Exclusive: U.S. and allies exploring prospects for Assad exile
> ReutersBy Arshad Mohammed and Matt Spetalnick |
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, European governments and Arab
states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Bashar al-Assad
despite skepticism the defiant Syrian president is ready to consider such an
offer, Western officials said on Wednesday.
While talks have not progressed far and there is no real sense that Assad's
fall is imminent, one official said as many as three countries were willing
to take him as a way to bring an end to Syria's bloody 10-month-old crisis.
Two sources said no European states were prepared to give Assad sanctuary,
but one official said the United Arab Emirates might be among those open to
Talk of exile has surfaced amid mounting international pressure on Assad and
a diplomatic showdown over a proposed Arab League resolution at the United
Nations aimed at getting him to transfer power. He has responded by stepping
up assaults on opposition strongholds.
With the White House insisting for weeks that Assad's days in power are
numbered, it was unclear whether this marks an attempt to persuade the
Syrian leader and his family to grasp the chance of a safe exit instead of
risking the fate of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who was hunted and killed by
rebels last year.
But with Assad showing he remains in charge of a powerful security apparatus
and the Syrian opposition fragmented militarily, it could also be an effort
to step up psychological pressure and open new cracks in his inner circle.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said neither the United
States nor the European Union had taken the lead on the idea, which has been
advocated by Arab nations as a way to try to end the violence in Syria.
"We understand that some countries have offered to host him should he choose
to leave Syria," a senior Obama administration official said, without naming
any of the countries.
Before that could happen, however, the question of whether Assad would be
granted some kind of immunity would have to be tackled --- something the
Syrian opposition as well as international human rights groups would likely
"There are significant questions of accountability for the horrible abuses
that have been committed against the Syrian people," the senior U.S.
"Ultimately these issues will be deliberated by the Syrian people in concert
with regional and international partners," the official said. "This is about
what Syrians need to end this crisis and begin the process of rebuilding
While U.S. officials maintained that exile was worth exploring among other
options, one European official voiced doubt it would work, saying Assad had
given no indication that he might accept a graceful exit.
Bruce Reidel, a former CIA analyst who has advised President Barack Obama,
said Arab countries appeared to be trying to craft a political solution in
Syria modeled after Yemen.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived in the United States on Saturday
for treatment of wounds suffered in an assassination attempt in June. Under
a power transfer plan drawn up by Gulf Arab countries for Saleh to step down
to end a year of protests against his rule, a vice president is presiding
over a unity government with presidential elections set for February 21.
"Assad and his wife get safe exile," said Reidel, now at the Brookings
Institution think tank in Washington. "But who will take him? Iran? Russia?
UK? And does he get immunity like Saleh?"
Officials stressed the discussions of the exile option for Assad were at an
early stage and there was no agreed plan on how such an exit might be
A European official said EU members were willing to consider the idea of
Assad going into exile but that there was "no way we'd have him in our
"Our priority remains ending the slaughter that Assad and his regime are
perpetrating against Syrian civilians, and facilitating a peaceful and
orderly transition to democracy," the senior U.S. administration official
Administration officials were hesitant to predict how much time Assad might
be able to stay in power in the face of international isolation and
sanctions. But the consensus was it would be months, not weeks, before Assad
came to crunch time.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Tuesday that it
was just a matter of time before Assad falls, but acknowledged "it could be
a long time."
Much could depend on the fate of a European-Arab-drafted resolution in the
U.N. Security Council that would call for Assad to hand powers to his deputy
to defuse the uprising against his family's dynastic rule.
Russia said on Wednesday it would veto any resolution on Syria that it finds
unacceptable, after demanding any measure rule out military intervention to
halt the bloodshed touched off by protests against Assad.
The political violence in Syria has killed at least 5,000 people in the past
10 months and activists say Assad's forces have stepped up operations this
week on opposition strongholds, from Damascus suburbs to the cities of Hama,
Homs and the border provinces of Deraa and Idlib.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing
by Peter Cooney)
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Received on Thu Feb 02 2012 - 11:09:24 EST