Ending the crisis in Syria should not hinge on deciding the fate of President Bashar al Assad, UN secretary-general Ban Ki moon said on Wednesday.
Ahead of a new round of international talks on Syria in New York on Friday, Ban said disagreements on Assad’s future should not stand in the way of advancing prospects for peace.
“It is unacceptable that the whole Syrian crisis and the solution to the crisis has to be dependent on the fate of one man,” Ban told a news conference.
“That is unacceptable,” he repeated.
Foreign ministers from 17 countries including key players Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States are meeting in New York on Friday for a third round of talks on ending Syria’s nearly five-year war.
At the last round, the so-called International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed to UN-led peace talks and a ceasefire in January, and to put in motion a political transition within six months, leading to elections and a new constitution in 18 months.
Preparations for the talks and ceasefire are moving forward, but US ambassador Samantha Power said “the gaps are very real” over what role, if any, Assad will play in the new transitional government.
“We remain absolutely convinced that for as long as President Assad is in power, it is going to be extremely challenging to turn the country’s attention and the various armed groups’ attention to fighting terrorism and to fighting ISIL,” Power said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
The United States and its allies in the Gulf and in Europe are pushing for a transition that provides for Assad’s exit from power at some point, but Russia and Iran oppose that stance.
Ban indicated that countries involved in the international talks were showing flexibility, but stressed that there was no urgency to resolve the dispute.
“Some countries are expressing some nuanced positions. There may be some role or need for President Assad to stay for just limited months, but that will have to be decided later on,” he said.
More than 250,000 people have died since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011, and some 12 million more have fled their homes.