Negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reached the extent of discussing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure and the country in which he would seek refuge, a French diplomat told Al Arabiya on Thursday.
However, Lavrov changed his mind at the meeting in Geneva in June 2012 after “receiving a phone call,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
A meeting in Tehran between a high-ranking French delegation and Iranian officials failed because of French opposition to Iran’s request to attend the proposed Geneva II meeting on Syria, the diplomat said.
“We agreed with the Iranians not to agree on this subject, especially when they said Assad can run for the presidency next year,” he said. “We responded by saying, ‘he’ll be a candidate who has committed crimes’.”
The United States may be mulling a compromise whereby Iran is invited to a meeting with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Egypt before the Geneva II conference, the diplomat said.
“We too want the Geneva conference to succeed, but not at any expense,” he said. “The Americans aren’t the only decision-makers.”
The Iranians at the Tehran meeting described Lebanese movement Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting in Syria as limited to defending Shiites in Qusayr and the Sayyida Zaynab shrine, the diplomat said.
The Iranians accused the al-Nusra Front of inciting sectarian conflict, he added.
Asked how the Geneva II conference would be different from the first, he said: “We added an article linked to transferring executive jurisdictions of the army, security forces and [the central bank] in order to strip Assad of the authority to make any decisions.”
The Russians disagree with this proposal, and the French are worried about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s leniency with the Russians regarding this point, the diplomat said.
On the Syrian opposition’s representation at the conference, he said: “We agreed with the Americans and the British that the [Syrian] National Coalition be an umbrella of the opposition delegation, even if there were members [of the delegation] that don’t belong in the coalition.”
On preparations for the conference, the diplomat said: “Things are slowly developing. It’s not possible to specify a date for holding it. It’s a difficult task considering what’s happening on ground.”
On the effect of Syria’s crisis on Lebanon, he said: “The real danger is the demise of psychological and geographic borders between what’s happening in Syria and what’s happening in Lebanon.”
France “is, like Lebanon, worried about the situation of Syrian refugees,” the diplomat said, adding that Lebanese tourism and investment have been affected. “The situation is very difficult.”