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Obama says Assad must go to end Syria war

Agreeing on Bashar al-Assad's future has been a key obstacle to peace in Syria [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 November, 2015

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US President Barack Obama has again weighed in on the difficult question of Bashar al-Assad's role in Syria's transition, who says there is no 'red line' on new presidential elections.
US President Barack Obama said on Thursday it may take some months for Russia, Iran and the Syrian ruling elite to accept that there can be no end to Syria's civil war or a political settlement while President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

Obama said that Moscow and Tehran recognised Islamic State as a "serious threat" but Russia's efforts in Syria were aimed at propping up Assad.

"Bottom line is, I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power," he told reporters in Manila on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation [APEC] summit.

    
I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power
- US President Barack Obama
"What we are doing with our coalition members is recognising that it may take some months for the Russians and the Iranians and frankly some members of the Syrian government and ruling elites within the regime to recognise the truths that I just articulated."

Obama added that if he could get all the parties talking on the issue, "that could create space for that pivot".

The vice president of the opposition, Syrian National Coalition [SNC], Hashem Mroue, also said all the "pillars" of the Syrian regime must be excluded from any political transition including Bashar al-Assad, "pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2118."

Mroue, speaking to the Anadolu news agency, said the SNC recognises no other reference point for political transition in Syria.

The resolution issued in September 2013 calls for forming a transitional governing body with full executive powers, which the Syrian opposition and its backers interpret as taking over the powers of the Syrian president.

"The Syrian opposition is working to meet with moderate armed groups and Syrian political parties to agree on joint points," Mroue added.

However, Moscow reiterated it's position that there was no way to solve the Syria crisis peacefully without Assad.

"The Paris attacks have helped the West understand that the priority in Syria is to fight Islamic State not to topple Assad," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday, according to Russian agencies.

Lavrov added that Assad represented the interests of a significant part of Syrian society.

Assad: No red line on presidential elections

Meanwhile, Assad has stressed that defeating "terrorism" would be the starting point for ending the Syrian crisis.

Speaking in an interview with Italian TV channel, RAI UNO aired Wednesday, the Syrian president added that there was no "red line" when it comes to holding presidential elections in Syria, "if Syrians decide so through dialogue".

Assad also claimed that the Vienna statement does not mention anything about the Syrian president, stressing that the political process will entirely depend on what Syrians agree on.

Assad's continued grip on power has seriously strained relations between the US and France - firm backers of Syria's uprising - and Russia, one of the regime's staunchest allies.

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But after the Paris massacres and the downing of a Russian airliner in a bomb attack also claimed by the Islamic State, the countries have joined forces against the extremists, diverting attention at least momentarily from the question of Assad's future.

In a fierce retaliation Russian and French airstrikes in Syria reported to have left 33 IS fighters dead in 72 hours.

A US-led air coalition has been waging an air war against Islamic State for more than a year, with French strikes in Syria beginning in September. Moscow launched its own airstrikes in Syria, in co-ordination with Assad, on 30 September.

On Saturday, the foreign ministers of nearly 20 nations had agreed to an ambitious yet incomplete plan for bringing peace to Syria and ending its role as a breeding ground for Islamic State and other radical groups.

The plan appeared to draw heavily on a recently circulated Russian initiative. With just two weeks elapsed since the Syria talks first convened, it could mark a significant advance, if successful.

It sets a January 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between President Bashar al-Assad's government and opposition groups.

Russia said the Syrian government already had put forward its representatives, with the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to begin immediate work on determining who should sit at the table as part of the opposition team.

Countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which support different sides in the conflict, put aside their dispute to condemn the bombings and shootings that left at least 129 people in the French capital dead last Friday. So did Moscow and Washington.

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