TEHRAN, Dec. 18 (MNA) – Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace talks next month may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, adding that he must remain in power to prevent an al-Qaeda takeover of the country.
Western diplomats confirmed the shift, saying that the rebels have been warned that any “transitional administration” would have to include a major presence from Alawites, and that Assad could stay as president with “diminished powers.”
If the rebels reject that plan “they will lose most of the West,” one diplomat said, reflecting the dwindling confidence in the secular rebels’ ability to accomplish anything on their own.
The shift in Western priorities, particularly the United States and Britain, from removing Assad towards combating Islamist militants is causing divisions within international powers backing the nearly three-year-old revolt, according to diplomats and senior members of the coalition.
Long-planned peace talks between the Syrian government and rebels are to be held in Geneva on January 24, two days after a meeting of foreign ministers, a UN official said Tuesday. The foreign ministers will first meet on January 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux, said Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
The actual negotiations between the Syrian government and the rebels would follow two days later at the United Nations in Geneva.
The Geneva-2 talks are sponsored by Russia and the United States, and are intended to bring about agreement on a political transition in war-torn Syria, including the formation of an interim governing authority.
oth the government and the Western- and Persian Gulf-backed opposition National Coalition have said they will attend, although the coalition says its presence is tied to President Bashar al-Assad having no role in the transitional period.
The Syrian government has said that al-Assad will remain in place until his presidential term expires next year and that he may run for re-election.
Islamist groups, increasingly the dominant opposition force on the ground in Syria, have rejected the talks.
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