Biden to Meet Syrian Opposition Leader
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will meet Syrian opposition chief Mouaz al-Khatib Saturday to discuss U.S. concerns in the conflict, as well as humanitarian assistance and “non-lethal” support. Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser, said the U.S. is “focused on supporting an end to the Assad regime,” and reaffirmed American support for the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). The meeting will be the highest-level talks between U.S. officials and the Syrian opposition to date, and comes after recent statements by President Obama questioning the outcome of American intervention in the conflict.
Biden also planned to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss Syria and arms control issues. Rhodes said the talks would explore a “political way forward” and that the U.S. wants Russia to acknowledge the need for Assad to leave and for a transition to a new government. While the opposition said al-Khatib would also be meeting with Lavrov and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, both Russian and the U.N. officials said that wider talks were not planned, but could occur. The proposed talks came a day after departing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Russia for continuing “to supply financial and military assistance” to Assad’s government.
Haaretz reported that Moscow’s support for Assad is crumbling, citing recent statements made by Lavrov and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev distancing Russia from Assad’s government. Medvedev said on Monday that it was not Russia’s goal to preserve the regime or Assad, saying “that decision has to be made by the Syrian people.” Sharif Nashashibi of Al Arabiya News writes that these and other statements indicate a significant shift and signals a pivot away from Assad. One high-level SNC member hinted that the shift may allow Russia to become involved in the transition, saying “I think Russia warmed to the meeting after Alkhatib’s proposal (to talk to Syria officials)…”