Syria’s opposition forces rejected an informal proposal floated by the U.N. that would have provided a limited role for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The ruler’s future remains the most difficult sticking point in the negotiations to end a civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and started the greatest migrant crisis since World War 2.
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which represents the interests of Syria’s opposition in the indirect peace talks in Geneva, has said that Assad must leave for the war to end. But that didn’t stop U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura from floating a proposal for Assad to stay on for a “transitional period” according to a source speaking to the AFP.
The proposal allegedly worked like this – Assad would be allowed to stay in power during the transition. In exchange, the HNC would hand-pick three “vice-presidents.” The Syrian leader would then transfer all of his military and political power to them. In the end, Assad would essentially just be in a ceremonial role.
That idea was dead on arrival.
Chief spokesman Salem al-Muslet told Bloomberg, there was no actual proposal, instead, the plan that was leaked was more exploratory. He explained, “they were trying to see what the HNC will accept.”
Bashar al-Assad has been accused of killing huge numbers of Syrian civilians. For the HNC, that makes his continued rule, in any form, completely unacceptable.
But there’s pressure to accept a proposal as soon as possible.
The U.S. and Russia recently helped broker a partial cease-fire several weeks ago. The U.S. is now urging Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to stop an offensive on the opposition-controlled city of Aleppo. The attack would strain an already tenuous agreement, possibly ending hopes to implement any peace plan in the near future.
Opposition forces report that 30,000 people have already fled the Aleppo area, showing little hope the U.N. “crucially urgent” peace talks would prevent the offensive.
The civil war has already killed roughly 250,000 people. Millions more have been displaced, and migrants continue to flow into Europe.
It has also allowed the Islamic State (IS) to take over large swathes of land, giving them the resources to launch terror attacks in Europe, like the November Paris attack, or the more recent bombings in Brussels.
As for the proposal, it appears to have only been discussed with the opposition forces. Ali Daghman, a spokesman for the Syrian Mission to the UN in Geneva, said in a phone interview that they were not informed of the idea. Syria’s government has dismissed calls for Assad to resign his post, which he has held since 2000, saying that it is a red line.
According to Reuters, the last peace talks ended on March 24th with a promise to shift the discussion from political transition. For this round, Bashar al-Assad’s negotiators arrived six days after U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura had hoped to start the urgent talks.
HNC head Asaad al-Zoubi accused the regime of not wanting to talk so close to a possible victory in Aleppo.
“Today, as usual, the regime… is sending a strong message that it doesn’t want a political solution, but a military solution that will bring destruction to the whole country.”
Even with more destruction just over the horizon and international pressure, it’s not clear what proposal, if any, can satisfy both Assad and opposition forces.
[Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images]