The United States said Thursday there was no truth to reports it was ready, along with Britain, to offer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad safe passage to travel to Geneva to meet opposition leaders.
Washington said it was not its role to decide Assad’s fate, but outside pressure nevertheless built on his regime, following a report the CIA was now vetting the flow of arms provided by Middle Eastern powers to Syrian rebels.
Earlier, the London Times reported that Washington would launch a new push for Syrian peace following signs from Russian President Vladimir Putin that he believed Assad’s time in power was receding.
The paper said the plan could see Assad get assurances he could travel unimpeded to Geneva to meet opposition parties.
The Guardian also said the United States and Britain were willing to offer safe passage and even clemency for Assad if he joined talks with rebels.
A senior British official was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “Those of us who had bilaterals thought there was just enough out of those meetings to make it worth pursuing the objective of negotiating a transitional process in Syria.”
Meanwhile, a senior British official said that Prime Minister David Cameron had not made a final decision on the alleged plan.
On Tuesday, Cameron spoke of the dangers of Syria slipping into a civil war.
The leaks appeared to be a unilateral attempt by British officials to up pressure on Assad and to perhaps signal to the Syrian leader that it was not too late for him to step down.
They also held out the prospect that he could escape prosecution for crimes against humanity, as an incentive for him to leave power.
But the push did not seem to be coordinated with U.S. officials, and any such initiative would raise the question over whether Assad’s crackdown should disqualify him from any immunity.
The notion that Assad would leave Syria at a time of such turmoil also seemed far-fetched.
Human rights groups and others have called for the Syrian leader to be hauled before the International Criminal Court to account for the more than 15,000 deaths, mostly of civilians in his crackdown launched last year.
At least 10,480 civilians, 3,715 soldiers and 830 defectors have been killed in the crackdown and in clashes since March 2011, said the Britain-based group, which counts those who have taken up arms against the regime as civilians.
Russia has been the staunchest ally of Assad and resisted any attempts by the United Nations to enforce strict action against the Assad regime.
However, talks in Mexico indicate a willingness on Putin’s part to discuss Syria’s future sans Assad.
But on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that any peace plan for Syria that calls on Assad to leave power and go into exile would not work because he would not quit.
“A scheme according to which President Assad should leave somewhere before something happens in terms of a cessation of violence and a political process, this scheme simply does not work from the very start,” Lavrov said on Echo of Moscow radio.
“It is infeasible because he will not leave.”
Lavrov, whose country remains in close contact with Assad’s government, indicated that the Syrian leader was not ready to negotiate his removal from power because he still enjoyed popular support.
“I do not think Assad will be sitting down at the negotiating table,” said Lavrov, adding that May 7 legislative polls showed that a majority still backed the Syrian president.
“You have to understand that at least half of the Syrians who for various reasons connect their future and safety with him voted for Assad, no matter how you look at the past elections, his figure, his party, his policies,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.
Many analysts have pressed for Syria to follow the Yemen model which saw Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down from power in exchange for immunity.
The conference’s agenda would be to create a broad based government in Syria which would supervise the holding of elections in 18 months.
The proposed conference would see U.N. member states, representatives of the Syrian regime and opposition as well as influential key figures, including Russia.
The Guardian reports that Russia wants to see Iran attend the event which has been proposed to take place at the end of the month.