Despite longstanding support, Moscow reportedly tells president of war-torn Syria to make way for transitional government
(SOURCE) Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his embattled Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to either leave office and make room for a transitional government or be forced out, Israeli officials say.
Putin delivered his ultimatum at a meeting between the two in Moscow on October 20, and comes as Russia joins other world powers in setting a timetable for a new Syrian government after nearly five years of civil war.
Senior Israeli officials told The Times of Israel that Assad received a markedly chilly reception in Moscow, his first trip abroad since the insurgency broke out in February 2011, tearing Syria apart, killing more than 200,000 people and turning millions into refugees.
Putin demanded that Assad and his associates enter negotiations with moderate elements in Syria on instituting a temporary government that would stay in place for about a year and a half – until general elections can be held, the officials said.
The meeting preceded this week’s talks in Vienna between Arab and Western states on a possible political solution for war-torn Syria.
One major point of contention concerns Assad’s immediate future. The Iranians are demanding that Assad remain as Syrian president in any scenario, including during the period of a transitional government. But the Russians, who have historically backed Assad and have begun carrying out airstrikes in support of the regime, do not favor that idea and are prepared to see Assad being out during the 18-month transitional government.
The US, in contrast, at first demanded Assad’s immediate resignation. But due to the current pressing need for intensive action against Islamic State in Syria, it is now prepared to see him gradually transfer powers to a transitional government and retire.
One question that does need answering is who will be able to vote when elections are held in Syria. Will it be only the country’s current residents, or will the millions of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and even Europe be allowed to cast their ballot?
Assad’s possible participation in future elections also poses a difficulty. As long as he insists of being a presidential candidate, the Americans and Saudis are opposed to elections. The Russians would agree to his participation but only if Assad first resigns as president during the period of the transitional government.
The rocky dispute over Assad’s future is complicating ties between Tehran and Moscow, despite the apparent coordination on Syria.
While the Iranians are interested in a continuation of the air cover Moscow is providing for their actions on the ground, they don’t want an increase of Russian control in the arena.