wants to settle crisis in Syria

— The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement called on the United States on Friday to admit that President Bashar al-Assad has won the war in Syria and to accept Syrian government terms for a political settlement to the crisis.

If the United States wants to be part of the solution to the war in Syria, it will first have to stop supporting the rebels and agree to engage in dialogue with Assad, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah said in a videotaped address to a funeral ceremony in Beirut.

“Any political solution has to start and end with Assad,” he said, speaking after Assad claimed a landslide win in the election this week.

The comments followed a suggestion this week by Secretary of State John F. Kerry that Hezbollah, which is branded a terrorist organization by the United States, could play a part in bringing about a “legitimate” political solution in Syria alongside Russia and Iran.

Hezbollah fighters dispatched from Lebanon have been instrumental in helping Assad survive the revolt, and Kerry’s offer came as an acknowledgment of the key role they have played in ensuring Assad’s survival.

However, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said, Kerry did not intend to suggest that the United States is about to change its policy of supporting Syria’s rebels or seeking a future in Syria “that does not include Assad.”

“We remain focused on supporting the moderate opposition and efforts at a real political transition,” he said. “Nasrallah’s comments are as meaningless as the non-election that took place in Syria this week.”

Nasrallah did not rule out talking to the United States but said that the United States would first have to talk to Assad. He did not directly mention Kerry but left little doubt that he was referring to the secretary’s remarks, delivering a scathing rebuke to U.S. characterizations of the election as a meaningless facade by citing the scenes broadcast live on Syrian state television of enthusiastic voters casting ballots for Assad.

“Some say the elections were zero,” he said, echoing Kerry’s description Wednesday of the elections as “a big fat zero” during a brief trip to Beirut. “It wasn’t zero to the millions of Syrians who voted.”

Instead, he said, the election confirmed that the government has the support of millions of Syrians. Assad was declared the winner with 88.7 percent of the 11 million votes cast, and although the circumstances of the election were less than transparent, the outcome left little doubt that he remains firmly in charge of the country and commands a significant degree of loyalty.

Nasrallah said the voting illustrated the failure of the Geneva peace process, which is promoted by United States as the best mechanism for ending the war and envisages a solution based on the eventual departure of Assad.

“The result of these elections mean that no solution can be based on . . . Geneva,” Nasrallah said. “For a solution to be based on the departure of Assad after people reelected him is impossible. Nor can there be negotiations that lead to the departure of Assad.”

Instead, Nasrallah spelled out two conditions under which the United States and its allies would be permitted to join in negotiations for an end to the war. First, he said, they must accept the result of the election as legitimate. Second, the United States and its allies must stop supporting the rebels.

He also called on the Syrian opposition to surrender, pointing to the retreat of rebels from the central city of Homs as a fate likely to befall them if they attempt to keep fighting.

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.
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