Syria's opposition leader on Thursday laid out his demands for talks on ending the country's civil war, calling for the creation of a transitional government that does not include President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported.
Ahmed Jarba told reporters in Geneva, where rival sides in the Syrian conflict are due to hold several days of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and major world powers, that he was looking to a future without Assad.
In a defiant speech, Jarba said the international community had now realized that Assad cannot stay in power.
"We have started to look into the future without him. Assad and all of his regime is in the past now. Nobody should have any doubt that the head of the regime is finished. This regime is dead," Jarba said.
Moscow, Assad's major backer, had given assurances that it was not "holding on" to Assad, Jarba said.
Assad's officials, who left talks with a U.N. envoy on Thursday without making any statement, have insisted that the Syrian president is not going anywhere, a view endorsed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Obviously he is not ready at this point in time," Kerry said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television.
The opposing views of Assad's future underlined the difficulties facing the Geneva talks, the first time the rival sides have met since the fighting began.
Jarba said the talks would be difficult, long and would look at all "core issues" as a package deal, including the creation of a transitional governing body.
"This is the basis of our negotiations and we will demand it," he said.
The first day of talks on Wednesday was dominated by fierce rhetoric from Assad's government and its foes, with each accusing the other of atrocities and showing no sign of compromise.
Few expect the peace talks to result in a breakthrough to end the war, but officials hope they can salvage the process by starting with more modest, practical measures to ease the plight of millions of people on the ground, especially in areas cut off from international aid.