REUTERS

In a statement, the presidency said it was clarifying reports that President Bashar al-Assad had told a Russian delegation on Sunday he would be ready to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections called for by Moscow, Reuters said.

The Russian foreign minister, in an interview broadcast on Saturday, said Syrians needed to prepare for both parliamentary and presidential elections, part of an effort by Moscow to advance a political track towards ending the conflict.

The Syrian parliament's four-year term is due to expire in May 2016 while Assad's current seven-year presidential term runs until 2021.

Assad's main allies Russia and Iran say he must be part of any transition and that the Syrian people will decide who governs them. The United States has said it could tolerate Assad during a short transition period, but that he would then have to exit the political stage.

Syria's conflict began as a street uprising against four decades of Assad family rule and has descended into a civil war that has killed a quarter of a million people, convulsed the Middle East and drawn in world powers.

The Syrian presidency statement said the state would welcome any political solution approved by the Syrian people that preserves national unity.

But it added that Assad had repeatedly said the defeat of what he called terrorism, his term for various insurgent groups fighting him, must come before any initiative.

"No initiative or ideas can be implemented, and their success guaranteed, before the elimination of terrorism and the restoration of security and stability to the whole country," the statement said.