Embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s fate will be decided in international talks in the coming weeks, the United States has said, brushing off his rejection of moves to sideline him from peace talks.
“In the multilateral sessions, which will continue to occur going forward, the role of Assad in this transition will be spelled out,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday. Under a framework agreed in October in Vienna by 17 nations and three international bodies including the United Nations, Syrians are due to start political discussions on or after a target date of January 1.
Selected leaders from both Assad’s regime and opposition groups deemed acceptable – that is, not “terrorists” – by the international stakeholders will have six months to draw up a constitution and 18 to organise elections. The United States and its allies hope that a ceasefire between the government and moderate rebels will allow Assad to leave power peacefully while local and foreign forces focus their fire on the Islamic State group.
But Assad’s allies Russia and Iran are dubious about this strategy, arguing that Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people alone, and the beleaguered strongman has himself rejected it outright. In an interview with Italy’s Rai television, Assad said there could be no transition plan or elections while swaths of Syria remained out of government control.
“This timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism,” he said. “You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria. “If we talk after that, one year-and-a-half to two years is enough for any transition.”
Assad’s government refers to all of its opponents – fighters and activists alike – as “terrorists”. The United States and its Arab allies argue it will be impossible to lure the opposition to the table if it is not clear when Assad, whom they blame for starting the war and killing thousands of civilians, will go.
“Nothing has changed,” Kirby said. “We want a transition to a government that is free of Assad and representative and responsive to the Syrian people.
“So, obviously, there is going to have to be a process for that change to occur, that transformation to occur. Exactly what Assad’s role in that is going to be has not been completely hashed out.”