Western diplomats are increasingly saying that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad keeping power is a better option for Syria than the country being ruled by Islamist rebels, Gulf News reports, citing Russia’s foreign minister.
“Not only in private meetings but also in public comments, the idea is occurring to some Western colleagues that ... Assad remaining in office is less of a threat for Syria than a takeover of the country by terrorists,” Sergei Lavrov was quoted as having told the RIA Novosti news agency in an interview published on Friday.
Russia has been Assad’s most important supporter during Syria’s civil war. It says his removal from power must not be a precondition for holding peace talks.
Russia has used its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto at least four western proposed resolutions which sought to increase pressure on the Syrian leader.
The last such incident was this past Thursday, when Russia blocked a U.S.-drafted resolution condemned the Syrian government's increasing military offensive on the city of Aleppo.
The West’s backing of Assad is likely due to the fact that the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been significantly weakened recently.
A new rebel group calling itself the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) was formed last month and unites the largest Islamist rebel brigades under a single command. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front were not included in the alliance, although Islamic Front brigades have cooperated with them at times on the battlefield.
The group now represents Syria’s largest armed opposition grouping some tens of thousands of fighters opposed to Assad. The new group recently overran the northern headquarters and two warehouses belonging to the FSA, causing Washington to cut off non-lethal aid to the main secular military opposition in the north.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently admitted that the that the moderate opposition to the Syrian regime was in "serious difficulty".
According to Gulf News, UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met in Geneva with U.S. and Russian delegations to try to agree which nations should be invited to Syria peace talks in Geneva next month.
Brahimi later said that the Americans were “blocking” Iran’s participation in the upcoming Geneva II peace talks.
The American opposition comes due to Iran's open backing of Assad. In November, an Iranian MP boasted of his country's large military presence in Syria fighting for Assad. It has also been revealed that Iran is behind its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria war.