Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sat for an interview with state television on Sunday in the face of Western calls for him to step down, mixing defiance with promises of reform as he's done in his three previous public appearances since the Syrian pro-democracy uprising began in March. Assad pledged that multiple parties would participate in parliamentary elections in February while vowing that his government would weather the unrest, describing his opponents--whom the regime has long characterized as "armed terrorist groups"--as increasingly "militant," and warning the international community that any Libya-style military intervention in Syria would have grave consequences because of the country's geopolitical importance in the volatile region and military "capabilities." The speech comes as the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva to discuss the crisis, which has left some 2,500 dead, according to the BBC, and as a U.N. delegation arrives in Syria to assess the humanitarian situation.
While analysts quoted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency are describing Assad's speech as "clear, frank, and comprehensive," Syria's pro-democracy protesters and Western leaders don't seem to agree. Reuters explains that activists aren't taking Assad's reform proposals seriously so long as his violent crackdown on protesters continues. (There are reports of security forces fatally shooting at least two people today.) In fact, antigovernment activists from both inside and outside Syria are currently meeting in Turkey to launch a "national council." British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also dismissed Assad's speech, noting that "we heard him wheel out the same, well-worn promises of reform." Clegg added that Assad "is as irrelevant to Syria's future as Qaddafi is to Libya's." A video highlighted by Jordanian Twitter user Naseem Tarawnah today allegedly shows residents of Homs hurling shoes at a screen showing an image of Assad.
Yet while Syrian protesters and world leaders may be dismissing Assad's latest declarations, Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler suggests that the Syrian ruler's public appearance may have been aimed at Syria's silent citizenry, not at activists or the international community. The broadcast, he explains, was "clearly for internal consumption. It was a much more relaxed setting, at a round table, speaking to two journalists, instead of a speech."
And for anyone hoping to delve deeper into the dynamics at work in Syria right now, The New Yorker has a great read out today on "the view from inside the Syria crackdown." Here's a clip from Assad's speech on Sunday, translated into English, courtesy of Al Jazeera: