ISTANBUL – After losing his most important supporters outside Syria, President Bashar Assad said his office “doesn’t mean anything to me” and he’s willing to give it up, though preferably after national elections.

“If the president’s departure is in the interest of Syria, the president should naturally go. This is self-evident,” he told the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. “You should never stay in office one day if the people do not want you; and the elections are the means through which the people show whether they want you or not.”

Assad gave the interview Sunday, a day after Russia and China joined the U.S. and other major powers to call for a transitional government to replace Assad’s one-man rule.

Some pro-democracy rebel groups that have been fighting the regime for the past 16 months rejected the plan, drafted by United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan. Their chief complaint was that at the insistence of Russia, the plan didn’t explicitly require Assad to go.