Syrian opposition rejects 'any role' for Assad

Members of Syria's opposition delegation attend a meeting of Intra-Syria peace talks with the UN Special Envoy for Syria at Palais des Nations in Geneva on March 30, 2017

The Syrian opposition to the Damascus regime said Thursday it rejected "any role" now or in the future for current President Bashar al-Assad, even though the United States now says Assad's departure is no longer a priority to end the conflict.

"The opposition will never accept any role for Bashar al-Assad at any phase... there will be no change in our position," said Monzer Makhos, a spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee, composed of key Syrian opposition groups in Geneva.

For the past week, a fifth round of UN-sponsored negotiations seeking to halt Syria's six-year war has been under way in the Swiss city.

Since the start of the conflict in March 2011, the United States has backed the opposition fighting against the Assad regime and declared that the Syrian strongman must step down.

But on Thursday the US ambassador to the United Nations in New York said the new administration of President Donald Trump is no longer focused on ousting Assad..

"You pick and choose your battles," Nikki Haley told reporters. "And when we're looking at this it's about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out."

Haley said the US would focus on the push for a political solution to the conflict.

Another spokeswoman for the Syrian opposition, Farah Atassi, expressed the need for Washington to play a "more decisive role" in the negotiations.

"We want the United States to return to play its main political role in dealing with the Syrian file and (are) looking forward to a new beginning with this (Trump) administration," she said, adding that there was a need "correct the disastrous mistakes" of the previous administration of former president Barack Obama.

"We would like the US administration to understand the Syrian cause... more than just tackling the issue of fighting ISIS," she said, referring to the Islamic State jihadists waging war in Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian talks remain deeply divided over the future of Assad with the Damascus government's representatives saying the priority should be "the fight against terrorism" which is how they view most of their adversaries.

apo-lar/boc/pvh