(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United States and Russia have agreed to let Syrian President Bashar Assad seek refuge in another country as part of a future political solution regarding the prolonged civil war engulfing his country, the British- based publication Al-Hayat reported Thursday.
An unnamed senior diplomatic source with knowledge of the agreement told Al-Hayat that US Secretary of State John Kerry had already informed a number of his Arab counterparts on the understanding, but stressed that “the timing of the move and its political context is still not clear.”
The embattled Syrian autocrat has been involved in a bloody civil war that has seen over 200,000 killed as numerous rebel and terrorist organizations, including Islamic State, have fought the Assad regime over the past four years.
The source cited by Al-Hayat added that the understanding had been welcomed by members of the UN Security Council.
Later on Thursday, the Kremlin said the report was not true.
“Al-Hayat published information which does not correspond to reality,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with journalists. “Russia is advantageously different from other nations because it does not discuss the issue of the self-determination of third countries either through diplomatic or other channels.”
The report emerged a day after Assad was quoted by Russian media as expressing his view of the future of Syria, saying it would not be difficult to agree on a new Syrian government, including opposition figures. His opponents responded on Wednesday that no administration would be legitimate while he remained in office.
Assad, bolstered by military victory in the desert city of Palmyra, was quoted by Russia’s RIA news agency as saying that a newly drafted constitution could be ready in weeks, and that a government that included an opposition, independents and loyalists could be agreed upon.
While the distribution of portfolios and other technical issues would need to be discussed at peace talks taking place in Geneva, which will resume next month, “these are not difficult questions,” Assad said.
Opposition negotiators immediately dismissed his remarks, saying a political settlement could be reached only by establishing a transitional body with full powers, not another government under Assad.
The United States also rejected the Syrian leader’s comments.
“I don’t know whether he envisioned himself being a part of that national unity government. Obviously, that would be a nonstarter for us,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Meanwhile, Assad told RIA that the people of Syria were not interested in the Russian military contingent leaving the country either now or in the future, the agency reported on Thursday.
“Inviting a foreign contingent...is a right of any state,” the Syrian president was cited as saying.
“Therefore, nobody can forbid it, except in cases when it is directly spelled out in the constitution.”
Assad added that he was ready to hold early presidential elections if the Syrian people wanted this, RIA reported.Reuters contributed to this report.