Syrian VP: ‘Neither Assad nor rebels can win the war’

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said in a newspaper interview on Monday that neither Bashar al-Assad’s forces nor rebels seeking to overthrow him can win the war and that the two sides should seek a negotiated settlement.

Syria’s vice president has acknowledged that the army cannot defeat the rebel forces trying to topple the regime and called for a “historic settlement” to save the country from ruin.

The rare, candid comments by Farouq al-Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority, suggested the embattled regime may be contemplating an exit strategy as rebel forces move closer to the capital Damascus. He spoke in an interview published on December 17 by Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

“I don’t see that what the security forces and army units are doing will lead to a definitive victory,” Sharaa was quoted as saying in the interview conducted in Damascus.

“All these opposition forces can only conclude the battle to topple the regime if their goal is to push the country into chaos and a cycle of violence that has no end,” he added.

“With every passing day the political and military solutions are becoming more distant. We should be in a position defending the existence of Syria. We are not in a battle for an individual or a regime.”

Sharaa pushed for a negotiated political settlement that includes the formation of a national unity government with wide jurisdiction.

Tehran’s peace plan

His comments coincided with a step-by-step peace plan for Syria outlined by Iranian officials on Sunday. It would be capped by Syrian elections that presumably could usher in a new leader in Damascus.

Tehran is Assad’s closest and perhaps only remaining regional ally and the initiative suggests its support of the Syrian president could be cooling.

The initiative ”“ while almost certain to be rejected by Syrian rebel factions ”“ marks one of the clearest signals yet that Iran’s leadership is looking to hedge its bets and remain a player in Syrian affairs if Assad is toppled.

It was unclear whether Sharaa’s comments were timed to coordinate with the Iranian initiative.

“Despite his rhetoric, Bashar al-Assad may now be contemplating an exit strategy ”“ one which would allow him to seek refuge abroad with his neck intact,” said Anthony Skinner, an analyst at British risk analysis company Maplecroft in an interview with AP news agency.

In Washington, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the statement by Sharaa “speaks to the pressure that the Syrian regime is under”.

“Regrettably, however, it hasn’t changed the regime’s behaviour, including the brutality it’s inflicting on its own people,” she added.

Controversial figure

Sharaa, 73, a long-time loyalist to the Assad family, has been a controversial but important figure since the start of the 21-month-long rebellion.

Early on in the uprising, Assad delegated responsibility for holding dialogue with the opposition to Sharaa, who is both a skilled diplomat and a Sunni Muslim, as are most opposition supporters.

He appeared in public in late August for the first time in weeks, ending repeated rumours that he had defected.

Sharaa offered an unusually bleak public assessment of the civil war on Monday and even criticised how the government has handled the crisis.

In a veiled criticism of the crackdown, he said there was a difference between the state’s duty to provide security to its citizens, and “pursuing a security solution to the crisis”.

He said even Assad could not be certain where events in Syria were leading, but that anyone who met him would hear that “this is a long struggle...and he does not hide his desire to settle matters militarily to reach a final solution”.

In October, the Turkish leadership appeared to be making a diplomatic push to promote Sharaa as a possible figure to head a transitional administration to end the conflict.

“No one knows the system better than Farouq al-Sharaa,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the time, adding that Sharaa has not been involved in the violence and massacres.

The Syrian opposition is deeply fragmented, and various factions would likely disagree on whether they would accept him to lead a transitional government. Sharaa, in the interview, said he was not seeking such a role.

Copyright © 2012 France 24