In a significant policy shift on the civil war in Syria, Britain and its western allies have finally dropped their long-standing demand that President Assad must step down — and may even accept elections in which he is allowed to stand again, a report said.
Ministers yesterday confirmed a turnaround in policy towards Syria, The Times reported on Saturday.
The British daily said the Syrian opposition leaders were told this week in Riyadh that they now had little choice but to accept that Assad was in Damascus to stay.
“There was no longer any point in holding up talks over Syria’s future by sticking to the position that he (Assad) had to step down before negotiations could begin.”
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, hinted at the change in an interview on Radio 4’s Today program, according to the daily.
“It is overwhelmingly in the interests of the Syrian people that Assad should go,” the Times quoted Johnson as saying.
“We used to say he has to go as precondition. Now we are saying that he should go but as part of a transition. It is always open to him to stand in a democratic election,” the British foreign secretary added.
In the same context, the daily quoted diplomats as saying that Johnson was confirming a gradual shift forced on the opposition and the West by events on the ground.
The new position was shared by Britain’s allies and the opposition’s regional backers, the daily reported.
It said that Yahya al-Aridi, an opposition spokesman was disappointed with western countries.
The Times also quoted another source as saying: “Our policy is based around pragmatism and realism. It’s hard to see any future stable and peaceful Syria with Assad still there, given how much damage he has caused. But whether or not he is staying is no longer a precursor to discussions.”