Russian official claims Trump not tied to Assad departure

Russian official claims Trump not tied to Assad departure
A leading Russian official has claimed that Donald Trump is not set on Assad stepping down from power immediately and peace negotiations could end with the dictator staying in power.
2 min read
26 April, 2017
Petr Iliichev met Trump at the White House with other security council diplomats [AFP]

Russia has claimed President Donald Trump told UN security council ambassadors recently that the departure of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is "not a deal breaker" for negotiations on ending the war.

Trump allegedly told the 15 ambassadors it was up to the Syrian people to decide the fate of the leader, Russian charge d'affaires Petr Iliichev said on Tuesday.

"He said that the future of Assad is not a deal breaker," Iliichev told AFP.

"He said that whether he stays or he leaves is not important. What is important is the political process, the cessation of bloodletting, of hostilities. And then the people will decide."

Donald Trump has previously called Assad "a butcher" and took the toughest US action yet against the Syrian regime when he order cruise missiles to strike an airbase in Homs province.

Shayrat airbase was said to be the launchpad of a chemical attack on a rebel-help village in Idlib province, and US officials have warned they could strike Syria again.

Russia claims that Trump used the words "not a deal breaker" in reference to the future of the Syrian leader stand in constrast to recent US rhetoric against the regime.

However, the Trump administration had been previously said it could be open to the idea of Assad staying in power.

"[The] longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on 30 March.

After the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun shortly after, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said peace in Syria would be impossible with Assad in power.

"There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime," she said.

"If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad."

Trump said his attitude towards Assad had changed "very much" after the sarin attack.

UN-brokered talks on ending the six-year war in Syria have hit a wall over opposition demands that Assad step down as part of any settlement.

Russia wants Assad's fate settled through elections to be held as part of a transition.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said his understanding of Trump's policy on Syria was to "end this conflict as swiftly as possible".

This would involve "political talks that will lead to a transition, after which Assad will no longer be in power".

Agencies contributed to this story.