Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is ready to negotiate with the opposition, but will absolutely not step down as the country's leader.
In a rare interview, Assad told Britain's Sunday Times that any notion his continued role as president is linked to the nearly two-year conflict that has torn the country apart is "absurd." He said "other recent precedents in Libya, Yemen and Egypt bear witness to this."
The president said in the Times videotaped interview conducted last week at his residence in Damascus that he is ready to negotiate with anyone who surrenders their weapons, making a distinction between "political entities" and "armed terrorists."
The Syrian leader accused Britain of wanting to escalate the violence in the country because it wants to supply military equipment to the rebels. He said, how can anyone "expect to ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarize the problem?"
Assad said of Britain, "we don't expect an arsonist to be a firefighter."
The president's offer of dialogue with the opposition follows a recent announcement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that the U.N. is willing to broker peace talks between Syria's government and the opposition.
In another development, Amnesty International said Saturday Syrian warplanes dropped cluster bombs in the northern town of Aleppo earlier in the week, killing 19 people and wounding more than 60 others.
An Amnesty official on the scene reported that nine Soviet-made cluster bombs, each carrying up to 150 cluster sub-munitions, were dropped on a heavily populated area.
Cluster bombs can potentially kill many civilians. Syria is among the countries that have not signed a 2010 U.N. treaty banning their use.