Diplomats push for Assad’s resignation, despite rebel infighting

Violent extremists seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad may instead have hurt negotiations to replace him, frustrating Western diplomats who continue to push for his ouster as a necessary part of a peace agreement in the Mideast nation’s bloody civil war.

LONDON — Violent extremists seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad may instead have hurt negotiations to replace him, frustrating Western diplomats who continue to push for his ouster as a necessary part of a peace agreement in the Mideast nation’s bloody civil war.

Bolstered by infighting among Syrian opposition groups — including some linked to al-Qaida that have jeopardized foreign aid — U.S. officials say Assad has a stronger grasp on power now than he did just months ago, when the U.S. and Russia called for a new round of talks to settle the 2 1/2-year war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Still, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad’s recent gains do not assure his future in a new government.

How to persuade Assad to step down will be part of the focus Tuesday at a London meeting of 11 nations from the West and Mideast seeking a negotiated settlement to the war. Kerry met Tuesday morning with the head of the Syrian opposition coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, during what the top U.S. diplomat called “a very important time.”

“We have a lot to discuss,” Kerry told al-Jarba as the 45-minute private meeting got underway at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London.

Extremist groups, including the al-Qaida-linked cross-border Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have hurt the credibility of the fractured opposition to Assad and drawn battle lines among once-allied rebel forces.

As a result, that likely has boosted Assad’s confidence to resist yielding at the negotiating table, according to a second senior State Department official who spoke Monday on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate discussions more candidly. The official also accused the Islamic State of Iraq of helping Assad — knowingly or not — by hobbling the moderate rebel groups and diverting aid and focus from the battle against his ruling government.

Al-Qaida linked militant groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Jabhat al-Nusra, are now some of the most powerful factions in Syria. Some experts and more moderate rebels blame the growth of al-Qaida linked militants in Syria on meagre foreign aid — both money and arms — to moderate rebel groups.

U.S. officials have argued it is difficult to identify moderate rebel groups and ensure that the weapons they are supplied with will not fall into al-Qaida hands.

And moderate groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, a loose coalition of rebel brigades, are in disarray. Last week, 65 rebel groups, including many linked to the FSA, announced they would not recognize the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition in what was widely seen as a rebuke to the West for failing to send more support.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday said the moderate Syrian groups need to be reassured that they have Western backing and “we will continue to help them in many ways.”

“This is the only way in the end to solve this tragic and bloody conflict in Syria,” Hague said. He also told the BBC that the longer the conflict drags on, the more sectarian it becomes, noting: “I am in no way glossing over or minimizing the danger of extremism taking hold.”

Several Sunni-led Mideast nations, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have filled the void with aid to Syrian’s Sunni-dominated rebel groups. But that also has led to questions over whether some of that assistance has fallen into extremist hands — a charge that Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah tersely denied.

“Talking about us supporting radical groups or extremist groups, this cannot be true in any way when we’re working with allies closely,” al-Attiyah said Monday night.

It’s also feared that Assad’s recent willingness to let UN inspectors examine his government’s chemical weapons stockpile — a cache that earlier this year he denied even existed — has helped his own credibility and worldwide image. In an interview Monday, Assad questioned the legitimacy of the opposition and said the factors needed for a proposed peace conference to succeed do not yet exist.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

Bharat Masrani, CEO, TD Bank Group speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

Shares in metals and mining companies have rebounded sharply

A worker carrying a disinfectant sprayer walks past a WestJet Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft, after cleaning another plane at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
WestJet to lay off undisclosed number of pilots amid labour negotiations

Layoff notices to go out ahead of the expiration of a memorandum of agreement

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday Service, in Abbotsford, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. A legal advocacy group challenging British Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests is scheduled to be in court today arguing for the church and others that COVID-19 restrictions violate their charter rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Churches in court to challenge British Columbia’s COVID-19 health orders

Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities in the province

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson makes a shot against Team Alberta as second Shannon Birchard, right, and lead Briane Meilleur sweep in the semi-final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Kerri Einarson wins second straight Canadian women’s curling championship

Einarson and her teammates celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
With loved ones and pets, Globes winners embrace cozier show

Nicole Kidman and musician-husband Keith Urban got glammed up to sit on their couch

The cast of “Schitt’s Creek” pose for a photo after winning the Award for Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on March 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Schitt’s Creek nabs two Golden Globes for its final season

Catherine O’Hara named best television actress in a musical or comedy

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Most Read