WASHINGTON – The Obama administration estimates that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime may fall soon. “I am stunned at how fast this is moving, and how fast Assad is falling,” a senior US official told the Washington Post.
The official, who helps coordinate US policy toward Syria, said the White House hopes that Russia — recognizing how quickly Assad’s position is deteriorating — won’t oppose a UN resolution calling for Assad to step down and hand powers to his deputy.
The draft proposal is aimed at halting Assad's deadly crackdown against anti-government demonstrators.
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Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the newspaper that “Assad’s fall is inevitable. It’s clear his regime is no longer in full control of the country and only continues to take Syria toward a dangerous end.”
According to reports, the Syrian army has pulled some of its soldiers out of opposition hotbeds such as Homs, Hama and Idlib in order to reinforce security in Damascus.
Moscow, presented with the Arab League-backed draft resolution that Washington and Paris endorse, demanded that any text rule out foreign intervention and warned it would veto an "unacceptable" resolution.
'These are tough issues.' Rice (L) with Clinton (Photo: MCT)
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members, stand in the way of a Western push for a resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on unrest.
On Wednesday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Security Council members must move quickly and decide whether they side with the Syrian people, or with what she called Assad's "brutal" dictatorship.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said Thursday, “I think we have a much better understanding of what we need to do to reach consensus,” while American envoy Susan Rice said the call for Assad to step down remained “one of the more difficult issues.”
“There’s no certainty. These are tough issues,” she added.
The Washington Post said that according to the latest US intelligence reports, 300 Syrian army soldiers defected earlier this week in the Damascus suburb of Jisrine, and 50 more defected in the town of Rsatan and dozens in other suburbs of Damascus.
The defectors joined the opposition force known as Free Syrian Army, an administration official told the newspaper, adding that the total number of defectors is now roughly 7,000 to 10,000.
The US official said the defectors are hardly a match for the 300,000-man Syrian army. In addition to the defectors, there are perhaps 15,000 Syrian soldiers who have fled their units and are taking refuge in Jordan, Turkey or Syrian hideouts, he said.
NSC spokesman Vietor said, "Assad is running out of money to continue financing his crackdown and has turned to Syria’s only ally left, Iran, for help, as evidenced by (Qassim) Suleimani’s recent visit to Damascus." Suleimani heads Iran's Quds Force, a special unit within the Revolutionary Guard.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius quoted an American official as saying that alongside their support for Assad, the Iranians have also opened secret contacts with the opposition.
"The Iranians appear to be hedging their bets, and may even offer the opposition limited money and weapons. Such an effort to back two sides at once would be characteristic of Suleimani, who employed similar tactics in Iraq in his role as chief of Iranian covert action," the official said.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Moscow will not stop selling weapons to Assad's regime.
Reuters contributed to the report
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