Obama wants Yemen-style deal in Syria

To press proposal with Putin next month; plan may leave remnants of Assad govt

Written by New York Times | Published: May 28, 2012 1:50:03 am

In a new effort to halt more than a year of bloodshed in Syria,US President Barack Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modelled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country,Yemen.

The plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place. Its goal is the kind of transition under way in Yemen,where after months of violent unrest,President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down and hand control to his vice-president,Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi,in a deal arranged by Yemen’s Arab neighbours. Hadi,though later elected in an uncontested vote,is viewed as a transitional leader.

The success of the plan hinges on Russia,one of Assad’s staunchest allies,which has strongly opposed his removal.

In the past year,Russia has blocked any tough United Nations Security Council action against Assad,arguing that it could lead to his forced ouster and the kind of fates suffered by Col. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya,who was killed,or Hosni Mubarak of Egypt,who was imprisoned and put on trial. But Russia is facing intense international pressure to use its influence to bring about the removal of Assad as the killings in Syria continue unabated.

The Yemen example has been widely discussed in Moscow,so much so that the option has become known by its Russian term,“the Yemenskii Variant,” even in the US. In part,that reflects Russia’s desperation for a solution to the crisis in Syria.

Obama,administration officials said,will press the proposal with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next month at their first meeting since Putin returned to his old post on May 7. Thomas E. Donilon,Obama’s national security adviser,raised the plan with Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.

When Obama brought it up with Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia at the Group of 8 meeting at Camp David last weekend,Medvedev appeared receptive,US officials said,signaling that Russia would prefer that option to other transitions in the Arab upheaval. During the meeting,“Medvedev raised the example of Mubarak in a cage,” a senior official said. The official,who requested anonymity,said Obama had then “countered with Yemen,and the indication was,yes,this was something we could talk about.”

Russian leaders are fearful that Syria is their last bastion of influence. Syria is Moscow’s main Middle East ally,home to a Russian naval base and extensive Russian oil and gas investments. US officials say they are ready to reassure their Russian counterparts that Moscow would be able to maintain its close ties in a post-Assad Syria. “Look,we recognise that Russia wants to have a continued influence in Syria,” one official said,speaking on condition of anonymity.

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