Syria peace plan: Opposition presents first vision for future without Assad 'that could actually work'

Boris Johnson says plan will only work if Russia gives up 'indefensible' backing for Syrian president

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 07 September 2016 08:46
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Opposition in Syria lays out peace plan

The UK government says a peace deal put forward by the Syrian opposition represents the first viable option for a future in the country without President Bashar al-Assad.

The blueprint for a political settlement, which is to be presented in London on Wednesday, envisages a gradual transition starting with a six-month ceasefire for negotiations and full humanitarian access.

After six months, a transitional administration involving both government and opposition elements would take over, running the country for 18 months.

During this period, Assad would be required to step down. After the 18 months, there would then be elections.

Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, said “there is a chance this vision could be made to work”.

The US and other Western nations have made regime change the core requirement in what they see as a peaceful future for Syria. But Russia, the state’s main ally, has said it will support Assad come what may.

Mr Johnson was set to meet with the main Syrian opposition representatives in recent UN-mediated peace talks, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), later on Wednesday.

And he called on Russia to end its “seemingly indefensible” support for Assad and what he described as Syria’s state-operated “killing machine”.

Mr Johnson wrote in The Times: "Even the Russians have accepted that there must be political transition. But then the Russians are also employing their military muscle to prevent him (Assad) from losing and to keep him in power.

"When the Russians are asked to explain this seemingly indefensible conduct they reply with one stubborn question: the question with which we began. What then? What follows Assad?"

The Foreign Secretary said the HNC represented the “broadest-based” opposition group in Syria, and praised its plan that is "democratic and pluralistic" but which does not want to "sweep away all the existing structures of the state”.

"There will be people meeting in London who have direct experience of running Syria, but who utterly reject the Assad-style police state,” he said.

"They want to create a new country in which there are checks and balances in government and in which the rights of women and minorities are respected.

"Their ambition is to ensure a safe space, free from terror, to which migrants can return.”

The talks will take place against a backdrop of alleged chlorine bomb attacks in Aleppo.

And Mr Johnson's comments ahead of the Westminster meeting could be seen as a signal that the government is ready to offer stronger backing to the Syrian opposition.

Additional reporting by agencies

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