Syrian President Bashar Assad has told Italian state television that no political process can begin while "terrorists" occupy his nation.

Assad in an interview shown Wednesday night said "nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria."

Foreign ministers from 19 countries meeting recently in Vienna set a Jan. 1 deadline to start negotiations aimed at achieving a transitional government and eventually elections.

Assad said if Syria's people want presidential elections "there will be no red line" against holding them. Asked how much territory the government still controls, 4 1/2 years into a civil war, Assad replied, "geographically speaking, the situation changes day by day."