LONDON (AFP) -The United States has offered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a deal to end his regime”s international isolation if it agrees to a list of concessions.
The offer was described as a "Kadhafi deal" after the one clinched two years ago with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, whose regime was shunned after being blamed for the bombing of a passenger jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
Citing senior US and Arab officials, The Times newspaper said the latest deal — which hinges on four key demands — could save Syria from the threat of looming international sanctions.
It said the matter could be resolved as early as next week when a UN team investigating the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri is due to submit a report on its findings to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The report”s findings are unknown, but The Times said it was widely expected to name senior figures in Syria”s intelligence services as being involved.
"Assad is facing a tough time ahead and he had very few friends left," the daily quoted an anonymous, senior Arab diplomat as saying.
"He is desperately looking for a way out of this predicament."
Under the deal, The Times said Washington had four main requirements:
— Syria must cooperate fully and adhere to any demands by the UN inquiry into Hariri”s death.
— If any members of the regime are named as suspects they would have to be questioned and stand trial.
— The Syrians must stop interfering in Lebanon, where they have been accused of a series of recent bomb attacks.
— Washington wants Damascus to cease alleged recruiting, funding and training of volunteers to take part in the violent insurgency in Iraq.
In return, the United States would establish full and friendly relations with the country, the newspaper reported Saturday.
This move would make Syria far more attractive to vital foreign investors.
The Times said: "The Americans are convinced that if Syria was prepared to commit such a radical volte face it could transform the whole climate in the Middle East — freeing Lebanon, dealing a serious blow to the insurgency in Iraq and opening the way for progressive peace between Israel and Palestine."
It quoted an unnamed source close to Assad”s regime confirming the offer had been presented by a third party in the past ten days and that the Syrians had signalled they were willing to co-operate.
At the same time, it quoted British officials as doubting whether Assad would concur because the deal would be regarded as too much of a climbdown.
It also cited a Syrian source close to the ruling family as saying the president would turn it down.
The US has warned that it will increase pressure on Damascus if it says no.
However, while the Kadhafi deal marked a historic turning point in relations between Libya and the rest of the world, there are doubts about whether Assad is strong and bold enough to follow suit, according to The Times.
Some in Washington wonder whether he is really in control of the country.