UPDATE 2-Syria says talk of Assad's removal unacceptable

(Adds quotes, details)

BEIRUT, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Syria's foreign minister said on

Saturday any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad's future

was "unacceptable", a week after an international envoy said the

president should not be part of a transitional government.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem's comments showed the

government has dug in against foreign pressure for a deal with

the rebels fighting to topple Assad.

"No one should dare discuss the position of the president

... this is unacceptable," he told Syrian state television in an

interview.

World powers have been deadlocked in their efforts to

promote a transitional government they hope could prevent more

bloodshed in the 22-month-old uprising against Assad, which has

turned into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.

United Nations and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who

recently visited Assad and Syrian officials, told Reuters a week

ago Assad should not be part of a transitional government.

Syrian officials condemned his comments and said the

mediator was biased toward governments supporting the rebels.

Moualem said Assad's proposal earlier this month for a new

parliament and constitution was the only way forward out of the

conflict. He reiterated the embattled leader's argument that

only "nationalistic opposition" could participate.

Their definition excludes the armed opposition or any group

that supports intervention in Syria's conflict, even though they

are now the driving force of the rebel movement.

The opposition, for its part, has rejected anything but

Assad's removal.

International talks in Geneva last June, led by Brahimi,

proposed a transitional government but left open Assad's future.

The proposal foundered after opposition backers like the United

States insisted Assad not play a role, while Russia, Assad's

main arms supplier, said foreign powers should not impose

restrictions on the transition.

SYRIAN INTERPRETATION OF GENEVA PLAN

In his interview with Syria TV on Saturday, Moualem said

Assad's proposed initiative for national dialogue was Damascus's

only accepted reading of the Geneva transition plan.

"There were a lot of ambiguities (in the Geneva proposal)

and we were unable to clarify them. So this Syrian political

program is our interpretation of the transitional period

mentioned in the Geneva declaration," he said.

"We will not discuss anything outside of this program."

Assad's pitched a three-stage initiative earlier in January

which calls for national dialogue, creation of a new

constitution, and a new parliament, followed by national

referendums. But the reforms are similar to previous ones made

by the Assad, which the opposition rejected as superficial.

Moualem said all those who wanted reform would accept it.

"What more democracy could one want than this?"

The current government, he said, would lay the groundwork

for dialogue and transition over the next two to three months.

He said efforts would continue despite daily clashes, which now

regularly kills more than 100 Syrians per day.

"The question is if the violence doesn't stop should we

continue with the dialogue or not? I say we should continue."

The minister also said that Syria's borders, a large portion

of which have fallen into rebel hands, should be brought back

under control by international efforts.

"This issue is actually something for the United Nations.

They should come up with a mechanism, but what mechanism? It

must be something that the Syrian government agrees to."

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jason Webb)

UNDERSTANDING THE SYRIA CONFLICT