U.S. signals Bashar al-Assad can take part in political transition in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reports: On Thursday, Thomas Shannon, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be undersecretary of state, said Mr. Kerry is seeking to ascertain whether Russia and Iran are prepared “to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process, he will have to go.”

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Shannon said Mr. Kerry “thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff.”

The U.S. diplomacy is placing the Arab states and Turkey in a bind, as many of them have provided significant arms and funding to the largely Sunni rebel forces seeking to overthrow Mr. Assad.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, has publicly criticized Russia’s military intervention in Syria, arguing it could strengthen Mr. Assad and Shiite-dominated Iran, his closest Middle East ally.

Still, Saudi Arabia is finding it difficult to oppose the new round of diplomacy because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy military investment in Syria. Saudi officials have been holding their own direct talks with the Kremlin and have also pressed for a clear time line for when Mr. Assad would be forced to stand down, senior Arab officials said.

Mr. Obama’s position in the early days of Syria’s civil war was that Mr. Assad had to step down immediately as part of any resolution to the conflict, but that position shifted as the regime held together and the spread of Islamic State has become a higher priority.

The administration’s primary aim now is to get warring parties to abide by a cease-fire, so the U.S. can more effectively zero in on Islamic State and give new momentum to the stalled fight.

As a result, the administration’s view is Mr. Assad’s future can be dealt with later.

Current and former U.S. officials say the White House’s acceptance of Russian and Iranian demands on keeping Mr. Assad in power at least temporarily will make it hard — if not impossible — for the administration to get the different rebel factions fighting the regime to sign on to a cease-fire. [Continue reading…]

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