Syria's President Bashir Assad, in a one hour televised speech, has outlined a new peace proposal so at odds with reality that one wonders if the strain of 22 months of civil war is getting to him.
In a one-hour speech to the nation in which he appeared confident and relaxed, Assad ignored international demands for him to step down and said he is ready to hold a dialogue but only with those "who have not betrayed Syria." He offered a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution but demanded regional and Western countries stop funding and arming rebels trying to overthrow him first.
The proposal, however, is unlikely to win acceptance from Syria's opposition forces, including rebels on the ground, who have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president's departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture. On top of that, Assad's new initiative is reminiscent of symbolic changes and concessions that his government made earlier in the uprising, which were rejected at the time as too little too late.
Speaking at the Opera House in central Damascus, Assad told the hall packed with his supporters that "we are in a state of war. We are fighting an external aggression that is more dangerous than any others, because they use us to kill each other."
"It is a war between the nation and its enemies, between the people and the murderous criminals," he added. The audience frequently broke out in cheers and applause.
Assad has rarely spoken since the uprising against his rule began in March 2011, and his speech Sunday was his first since June.
In other words, not a serious proposal. One would think the Syrian people would be beyond this sort of staged drama, having grown cynical of the past two years watching Assad murder up to 60,000 of his countrymen.
But at least for some Syrians who still support the president, the proposal no doubt sounded reasonable. The opposition, meanwhile, won't even bother to formally reject it.