Russian diplomat says Assad ready to step down: report


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to leave his posts as his country is engulfed in fighting, Saudi Arabian newspaper al-Watan has reported, citing an interview with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied the occurance of the interview, in which Bogdanov also said that Assad’s brother Maher al-Assad “struggling for survival" after losing his legs in the mid-July Damascus bombing ithat assassinated senior security officials.

To defend its credibility, al-Watan on early Wednesday published alleged Bogdanov interview in a MP3 format on its website.

Al Arabiya could not verify the authenticity of the recording, in which a man identified as Bogdanov said Moscow wanted a “fast remedy” to the Syrian crisis, did not want to be in a “non-neutral” position and that a ceasefire was the only solution to the 18-month conflict.

Russian denial

Before the recording was released, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Bogdanov had not given an interview to the paper by phone or in person.

“We would like to point out that this report does not correspond with reality, and the Russian special envoy gave no such interview,” Zakharova said in a Tuesday statement.

Syria “is becoming the subject of a propaganda war,” she said, adding that some media had disseminated “blatant disinformation.”

Russia has shielded Assad from pressure by joining China to block three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions, including one last month that would have threatened Syria's government with sanctions.

Russia has said it was not propping up Assad and would accept his exit in a political transition decided by the Syrian people, but that his departure must not be a precondition and he must not be pushed out by external forces, including the Security Council.

“Russia is pursuing a consistent course aimed at the swiftest end to violence and the resolution of existing problems in Syria by the Syrians themselves, without external interference, through a broad, inclusive dialogue and the achievement of national reconciliation,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

Meanwhile, in a related story, the United States on Tuesday lifted sanctions against former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected earlier this month, as it urged more individuals to abandon Assad’s regime.

In a move aimed at convincing members of Assad’s inner circle that they have not been permanently blacklisted, the U.S. Treasury Department unfroze Hijab’s assets.

Al-Watan’s alleged Arabic-language interview with Bogdanov is posted on its website at: