By Arab News
The international community should consider imposing a resolution to the conflict in Syria that does not involve President Bashar Assad retaining power, France’s foreign minister said Friday.
A transition “cannot be done” with Assad, “who murdered part of his population and who has led millions of Syrians to leave” their homeland, Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
“If we wait for the Syrians to agree, we will wait a long time and there will be thousands more dead.”
Assad’s fate has hampered all international diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. “The shift in international attitudes toward the Syrian conflict has been shaped more by the failure of the opposition than their perception of Assad,” Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan told Arab News.
“Even though the regime has won the strategic war, in that no country seriously seeks its downfall anymore, it’s unlikely to come out of the diplomatic cold anytime soon.”
Joseph Bahout, a fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News that the notion that Assad has “won” has become the dominant narrative in the West, and his inclusion in a transition should be expected. But “will this lead to a solution? Of course not.”
Ibrahim Assil, a non-resident fellow at the Orient Research Center in Dubai, strongly cautioned the international community against turning a new page with Assad.
“Holding war criminals like Assad accountable is crucial for international security,” he told Arab News.
“Tyrants like Assad are watching, and the international community is sending them a message that it will accept them even if they crush their people militarily, commit war crimes and atrocities, and even use chemical weapons.”
Le Drian told RTL radio: “He (Assad) cannot be part of the solution. The solution is to find with all the actors a calendar with a political transition that will enable a new constitution and elections.”
While Britain has said Assad must go, diplomats say the administration of US President Donald Trump has yet to outline a vision for a political process in Syria and is focusing primarily on defeating Daesh and countering Iran, AFP reported.
The UN Security Council has already adopted a Syria transition road map, and two diplomats said the latest French idea was to get the five permanent members of the council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — to agree first how to move forward.
The Security Council would then bring into the fold the main regional powers, although diplomats said it was pointless without Iran’s involvement. There were also questions on how to win US support given the Trump administration’s staunch anti-Iranian position.
Meanwhile, a new round of talks on the conflict in Syria will be held in Astana on Sept. 14-15, Kazakhstan announced Friday, with key powers looking to shore up safe zones on the ground.
Russia and Iran, which back the Syrian regime, and opposition supporter Turkey will look to work out more details of the “de-escalation zones,” including the thorny issue of who will police the northern Idlib region, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The participants also intend to confirm the maps of the de-escalation zones in the provinces of Idlib, Homs and Eastern Ghouta,” it said.
The statement did not mention a fourth zone in the south of Syria, where Israel and the US have been wary about seeing Iran involved after a cease-fire was agreed between Moscow and Washington in July.
Russia has already deployed military police to the zone in the south, in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, and in part of Homs under the safe zone deals.
Moscow has been spearheading the Astana peace talks since the start of the year in a bid to pacify Syria after its game-changing intervention on the side of Assad.
In another development, US-backed Syrian fighters ousted Daesh from Raqqa’s Old City on Friday, bringing them closer than ever to the terrorist bastion’s well-defended and densely populated heart.
Backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) first broke into Raqqa in early June and penetrated its Old City a month later.
On Friday, they successfully captured the entire historic district from militants, according to AFP.
“Our forces today seized full control of the Old City in Raqqa after clashes with Daesh,” spokesman Talal Sello said.