By Andrew Osborn and Orhan Coskun | MOSCOW/ANKARA
Syria would be divided into informal zones of regional power influence and Bashar al-Assad would remain president for at least a few years under an outline deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran, sources say.
Such a deal, which would allow regional autonomy within a federal structure controlled by Assad’s Alawite sect, is in its infancy, subject to change and would need the buy-in of Assad and the rebels and, eventually, the Gulf states and the United States, sources familiar with Russia’s thinking say.
“There has been a move toward a compromise,” said Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank close to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“A final deal will be hard, but stances have shifted.”
Assad’s powers would be cut under a deal between the three nations, say several sources. Russia and Turkey would allow him to stay until the next presidential election when he would quit in favor of a less polarizing Alawite candidate.
Iran has yet to be persuaded of that, say the sources. But either way Assad would eventually go, in a face-saving way, with guarantees for him and his family.
“A couple of names in the leadership have been mentioned (as potential successors),” said Kortunov, declining to name names.
Nobody thinks a wider Syrian peace deal, something that has eluded the international community for years, will be easy, quick or certain of success. What is clear is that President Vladimir Putin wants to play the lead role in trying to broker a settlement, initially with Turkey and Iran.
That would bolster his narrative of Russia regaining its mantle as a world power and serious Middle East player.
“It’s a very big prize for them if they can show they’re out there in front changing the world,” Sir Tony Brenton, Britain’s former ambassador to Moscow, told Reuters. “We’ve all grown used to the United States doing that and had rather forgotten that Russia used to play at the same level”
If Russia gets its way, new peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition will begin in mid-January in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, a close Russian ally.
The talks would be distinct from intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations and not initially involve the United States.
That has irritated some in Washington.
“So this country that essentially has an economy the size of Spain, that’s Russia, is strutting around and acting like they know what they are doing,” said one U.S. official, who declined to be named because of the subject’s sensitivity.