by Ray Fleming

THE choice of the Damascus opera house for President's Assad's speech on Sunday was appropriate. Not only did the setting suit the unreal nature of the Syrian president's remarks but it also enabled the whole audience to behave like a prima donna's claque applauding at every opportunity. But for any reasonably concerned observer it was a deeply depressing occasion.

President Assad's analysis of the situation in Syria bore little if any relationship to what the world sees and knows. He continues to make qualified proposals for reforms -- just as he did for years without ever delivering them before his opponents' patience expired. He will negotiate only with people who will agree with him.

The most negative passage in Assad's speech was his description of the work of the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as “foreign interference”. Mr Brahimi, a widely experienced Algerian diplomat, has been trying to find common ground for negotiation between the Syrian government and its opponents but he may have to tell Secretary-General Ban KI-moon that the task is hopeless while Assad is in charge.

Solutions are hard to find. Assad's current term of office ends in 2014 -- could he use that as an opportunity to step down and join the French actor Gerard Depardieu, in flight from French taxes, who now has a Russian passport and address in Moscow, courtesy of President Putin?

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