The Obama administration believes that, even in a best-case scenario, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad will remain in office through March 2017, two months after President Barack Obama leaves office, The Associated Press (AP) revealed on Wednesday.
The news agency obtained an internal U.S. timeline for a best-case Syrian political transition which sets March 2017 for Assad to "relinquish" his position as president and for his "inner circle" to depart.
Syria, according to the would-be American strategy, would hold votes for a new president and parliament in August 2017.
The State Department said Wednesday the timeline was prepared late last year as a guide for Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. diplomats working on a political transition for Syria.
Spokesman John Kirby described the document as a "staff-level think piece" that is "preliminary and pre-decisional" and not "an official position", according to AP. He also said it is "not an accurate projection of plans by the international community to effect a political transition in Syria."
Assad has consistently refused to step down, though he seemed to soften his tone in an interview in October, saying he would not hesitate to step down if that is the solution to the crisis.
The Syrian opposition has demanded that Assad step down as a condition for peace talks with the regime but, as AP pointed out, in recent months, Washington and its allies in European capitals, such as France, have retreated from demands that Assad leave power immediately as the Islamic State (ISIS) gained territory in the region.
The timeline, however aspirational, shows how U.S. diplomats and policymakers are determined to outline an exit plan for Assad and not let concerns over ISIS and other extremist groups allow him to cling to power indefinitely, noted AP.
The document obtained by the news agency starts Syria's new political process next month, with the Security Council signing off on a framework for negotiations between Assad's representatives and the opposition, leading to the formation of a security committee in April. That would be accompanied by an amnesty for some government and military members, and moderate opposition leaders and fighters. The transitional governing body would then be created.
In May, according to the timeline, the Syrian parliament would dissolve and the Security Council would recognize the new transitional authority and lay out the transition's next steps. These include major political reforms, the nomination of an interim legislature and an international donors' conference to fund Syria's transition and reconstruction.
The next six months, through November 2016, would be devoted to the sides drafting a new constitution. The Syrian people would vote on that document in a popular referendum in January 2017, according to the timeline obtained by AP, and only then would the process lead to the end of Assad's rule of Syria.
In March 2017, the timeline reads, "Asad [sic] relinquishes presidency; inner circle departs."