RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested Tuesday that Syria’s president Bashar Assad could be allowed safe passage out of the country if that option would guarantee an end to the nation’s civil war.
In an interview with Al Arabiya television, Cameron said the international community should consider anything “to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria.”
“I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain, but if he wants to leave, he could leave, that could be arranged,” Cameron said, speaking in Abu Dhabi on the second day of a three-day tour of the Gulf and Middle East.
Activists say that since Syria’s unrest began in March 2011, more than 36,000 people have been killed. The conflict is now stuck in a military stalemate, which rebel fighters blame on a lack of strategic weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles.
“Of course, I would favor him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done,” Cameron said, before he arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for talks with King Abdullah.
In London, diplomats said that Cameron was not suggesting Assad could escape potential international prosecution if he were to be granted passage out of Syria.
Cameron has previously called the failure of world powers to halt the Assad’s regime assault on its opponents a “terrible stain” on the reputation of the deadlocked United Nations, where Syria’s allies Russia and China have repeatedly blocked attempts to approve harsher sanctions in the Security Council.
“I am very frustrated that we can’t do more. This is an appalling slaughter that is taking place in our world today — 40,000 lives lost already and you can see, on your television screens, night after night, helicopters, airplanes belonging to the Assad regime pounding his own country and murdering his own people,” Cameron said.
However, he insisted that Britain would not consider providing weapons to Syria’s fractured opposition — in part, because of concerns about the growing prominence of extremist groups fighting alongside the rebels.
“My fear is, firstly, that the slaughter will continue, that the loss of life will continue. That should be our number one concern,” Cameron said. “But there is another fear, which is that the longer this goes on, the more that it can promote and drive extremism and we’ll see instability in the region as well.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.