Responding to Assad Speech, EU, Turkish FM Call on Syrian President to Step Down

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Assad is repeating empty promises, calls on UN must decide on a stance; British Foreign Secretary William Hague accuses him of hypocrisy.

Syrian President Bashar Assad must step down in order to bring about a political solution to the war in his country, the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton said on Sunday. The statement followed a speech by Assad in which he said he would not negotiate with the forces trying to overthrow him.

"We will look carefully if there is anything new in the speech but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition." a spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.   

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Assad had simply repeated empty promises in his speech in Damascus on Sunday, and called for a swift transition in the war-torn country.

"His remarks are just repetitions of what he's said all along. They are the same promises he made to us," Davutoglu said. "As Assad no longer has the representative authority over the Syrian people, his words have lost persuasiveness. A transition period needs to be completed swiftly through talks with representatives of the Syrian nation."

Davutoglu also called on the United Nations to take a clear stance on Syria and send a message to Assad not to prevent the distribution of aid. "If it is clear now that Assad will not do anything new, then the UN Security Council must decide on a stance on the situation in Syria," Davutoglu said, after Assad gave a speech in Damascus.

"The first decision needs to be made on distributing aid to Syrians. People can't find food to eat, wood to burn in Hama, in Homs. A clear message has to be sent to tell Assad that he should not stand in the way of aid distribution."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague accused Syrian President Assad of hypocrisy and said his call in a speech on Sunday for a peace initiative to end the civil war would fool no one.    

"Assad speech beyond hypocritical. Deaths, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are his own making, empty promises of reform fool no one," he said in a message on Twitter.

This was the 47-year-old leader's first speech in months and his first public comments since he dismissed suggestions that he might go into exile to end the civil war, telling Russian television in November that he would "live and die" in Syria.

Insurgents have been venturing ever closer into Damascus after bringing a crescent of suburbs under their control from the city's eastern outskirts to the southwest.