WASHINGTON -- The United States is denying claims made by Syrian rebels this week that Western powers are willing to accommodate the continuation of Bashar Assad's regime.
Such claims are "patently false," Dina Badawy, a State Department spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, after rebel leaders cited a conversation in London that seemed to indicate otherwise.
At a meeting with Western officials in London last week, Syrian National Coalition members said they were told not to expect the departure of Assad any time soon.
Peace talks on January 22 in Geneva might not lead to the removal of Assad, and his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, Reuters reported them saying in an exclusive feature on Tuesday.
"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," said one source that Reuters characterized as a senior member of the Coalition close to officials in Saudi Arabia.
Reuters characterized the story as a sign in a "shift in Western priorities, particularly the United States and Britain."
At the December 13 meeting, the London 11-- a core group of nations with pledged support to organized Syrian opposition-- publicly reaffirmed its allegiance in a statement.
"We reaffirmed that the aim of Geneva II was to implement a negotiated solution on the basis of the Geneva communiqué, by establishing a Transitional Governing Body with full executive powers agreed by mutual consent," London 11 senior officials said.
"This is the only way to end the conflict," they added. "Assad will have no role in Syria, as his regime is the main source of terror and extremism in Syria."