CAIRO/BEIRUT, (Reuters) – The U.N. peace envoy for Syria said yesterday that Bashar al-Assad could have no place in a transitional government to end civil war, the closest he has come to calling directly for the embattled president to quit.
A peace plan agreed by major powers in Geneva last year envisages an interim administration. “Surely he would not be a member of that government,” U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told Reuters in an interview in Cairo.
He reiterated that the Geneva plan remained “the base for a solution in Syria”, ravaged by a war the United Nations says has already killed 60,000 people.
“There is no military solution,” he said. “The solution shouldn’t wait until 2014. It should be in 2013.”
He described a speech by Assad this week as “uncompromising”, saying he had “narrowed his initiative by excluding some parties” from his own peace proposals.
Assad’s speech offered no concessions and included a vow never to talk to foes he branded terrorists and Western puppets.
Brahimi urged all parties to compromise for the sake of the victims of the conflict. “I say to the Syrians – be they fighters, or the president or officials – that any concession is not a loss in order that this situation ends.”
Brahimi said he would travel to Geneva today for a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, whose governments back different sides in the war.
He said the opposition and Assad had to accept the Geneva plan and implement it. “Of course this requires ceasing fire,” he said.
40 YEARS “TOO LONG”
“In Syria, in particular, I think that what people are saying is that a family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long,” Brahimi told Britain’s BBC in an earlier interview.
His comments were welcomed by the opposition, which has long been angered by the U.N. mediator’s refusal to take a firm position on excluding a future role for Assad.
“The statement of Lakhdar Brahimi has been long awaited,” the opposition National Coalition’s representative to Britain, Walid Saffour, told Reuters.
“He hasn’t criticised Bashar al-Assad before, but now, after he despaired of Assad after his Sunday speech, he had no other alternative than to say to the world that this rule is a family rule, and more than 40 years is enough.”
A U.S. spokeswoman said of Brahimi’s remarks: “We obviously weren’t surprised, based on what we’ve been hearing from him, that he was willing to say that in public.”
Assad has ruled since 2000, taking over from his father Hafez, who seized power in a 1970 coup.