Arab Leaders Offer Assad Safe Haven
Arab leaders reportedly told the United States they are willing to provide safe haven to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to hasten what they say is his "inevitable departure" from power, a senior US official said on Wednesday.
Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman did not identify which countries had offered a place for Al Assad to go after seven months of protests against his rule in Syria.
"Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Al Assad's rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable," Feltman told a Senate panel.
"Some of these Arabs have even begun to offer Al Assad safe haven to encourage him to leave quickly," Feltman said, adding he hoped Al Assad and his inner circle would "head for the exits voluntarily."
Al Assad, however, has shown no signs he is interested in leaving power. Syrian troops continue their intense crackdown on dissident protests, with some of the worst bloodletting in the unrest gripping the country coming in recent weeks.
More than 80 people have been killed by the army and security forces just since last week, when Al Assad's government signed a peace plan sponsored by the Arab League.
Western governments led by the United States have called on Al Assad to leave power. Feltman said the United States would continue to support the Syrian opposition while diplomatically and financially pressuring the regime, "until Al Assad is gone."
US and European financial sanctions were "tightening the financial noose around the (Al Assad) regime," he added.
But, Feltman said, the United States did not seek a militarization of the conflict: "Syria is not Libya."
He also expressed concern the transition to democracy in Syria could decend into choas, and had no answer when Senator Richard Lugar asked who might replace Al Assad once he is gone.
"That's one of the real challenges, because the opposition in Syria is still divided," Feltman said.
In addition to sanctions by western nations, Assad faces a growing armed resistance by organized Army defectors led by dissident Syrian Air Force General Riad Assad in Turkey.
The nascent insurgency has reached an estimated strength of fifteen thousand and has, in the absence of direct Western support, found itself backed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Analysts say it is likely Turkey will provide arms, bases, and training to the Syrian insurgency in exchange for influence with future regimes should they succeed.