Russia's Proposed Syria Plan Doesn't Drop Assad
by VOA News November 11, 2015
Russia has circulated a plan for ending the Syrian civil war that calls for drafting a new constitution in up to 18 months, followed by presidential elections in 2017. Syrian opposition groups say the Russian proposals are aimed at keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power and are unacceptable.
Western diplomats said it appears Moscow will try to advance its proposals during the next round of international talks on the Syrian crisis on Saturday. However, they indicated it would not gain wide support from the many delegations expected to meet in Vienna.
The Russian document obtained by Western media says Moscow is offering 'an approach to the settlement of the Syrian crisis,' not yet a formal peace plan. All who have seen the eight-point draft say it makes no mention of Assad stepping down during any future political transition in Damascus – a demand by all opposition groups involved in the Syrian civil war, the United States and its allies, and many Arab nations.
A member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition denounced the Russian proposals emphatically.
'The Syrian people have never accepted the dictatorship of Assad and they will not accept that it is reintroduced or reformulated in another way,' said Monzer Akbik, according to Reuters.
Russia, a strong supporter of Assad, recently stepped up diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people in nearly five years. But Russia also has launched hundreds of airstrikes on rebel-held territory in Syria. Moscow contends its air campaign targets militants of the Islamic State group, though reports from Syria and by the Western powers say most of the bombs dropped by Russian pilots hit opposition groups other than the Islamic State.
Reports from Syria also have shown that many civilians are among the casualties of Russia's air campaign. The U.S. says 85 to 90 percent of all Russian airstrikes over the past six weeks have hit members of the moderate anti-Assad opposition in Syria.
During a first round of international talks about Syria two weeks ago in Vienna, Russia said it wanted opposition groups to participate in future discussions. It is not clear, however, which of the many groups that oppose Assad would be recognized or invited to take part.
Ahead of the upcoming second round of Vienna talks, Russia said it hopes all parties to the discussions, including the United States, can agree on which groups operating in Syria are 'terrorist' – another area where Moscow's pro-Assad sentiments are likely to produce disagreements.
Russia and Iran have been Assad's main supporters throughout the Syrian civil war – in contrast to the United States, its Persian Gulf allies and Turkey, all of which have said Assad he must step down from power if there is to be peace.
In Saudi Arabia, one of Assad's most outspoken opponents, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said this week the Syrian president must be removed.
'If Bashar al-Assad's departure is not completed in a peaceful manner, then it will be completed in a military manner,' Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh after a summit of Arab and Latin American leaders.
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