Syr­ian vice pres­i­dent: Army can’t de­feat rebel forces

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Zeina Karam

BEIRUT — Syria’s vice pres­i­dent has ac­knowl­edged the army can­not de­feat the rebel forces try­ing to top­ple the regime and called for a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment to save the coun­try from ruin.

The rare, can­did com­ments by Farouk alSharaa, a long­time close aide to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s fam­ily, sug­gested his em­bat­tled regime may be con­tem­plat­ing an exit strat­egy as rebel forces move closer to the cap­i­tal of Da­m­as­cus.

He spoke in an in­ter- view pub­lished Mon­day by the Le­banese news­pa­per Al-Akhbar.

“I don’t see that what the se­cu­rity forces and army units are do­ing will lead to a de­fin­i­tive vic­tory,” al-Sharaa was quoted as say­ing in the in­ter­view con­ducted in Da­m­as­cus.

“All th­ese op­po­si­tion forces can only con­clude the bat­tle to top­ple the regime if their goal is to push the coun­try into chaos and a cy­cle of vi­o­lence that has no end,” he added.

Al-Sharaa pushed for a ne­go­ti­ated po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment that in­cludes the for­ma­tion of a na­tional unity government with wide ju­ris­dic­tion.

His com­ments co­in­cided with a step-by-step peace plan for Syria out­lined by Ira­nian of­fi­cials on Sun­day. It would be capped by Syr­ian elec­tions that pre­sum­ably could usher in a new leader in Da­m­as­cus.

Tehran is As­sad’s clos­est and per­haps only re­main­ing re­gional ally, and the ini­tia­tive sug­gests its em­brace of the Syr­ian pres­i­dent could be cool­ing.

The ini­tia­tive — while al­most cer­tain to be re­jected by Syr­ian rebels — marks one of the clear­est sig­nals yet that Iran’s lead­er­ship is look­ing to hedge its bets and re­main a player in Syr­ian af­fairs if As­sad is top­pled.

“De­spite his rhetoric, Bashar As­sad may now be con­tem­plat­ing an exit strat­egy — one which would al­low him to seek refuge abroad with his neck in­tact,” said An­thony Skin­ner, an an­a­lyst at Maple­croft, a Bri­tish risk anal­y­sis com­pany.

In Washington, U.S. State De­part­ment spokes­woman Vic­to­ria Nu­land said the state­ment by al-Sharaa “speaks to the pres­sure that the Syr­ian regime is un­der.”

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