The United States and Russia reportedly agreed to a measure by which Syrian President Bashar Assad would step down after 21 months of violent insurrection, and a transitional government would assume power, Arabic newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat cited opposition group members saying on Saturday.
According to the report in the London-based paper, the US convinced Russia to change its stance on Syria during high-level diplomatic meetings in Dublin and Geneva. Moscow reportedly consented to tell Assad that he could either step down in an orderly transfer of power and receive international protection, or that his safety would not be guaranteed and negotiations for a transition government would be held without him.
The plan would create a transitional government made up of regime and opposition figures, diplomatic sources told the Daily Telegraph. Russian officials told the British newspaper that Moscow was prepared to ease the Syrian president out of power.
“Assad doesn’t have a future, he knows this,” it quoted a senior Russian official saying. “But he is not a fool. He will not just go voluntarily. All sides must sit down and negotiate a way out of this. That means we talk to Assad but those who back the rebels must put pressure on them.”
Neither Washington nor Moscow confirmed the accuracy of the reports.
The reports came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that his country would not try to convince Assad to step down.
“We are not in the business of regime change. Some of the regional players were suggesting to us ‘Why don’t you tell President Assad to leave? We will arrange for some safe haven for him’,” he told state-owned Russia Today in an interview. He said that Russia had responded by telling the countries concerned to go directly to Assad.
“If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!” Lavrov told reporters on board a plane returning from Brussels where he attended a Russia-EU summit. “We would be the first to cross ourselves and say: “Thank God, the carnage is over! If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also said Friday that Russia isn’t a defender of Assad and wants to see a democratically elected government, but added that peace can only be achieved through an agreement that would ensure the protection of various religious and ethnic groups in Syria.
The A-Sharq Al-Awsat report further said that the UN’s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected to fly from Cairo to Damascus in order to lay out the options to Assad. The Syrian president has stated that he intends to remain in power at least until the 2014 elections, by which point his family will have ruled Syria for four decades.