Syria: Bashar al-Assad could be offered immunity if he relinquishes power
BASHAR al-Assad would be offered safe passage to Switzerland to take part in peace talks, under plans being drawn up by Britain and America to end the crisis in Syria.
British officials believe that it is now “worth having a go” at attempting to negotiate a “transitional process” for Syria that would involve the president relinquishing power.
The idea was discussed by David Cameron and Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Mexico this week.
The process of attempting to negotiate a solution to the crisis could lead to Mr Assad being offered immunity. A well-placed British Government source admitted that the scenario being discussed was “very optimistic”.
It follows a meeting between Mr Obama and Vladimir Putin at the G20 during which the Russian president was said to have shifted his view of the Syrian leader.
“Putin indicated that they were not hooked on Assad staying in power indefinitely,” said the British source. “Of course they go on to say that it’s not up to the international community to decide.
“But those of us who had bilaterals with Putin thought there was just enough out of these meetings to make it worth pursuing the objective of negotiating some sort of transitional process in Syria.”
Asked whether this may involve Mr Assad being offered immunity, the official replied: “It is hard to see a negotiated solution in which one of the participants agrees voluntarily to go to the International Criminal Court.”
Western officials are now hoping to organise a summit in Switzerland in “the next few weeks” attended by Mr Assad or other members of the regime, representatives of the opposition, members of the UN Security Council and “regional players” such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Any such plan may have to be implemented quickly, said the senior British official, as the country appeared to be descending into a “sectarian civil war”.
“You get the sense that there isn’t much time before the situation becomes irreparable,” he said.
However, the Western powers disagree with Russia over Iran’s involvement in the talks, with Mr Cameron believing that it should be barred from attending.
“The Russians argue that the Iranians should be invited,” the British source said. “As far as we are concerned, the answer is no.
“We have no illusions: it could capsize just on whether Iran is invited or not, but it is worth a try given the gravity of events”.
At a press conference following the G20 summit in Mexico, the British Prime Minister warned that there was little time left to resolve the crisis.
“It is welcome that President Putin has been explicit that he’s not locked in to Assad remaining in charge in Syria,” he said. “What we need next is an agreement on a transitional leadership that can move Syria to a democratic future.”
Russia, which has lucrative defence ties with Syria, has been Mr Assad’s foremost international supporter since the uprising began 15 months ago. It has twice vetoed attempts by the UN Security Council to sanction the government.
But Western leaders have seized on a subtle shift in Moscow’s support to increase pressure on the Russian leader to accept a new initiative that would ultimately lead to Mr Assad’s departure. Mr Putin appears to accept the idea that the Syrian leader should go, but only within the context of a responsibly managed transition.
“It’s important that there’s not only a change of regime, but it’s also vital to reach a situation that if a change of power occurs — and it could occur only by constitutional means — it should result in peace and stop the bloodshed,” he said at the G20.