For the first time since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, a senior regime official said Tuesday that Syria was ready to discuss the resignation of President Bashar Assad as part of a negotiated settlement with the opposition.
“As far as his (Assad’s) resignation goes, making the resignation itself a condition for holding dialogue means that you will never be able to reach this dialogue. But any problems can be discussed during negotiations. We are even ready to discuss this issue,” Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs Qadri Jamil said following talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
An Israeli intelligence source told Channel 10 news that he believed Russia was paving the way for Assad’s exit and “would not be surprised to find Assad at a Black Sea resort before long.” The news report said Russia had made clear that it was willing to provide a refuge for Assad and his family.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama reiterated his call for Assad to step down, while offering a realistic assessment of the chances for a peaceful solution.
“So far he hasn’t gotten the message, and instead has doubled down in violence on his own people,” the president said. “The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war, he should move in the direction of a political transition. But at this point the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant.”
Obama also said the US would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in the Syrian civil war if Assad’s regime deploys or uses chemical or biological weapons. He called such action a “red line” for the United States.
Obama said the use of such weapons of mass destruction would considerably widen a conflict that has already dragged on for a year-and-a-half and killed some 20,000 people, according to activists. Syria possesses extensive chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and has threatened to use them if the country comes under foreign attack.
“That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria. It concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us,” Obama said, also acknowledging the possibility that militant groups might acquire some of those weapons. “We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.”
“Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria’s borders,” Jamil told journalists. The Syrian civil war, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, already is spilling over into neighboring Lebanon, with violence reported there Tuesday, and has sent refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey too.
Jamil described Obama’s statements as “propagandistic threats” connected with the U.S. presidential election. However, he also said they indicate that “the West is looking for a pretext to intervene militarily.”
“We must say that such intervention is impossible,” he added.
Lavrov repeated Moscow’s insistence that Syrians should decide their own fate without interference from outside.
Lavrov, who met with Jamil and Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haydar, said the ministers confirmed the Syrian government’s commitment to a political transition under a UN-brokered peace plan.