Western leaders showed signs Tuesday that the proposed Geneva II peace talks may "not lead to the removal" of the country's president Bashar Al Assad who may remain "key in any transitional administration," according to Reuters.
According to a member of the Syrian National Coalition during a meeting of the anti-Assad Friends of Syria alliance in London last week, “Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue.” The member is know to be close with Saudi Arabian officials.
Western parties suggested such conditions in London in response to an Islamist rebel group's takeover of an arms depot near Turkey last week that previously was under the control of the Free Syrian Army.
The comments represent a major shift in the Western stance in Syria, particularly for the United States and Britain, who previously have voiced their repeated commitment to ensuring that Assad is removed from power. It was only last week, for example, that 11 leading Western and Middle East countries signed a declaration condemning Assad and his military crackdowns as the root cause of the rise of Islamist militants.
The shifting stances further undermine--and exacerbate--already divided allegiances between the regime's supporters, most notably Iran, and rebel groups' supporters, most notably the Sunni Gulf Arab states.
A member of the Syrian opposition who is in touch with US officials has told reporters that the US and Russia seem to be working together on a framework that would allow Alawites to maintain their dominant roles in the country's security forces. The opposition member went on to criticize US and European officials for their hypocritical stances on Assad's future role in Syria. “Even if Assad is sidelined and a Sunni heads a transitional authority, he would have no power because neither Washington nor Moscow appears to want to end the Alawite control over the military and security apparatus,” he said.
A senior Western official confirmed that Russia and the US have indeed discussed Assad's possible role in the country's future government.
Despite such developing divides, the opposition plans to attend to January peace talks that will now be held in the Swiss town of Montreux.
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