Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has said that he is willing to hold early presidential elections if the Syrian people want them, in remarks released Thursday.
"Is there popular will to hold early presidential elections? If there is, I don't have a problem with it," Assad told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, according to an Arabic-language transcript provided by Damascus.
Assad's seven-year term is set to end in 2021.
The despot's willingness to hold elections and potentially lose power comes at a curious timing, as the UK-based Al-Hayat paper just published a report indicating that the US and Russia – Assad's key backer – have agreed to dethrone him.
According to the report, which cited a UN Security Council diplomat who leaked the basic outline of the agreement, Russia promised to turn its back on Assad and give in to the demands of the Syrian opposition.
The US and Russia apparently agreed to have Assad step down and be sent into exile, although specifics about implementing the plan remain unclear.
AFP contributed to this report.