DAMASCUS - A senior Syrian official said nobody can stop embattled President Bashar al-Assad from seeking re-election and that a government team has been formed for peace talks, in an exclusive interview Thursday with AFP.
"Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad said, shortly after Russia criticised statements that he wanted to seek another term in 2014.
"President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide," he said.
"I shall ask the opposition: why a Syrian national does not have the right to be a candidate? Who can prevent him? Any Syrian national can be candidate," said Muqdad.
"The ballot boxes will decide who will lead Syria."
Russia earlier on Thursday issued rare criticism of its ally Assad over the presidential election scheduled for next year.
"Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.
Bogdanov said Assad and all parties should steer clear of stoking tensions ahead of the peace talks planned for Switzerland in January aimed at ending the conflict raging in Syria since 2011.
While the opposition insists on Assad's ouster, three years into a brutal war that has killed an estimated 126,000 people, the Syrian regime has repeatedly said he would run in 2014 polls.
Muqdad also said his country has formed a nine-member delegation supported by five advisers to take part in the so-called Geneva-2 peace talks brokered by the United States and Russia.
"We are ready by all means and will announce the names of our delegation very quickly," he said.