(Removes reference to Assad being a "red line" to clarify that Moualem was addressing Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari in the audience when he said the matter of the presidency)
BEIRUT The Syrian government on Saturday ruled out discussion of presidential elections or the position of the presidency at peace talks due to begin on Monday, saying the opposition was deluded if thought it could take power in Geneva.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem confirmed his government's participation in U.N.-led talks but said they would fail if the opposition had "delusions that they will take power in Geneva that they failed to take in battle".
The government delegation would reject any attempt to include presidential elections on the agenda, he said.
"We will not talk to anyone who talks about the position of the presidency," Moualem said during a televised news conference in Damascus. "I advise them that if this is their thinking, they shouldn't come to the talks."
"They must abandon these delusions."
Moualem said the government delegation would travel to Geneva on Sunday but would return to Damascus within 24 hours if the other side did not show up.
The Syrian government's understanding of "political transition" was from the existing constitution to a new one, and from the existing government to a new one with participation from the other side, he said.
The Syrian opposition wants the talks to focus on the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, and has rejected the idea of joining an expanded Syrian government.
In response to Moualem's comments, the main opposition council accused Damascus of halting the talks before they had started.
"I believe he is putting the nails in the coffin of Geneva,
this is clear," Monzer Makhous, a member of the opposition High
Negotiations Committee, told Al Arabiya Al Hadath TV.
"Moualem is stopping Geneva before it starts."
The foreign minister also said the government was committed to a "cessation of hostilities" agreement brokered by the United States and Russia that has reduced the violence in western Syria since it came into effect two weeks ago.
He criticised U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, saying neither he or anyone else had the right to talk about presidential elections in Syria and demanding "neutrality and objectivity" on his part. He also rejected the idea of a federal solution to the war.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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Published Date: Mar 12, 2016 19:46 PM | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2016 19:46 PM