Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Following news reports that the US, European and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Bashar al-Assad, Syrian National Council [SNC] Executive Committee member, Ahmed Ramadan, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that such talks are nothing new, but that the timing of these talks now – with large parts of the country outside of al-Assad regime control – will ensure they have a greater impact upon the Syrian regime and Bashar al-Assad personally.
Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that “during the first months of the revolution, there were at least two countries – one Arab country and one European country– in talks with al-Assad, and they put forward the idea of him handing over power and leaving the country. This proposal was previously discussed by the military leadership affiliated to the regime, most importantly Maher al-Assad and Assef Shawkat, who opposed this proposal.” Ramadan added that it is therefore not surprising that similar proposals should be put forward to the Syrian regime today, particularly as al-Assad is seeing his forces retreat day after day.
The SNC Executive Committee member also revealed that the SNC has received information that a major crisis is taking place within the Syrian military leadership today. This was after problems occurred between Maher al-Assad and Hafez Makhlouf, who are two of the five senior military officers in charge of military operations on the ground in Syria.
As for the specifics of the crisis, Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that this is over the Syrian army’s recent failures in the field. This resulted in the reemergence of an alliance between Maher al-Assad and Assef Shawkat, against Hafez Makhlouf, attempting to lay the blame for these failures on him, particularly the FSA’s gains and control of Damascus suburbs, and their capture of 5 Iranians Republican Guard soldiers on Syrian soil.
Ramadan stressed that this division within the military leadership is a clear indication that the final battle for Damascus and Aleppo is fast approaching.
Whilst Ramadan did not rule out the issue of al-Assad stepping down and being granted asylum abroad being discussed seriously between regional and international parties and the Syrian regime, he stressed that the SNC is also in contact with senior figures within the Alawite sect about the future of the Syrian regime. He added that so far, these talks have been extremely positive, and the SNC will announce details of this in the near future.
As for whether al-Assad fleeing the country would mean the end of the Syrian crisis, Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we believe that al-Assad leaving and handing over power to his deputy – or any other figure – represents a beginning to finding a solution to the crisis. If al-Assad is thinking of leaving the country…or accepting a political solution according to the Arab League proposal, then he will have chosen the path that does not lead to more violence and bloodshed, and so will therefore avoid the fate of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.”
He added “the situation today has changed, and the regime has no options”.
As for Russia’s threatened veto, Ramadan said “we are convinced that the Russian position is temporary…Russia is negotiating to preserve its own interests, not to ensure the survival of the al-Assad regime, which it will abandon at any moment should its interests be served by this.”
In this context, Turkish President Abdullah Gul announced yesterday that Ankara would consider offering asylum to the al-Assad family. Gul reportedly told the Turkish Radikal newspaper that “there is nothing like that at the moment… [but] if such a request is being made to us, of course, we will study it.”
The Reuters news agency quoted a senior Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as saying “we understand that some countries have offered to host him [al-Assad] should he choose to leave Syria.” However the senior US official said there were several stumbling blocks to al-Assad being granted asylum, saying “there are significant questions of accountability for the horrible abuses that have been committed against the Syrian people” adding “ultimately, these issues will be deliberated by the Syrian people in concern with regional and international partners…this is about what Syrians need to end this crisis and begin the process of rebuilding their country”
Whilst a European official, also speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said that EU members were willing to consider the idea of al-Assad going into exile but that there was “no way we’d have him in our countries.”
The Reuters news report claimed that very few countries would be open to hosting al-Assad, putting forward the United Arab Emirates [UAE] as one of the few that might be open to the idea. Diplomatic sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Algeria and Sudan are two other possibilities.