This is what Assad should have said when the Arab Spring protests were still non-violent:
...Assad said his government would participate in the peace conference, sponsored by the United States and Russia, and would negotiate directly with the opposition absent any preconditions, but he insisted that any agreement would have to be put to the ballot.
"Either side can propose anything, but nothing can be implemented without the approval of the Syrian people," Assad said, according to the official Syrian transcript of the interview with Lebanon's Al Manar TV.
An agreement reached last year in Geneva, which forms the basis of the projected new talks, called for negotiations leading to the formation of a transitional government accepted by both sides in the conflict. But Assad said such an administration, which would sideline the president, also would have to pass in a popular referendum.
"The president cannot just relinquish his authorities; he doesn't have the constitutional right," Assad said in the interview with Al Manar, the media voice of Hezbollah, the pro-Assad Lebanese political and militant group.