US: Assad likely to stay in power until March 2017
According to a timeline in a US document for dealing with the Syrian crisis, Bashar al-Assad will remain in power until at least March 2017. (AFP/File)
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The Obama administration has said in documents obtained by the Associated Press that it forsees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power until at least March 2017.
An internal timeline in the documents for US officials working on the Syria crisis sets March 2017 as the time for Assad to "relinquish" the presidency and for his "inner circle" to leave. This places Assad's departure more than five years after Obama first called for him to step down, and also means that Assad would remain in power at least two months after the Obama presidency ended.
This timeline is based on a UN-backed plan laid out during a conference in Vienna in November. According to the plan, Syria would hold elections for a new president and parliament in August 2017 - more than six years after the beginning of the war. Between Assad stepping down and the August elections, Syria would be run by an interim government.
As the now nearly six-year war has shown, countless hurdles stand in the way of implementing this broad roadmap, including the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians, defeating Daesh, and crossing the growing rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who back opposite sides in the conflict.
Assad continues to refuse to step down while Syria is beset by "terror" groups, as he puts it.
The timeline gave no details as to exactly how Assad would relinquish power, or what his future would hold after stepping down.
As Assad's chief supporters, Russia and Iran, have resisted efforts to remove him from the presidency, and other regional powers including Saudi Arabia and Turkey have supported the opposition from the beginning, the US has become primarily focused with defeating Daesh in northern Syria.
The document sets Syria's transitional political process to begin next month, consistent with the plan endorsed by the UN last month. The UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, set Jan. 25 as the date for peace talks to begin in Geneva.