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    In this Sunday, July 26, 2015, file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria.

    Washington Wants Assad to Go but Expects Him to Stay Until March 2017

    © AP Photo/ SANA
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    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his "inner circle" will remain in power until March 2017, Associated Press reported, citing an internal document distributed among US officials dealing with the Syrian conflict.

    In March 2017, "Assad relinquishes presidency; inner circle departs," the news agency quoted the timeline, outlined by the US leadership, as saying.

    In this photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, a Syrian flag flies above the village of Maaloula, north of Damascus, Syria
    © AP Photo/ Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda via AP
    Bashar al-Assad has not made public statements indicating whether he intends to step down months before the presidential election takes place or whether he would run for president. For its part, the document, obtained by the news agency, did not provide specific details.

    The timeline loosely corresponds with a recently-adopted UN Security Council resolution, which offers a roadmap to solving the months-long war. The plan involves securing a ceasefire and then holding presidential and parliamentary elections. The polls are expected to take place mid-2017.

    Russia has always maintained that the Syrians have the right to determine their own future, including choosing a president. Many analysts agree that if al-Assad runs for president, he stands a high chance of being reelected. 

    Smoke billows after air strikes by regime forces on the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on December 13, 2015
    © AFP 2017/ AMER ALMOHIBANY
    Smoke billows after air strikes by regime forces on the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on December 13, 2015

    The Obama administration has repeatedly said that al-Assad must go before the peace process could be launched. Many politicians, officials and experts believe that this stance is preventing the US from cooperating with Moscow, Tehran and Damascus in their fight against Daesh and is essentially delaying the resolution of the Syrian crisis, which has already claimed approximately 250,000 lives and displaced 11 million people. 

    In recent weeks, Washington and its European allies appear to have backtracked on the "Assad must go" policy, saying that he could remain in power in the transition period.

    Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016
    © AFP 2017/ ISNA / MOHAMMADREZA NADIMI
    Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016

    The UN-sponsored peace process is scheduled to be launched later in January but it could be complicated by numerous rivaling factions and stakeholders, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two leading Shia and Sunni nations have seen their relations deteriorate dramatically after Riyadh executed a prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a leading critic of the House of Saud.

    The oil kingdom severed diplomatic ties with Iran after protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

    According to the US timeline, a transitional governing body will be created in April 2016; in May the Syrian parliament will dissolve; in the next six months the new constitution will be drafted; the Syrians will take part in a constitutional referendum in January 2017. New government will be formed following elections held in August 2017.

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    peace process, Syrian conflict, politics, Daesh, Bashar al-Assad, Syria, United States
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