Syrian President Bashar Assad said he will not step down ahead of elections, delivering a blow to political transition talks the United States and Russia plan to lead.

Assad’s comments to Argentine newspaper Clarin were the first since Russia and U.S. agreed earlier this month to try to bring government officials and rebels together at an international conference, according to The Associated Press.

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition maintains that Assad would need to step down in any deal to end Syria’s civil war. Assad’s refusal underscores the difficult task the U.S. and Russia have undertaken in trying to spearhead talks.

President Obama has been cautious on intervening in Syria, preferring instead to work diplomatic channels. But evidence that Syria has possibly used chemical weapons on its own people — which Obama had previously called a “red line” — has heightened urgency.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which began in March, 2011, with an uprising against Assad.

In the interview with Clarin, Assad said he would not resign his post, saying that when "the country is in a crisis and when a ship faces a storm, the captain does not flee," according to AP.

"The first thing he does is face the storm and guide the ship back to safety. I am not someone who flees from my responsibilities,” Assad told the newspaper, according to AP.