The Obama administration is open to allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in power for several months or longer as a political transition takes place in the country, according to senior officials.
The decision by the White House to be open to such a deal marks a shift in the administration’s stance toward Assad. It also comes just as Secretary of State John Kerry enters international talks in Vienna on Syria that will also include Russia and, for the first time, Iran.
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The Wall Street Journal reports:
The White House hasn’t publicly set a time frame for Mr. Assad’s departure to give U.S. negotiators room to maneuver in the Vienna talks, officials said. But in advance of negotiations, administration officials discussed a resolution with U.S. allies, including Turkey, that would allow Mr. Assad to remain in place after a cease-fire in the 4½-year conflict. The resolution the U.S. is seeking would include a cease-fire and would "not prejudge the Assad question," a senior administration official said.
The U.S. has long argued that a solution to the conflict in Syria would only be possible if it involves Assad, who used chemical weapons on his own people, being removed from power. Though the Obama administration has in the past been against Assad playing a role in a transition to a new government, that attitude has now changed.
Russia and Iran, allies of Assad who both have military presence in Syria, have demanded that the dictator remain in power.
Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks in an alleged attempt to combat the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS). However, many of the bombs have appeared to target CIA-backed Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime. Iranian troops are also on the ground in Syria to support Assad, and a top commander said earlier this week that Iran would be increasing its military presence in Syria.
Russia invited Iran to join the talks on the future in Syria with U.S. approval.
In separate developments in Syria, the White House will announce Friday that special operations forces will deploy to the northern part of the country to support groups fighting the Islamic State.