Sun Jan 8, 2017 02:28PM
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on January 8, 2017, shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C-L) meeting with French lawmaker Thierry Mariani (C-R), and a delegation of French parliamentarians in the Syrian capital, Damascus. (Via AFP)
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on January 8, 2017, shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C-L) meeting with French lawmaker Thierry Mariani (C-R), and a delegation of French parliamentarians in the Syrian capital, Damascus. (Via AFP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is "optimistic" about upcoming peace negotiations due to be held in Kazakhstan between representatives of Damascus and dozens of foreign-backed opposition groups.

The Syrian president made the remark in a meeting with a visiting delegation of French parliamentarians and intellectuals in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Sunday.

Damascus is "ready to negotiate" with some 91 armed opposition groups, President Assad was quoted by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) as saying.

Assad also said he was "counting a lot" on the upcoming talks, which are scheduled to be held in the Kazakh capital, Astana, later this month.

The Syrian president also blamed France for its current policy, saying it is disconnected from the reality of the war in Syria. He added that the adopted policy by Paris has deteriorated the situation through the support it has provided for terrorist groups in the country.

The negotiations, which exclude the Takfiri terrorist groups Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, will be mediated by Russia, Turkey, and Iran. The three countries successfully implemented a similar accord in December following the defeat of militants in Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo. 

The Syria president also stated that he was prepared "for a reconciliation with them (the militant groups) providing that they lay down their weapons."

Elsewhere in his remarks, Assad criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and blamed him for jailing "more political prisoners than all the Arab countries combined."

The Syrian president rejected accusations of war crimes committed by Syria's government forces, saying no war was clean. He, however, added, "There were probably mistakes on the government side, which I regret them and condemn them."

French lawmakers Thierry Mariani (C-L) and Nicolas Dhuicq (C-R) visit the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, on January 6, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The French delegation, for its part, said they had seen substantial improvement of the situation, which in turn revealed the ability of the Syrian people and government to restore security and stability and continue to stand their ground firmly in the face of terrorism. They added that the Western public opinion, particularly in France, had become aware that the image they were receiving about the status quo in the region and Syria was not realistic and included plenty of false information.

The French delegation, led by lawmaker Thierry Mariani, arrived in Syria on January 5 and visited the ancient city of Aleppo the next day.

The meeting was held in the wake of a countrywide ceasefire in Syria, which came into effect on December 30, 2016, on the back of negotiations between Russia and Turkey. During the talks, Russia was representing the Syrian government. Turkey was negotiating on behalf of the militants. The ceasefire was later ratified in a UN Security Council resolution.

Last December, the Syrian army established full control over Aleppo, which had long been divided between government forces in the west and the militants in the east.

The city's recapture is widely seen as a crushing blow to the militants and their foreign supporters, who have been actively working to topple the Damascus government since March 2011.