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Syrian minister rules out transition period

Syria's deputy foreign minister says 'Assad is the legitimate president elected by the Syrian people, and the world must respect that will'
'There exist official institutions that are functioning,' says Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Moqdad (AFP)

A "transition period" in Syria is out of the question because President Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate leader, the country's deputy foreign minister said on Tuesday.

"There is no transition period. There exist official institutions that are functioning," Faisal Moqdad said on a visit to Tehran, Syria's state news agency SANA reported.

"We are talking about a national dialogue, an enlarged government and a constitutional process, not a transitional period," he added.

"President Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate president elected by the Syrian people, and the world must respect that will," Moqdad said on Tuesday.

Moqdad's comments come after a round of international talks in Vienna last week to discuss a potential end to Syria's four-year conflict.

Neither Syria's government nor opposition were represented, but countries backing government and rebel sides were present.

A transitional government has long been discussed as part of a peace process to end Syria's conflict, from as early as 2012, when world powers met in Geneva to discuss the war.

The fate of Assad has been a persistent sticking point in discussions on ending the conflict, however, with Assad's backers insisting he will not be forced from power.

On Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow is "not saying that Assad should leave or stay" but rather it is up to the Syrian people to decide.

She denied that Russia is insisting on keeping Assad at the helm of power in Syria.

Russia began carrying out air strikes against opposition groups in Syria at the end of September 2015, bolstering the Syrian army's efforts and morale after a series of defeats to both opposition forces and the Islamic State group.

Syria's opposition and its backers, however, insist Assad can have no role in the country's future.