Wednesday, May 23, 2018

U.N. envoy looks for deal with U.S., Russia to oust Assad

DUBLIN — With the support of the United States, the U.N. special envoy on Syria is mounting a diplomatic push for a brokered agreement that would lead to the ouster of the country's president, Bashar Assad, and the installation of a transitional government.

The envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, convened an unusual three-way meeting Thursday night at a Dublin hotel with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.

After the 40-minute meeting, Brahimi said his goal was to "put together a peace process" that would build on discussions that the United States and Russia had in June but which quickly collapsed.

Brahimi and senior U.S. and Russian officials plan to meet again in several days to see if they can agree on specifics of a negotiating approach that might end the 20-month conflict, which has killed more than 40,000 Syrians.

With Assad's fortunes looking bleaker and persistent worries that the Syrian leader is considering using his chemical arsenal, the hope on the U.S. side was that the Russians might throw their weight behind Brahimi's effort.

The United States is trying to shape and broaden the Syrian opposition so that it can play a major role in a political transition should Assad be driven from power. Clinton has hinted that the United States will recognize the Syrian opposition as the legitimate political representative of the Syrian people at a meeting next week in Marrakech, Morocco — assuming that the opposition continues to flesh out its organization and political structure.

The focus of Thursday night's talks, on the margins of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was how "to put together a peace process that will be based on Geneva," Brahimi said, referring to June's Geneva discussions between the Russians and the United Nations that collapsed. The United States had thought those talks would lead to Assad's relinquishing power.

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