The head of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah says this week's re-election of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad proves that any political solution to the country's bloody conflict "begins and ends" with Assad.
Hassan Nasrallah said Friday those who desire a political solution must negotiate with Assad. He said the resignation of the Syrian president is no longer a pre-condition for a resolution to the civil war.
Nasrallah has been a staunch ally of the Assad regime during the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah militants have been fighting alongside Syrian forces during the three-year-old civil war against rebels Assad's ouster.
In Washington Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf urged parties that have influence over the Syrian regime - including Hezbollah, Iran and Russia - to push Syria's government toward a diplomatic solution.
“We’ve called on parties who have influence over the regime, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, to use their influence with the Assad regime to push them toward a diplomatic solution, push them to a better place," she said. "It’s in no way a change of policy, but it’s a recognition of the reality that there are outside actors who have influence on the regime and should be using it.”
Assad won a landslide victory in the Syrian presidential election on Tuesday to secure a third seven-year term.
Syrian officials said more than 10 million people voted for Assad, giving him almost 89 percent of the vote. The polling was held only in government-controlled areas.
Syria's Justice Minister said the results "directed a blow" to countries "conspiring" against Syria. The U.S. and the European Union sharply criticized the election. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the poll "a great big zero,'' saying it couldn't be considered fair because millions of people did not have the ability to vote.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war. Some 2.5 million people have fled abroad and nine million others inside the country need help, including nearly 3.5 million who have no access to essential goods and services.