Cameron: Assad could stay for the short-term

Cameron said Assad can be part of the Syrian transitional government but not for the long-term

Dina al-Shibeeb

Published: Updated:

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can be part of a transitional government as the West scrambles to find a political solution to end the Syrian conflict on the backdrop of Russia wielding more influence in the war-torn country.

Cameron told Sky’s correspondent travelling with him to the United States that he was not ruling out that Assad could be part of a transfer of power, but “what he is very clear about is that Assad cannot be part of Syria’s future in the long run.”

Earlier, UK paper Sunday Telegraph reported that Cameron is open to keeping Assad in power in the short-term while a unity government is formed in the country. He also said Assad should face international criminal prosecution for the crimes he committed in his home country including the use of barrel bombings on civilians.

“There is not a long-term, stable, peaceful future for Syria where Syrian people can return home with President Assad as its leader,” the newspaper, citing an unnamed government source, described Cameron’s stance.

Asked whether Assad could remain during a transition period, the source said Cameron would not demand he immediately steps down. “There has always been the idea that there would be a political transition,” the source was quoted as saying.

Cameron latest addition

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel separately said Assad could have a role in transition of power in Syria.

Erdogan’s statement was particularly surprising, since he has long been a harsh critic of Assad.

While the U.S. did not overtly express a similar view, on Sep. 19, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad has to go but the timing of his departure had to be decided through negotiation.

“Cameron is rather coming late to the party,” George Joffe, a Research Fellow and lecturer at the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge.

Asked if Cameron apparently changing his stance on Assad was due to Russia wielding more influence in Syria, including the deployment of arms, Joffe said “it is partially due to the Russian decision.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is bringing together allies to form a pact to fight ISIS, raising eyebrows in Washington. On Saturday, Iraq said its military officials were engaged in intelligence and security cooperation in Baghdad with Russia, Iran and Syria to counter the threat from the Islamist militants.

Joffe said “it is due to Western policy that is of the United States, United Kingdom and indeed France is unviable. This has been the case for the past four years.”

The Syrian conflict has entered its fifth year after it started in mid-2011.

The analyst said “the growth of ISIS inside the region particularly inside Syria” has pushed Western powers to “accept Assad to remain for a particular period and be part of the solution of the conflict itself.”

The Syrian conflict spillover has also translated into about 500,000 influx of refugees to Europe, creating an urgency to end the conflict in the warn-torn country.

In an interview with Sky News, Cameron said: “He [Assad] has butchered his own people. He has helped create this conflict and this migration crisis. He is one of the great recruiting sergeants for ISIL,” using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).