– US and Russia back bid to find end to Syrian war (Telegraph, Dec 22, 2012):
The United States and Russia have backed a final bid to find a political solution to Syria’s civil war, as Moscow said it was prepared to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s departure.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the United nations special envoy to Syria, is reportedly planning to fly from Cairo to Damascus to present a deal to the Syrian president.
The plan would create a transitional government made up of regime and opposition figures, according to diplomatic sources.
It would require Mr Assad to hand over power quickly and he would be encouraged to accept an orderly exile. He has said he wants to keep his post, which his family has held for four decades, until 2014.
Russian officials told the Daily Telegraph that Moscow was prepared to ease the Syrian president out of power.
“Assad doesn’t have a future, he knows this,” a senior Russian official said. “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.”
Russia will continue to oppose any action against Syria at the United Nations. But in talks with EU leaders in Brussels yesterday, President Vladimir Putin made clear Moscow’s unequivocal support for Assad had shifted.
“We aren’t a defender of the current Syrian leadership. We don’t want the chaos that we see in other countries in the region to happen after any changes that may occur in Syria. Everyone wants an end to the violence and bloodshed,” he said.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, yesterday said Mr Assad led a “desperate regime approaching collapse,” after the second spate of Scud missile attacks.
The Russians have been encouraged to co-operate after becoming convinced that Western powers were not going to intervene militarily in Syria, and by their trust of Mr Brahimi, who mediated talks with the Americans.
Yesterday Mr Brahimi held meetings in Cairo with members of the Syrian Opposition Council, which has been recognised by the world as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and asked it for a wish list of future government figures.
The greatest obstacle to Mr Brahimi’s plan, apart from Mr Assad, is the conviction of the rebels that after nearly two years of bloody struggle, victory is close at hand and the time for talking has long passed.
The rebels are slowly closing in on the capital Damascus and yesterday fired warning shots at a Syrian Airways flight preparing to take off from Aleppo airport in the first direct attack on a civilian flight, which have been used to transport weapons and Iranian fighters helping Assad’s forces.
A prominent British-based Syrian backer of the opposition said that while conditions are ripe for talks, only a clear pledge from Mr Assad to step down would entice the rebels.
“If he is prepared to go, the rebels will feel some kind of euphoria that could pull them into talks. After all they are not commanders for the most part but bakers, doctors and teachers, who want this to end.”
However he said that a strong undercurrent for revenge against the regime would be difficult to overcome.
“They say ‘we have lost family, so Assad and his people have to pay a price for doing this’,” he said. “If the rebels’ priority is a push for Damascus he will lose badly. Already he only controls the equivalent of Mayfair and Belgravia.”