'US presses Russia over removal of Assad'

'NY Times' quotes US officials as saying Russian PM Medvedev appeared receptive to idea of Yemen-style deal by which Assad would cede power through negotiated settlement, Obama to press Putin on idea.

May 27, 2012 10:12
2 minute read.
Obama meets Putin in Moscow [file]

Obama meets Putin in Moscow 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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US President Barack Obama will press Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept a proposal by which embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad would cede power through a negotiated political settlement, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing Obama administration officials.

Russia has been Assad's staunchest ally as world opinion has turned against the Syrian leader in the face of his bloody crackdown on dissenters which began some 15 months ago and has resulted in the deaths of more than 9,000 people. In the latest episode garnering international condemnation, more than 90 people were killed in artillery shelling of the central town of Houla, including some 30 children on Friday.

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Obama pointed to the Yemen model of political transition at last weekend's meeting of G8 leaders at Camp David.

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled the poor Gulf nation for 33 years and was eventually unseated after an uprising against him last year that split the country's armed forces into warring factions.

Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters as part of a power transfer deal that eased him out of office. Many Yemenis believe Saleh ought to have been put on trial; rights groups say hundreds of protesters were killed by his security forces in the revolt.

Alone among the G8 powers, Russia has supported Assad and opposed stiffer UN sanctions.

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"Some may like or dislike the Syrian government, some may have different views on the last election which took place in Syria but one cannot avoid a question - if Assad goes, who will replace him?" said Mikhail Margelov, a Russian parliamentarian and aide to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

"We believe that the Syrian crisis can not be dealt with an axe, one should work on it with a pair of pincers," he said.

The Times quoted US officials as saying Medvedev appeared receptive to the idea of a Yemen-style transition at the G8 meeting.

“Medvedev raised the example of Mubarak in a cage,” a senior US official said, referring to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's being jailed and put on trial following his February 2011 ouster. The official said Obama had then “countered with Yemen, and the indication was, yes, this was something we could talk about.” 

According to the report, the US will seek to assure the Russians that Moscow would maintain close ties with Damascus after Assad hands over power. “Look, we recognize that Russia wants to have a continued influence in Syria...Our interest is in stabilizing the situation, not eliminating Russian influence,” the Times quoted a US official as saying.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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