n this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures as speaks at the Opera House in central Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. (Photo: AP)
(TheBlaze/AP) -- The Obama administration is rejecting a new proposal by Syrian President Bashar Assad that would begin a "peace process" to keep the besieged leader in power.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Assad's latest plan is "detached from reality" and would only allow the regime to continue its oppression of the Syrian people.
In his first public speech in six months, Assad ignored international demands to step down and pledged to continue the battle "as long as there is one terrorist left" in Syria.
"What we started will not stop," he said, standing at a lectern on stage at the regal Opera House in central Damascus — a sign by the leader that he sees no need to hide or compromise even with the violent civil war closing in on his seat of power in the capital.
The theater was packed with his supporters who interrupted the speech with applause, cheers and occasional fist-waving chants, including "God, Bashar and Syria!"
The overtures that Assad offered — a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution — were reminiscent of symbolic changes and concessions offered previously in the uprising that began in March 2011. Those were rejected at the time as too little, too late.
As in previous speeches and interviews, he clung to the view that the crisis was a foreign-backed plot and not an uprising against him and his family's decades-long rule.
A dummy dressed up in army fatigue and a mask depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is erected in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of Aleppo, the scene of heavy fighting on January 5, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
"Is this a revolution and are these revolutionaries? By God, I say they are a bunch of criminals," he said, adding that the fighters "carry the ideology of Al-Qaeda" and want to transform the country into "jihad land."
But after 60,000 deaths, Nuland says Assad has lost all legitimacy and needs to step aside to allow for a political solution and a democratic transition.