The U.S. and Russia have come to an agreement on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report in the London-based international Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
The newspaper quoted Syrian opposition officials as saying that the U.S. and Russia had told Syrian government representatives that Assad had only two options: either to step down willingly, in which case his family and inner circle would be granted international asylum, or to face a transfer of power to be negotiated without him, in which case his family and entourage would receive no protection.
Without asylum, Assad and his Alawite regime members would be tried by a newly formed government for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They could also face other violent reprisals by the rebels the regime has tried to squash for the past 20 months.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow would welcome any country's offer of a safe haven for Assad, but emphasized that Moscow itself has no intention of providing shelter should he step down.
Russia, along with China, has repeatedly used its veto right at the U.N. Security Council to protect its old ally from international sanctions, but it has increasingly sought to distance itself from Assad in recent months.
Lavrov told reporters late on Friday that certain countries in the region, which he would not name publicly, had asked Russia to offer safe passage to Assad. Russia responded by telling the countries’ representatives to go directly to Assad, Lavrov said.
"We replied, `What do we have to do with it? If you have such plans, you go straight to him,'" Lavrov told reporters on a plane returning from Brussels, where he had attended a Russia-EU summit.
Asked if Moscow would offer a refuge to Assad, Lavrov replied, "Russia has publicly said that it doesn't invite President Assad ... If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome. We would be the first to cross ourselves and say, 'Thank God, the carnage is over.' If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain."
Lavrov also said the Syrian government had concentrated its chemical weapons in one or two locations, moving them from several arsenals across the country, to keep them safe amidst the rebel onslaught.
"According to the information we have, as well as the data of U.S. and European intelligence services, the [Syrian] government is doing everything to secure it [the chemical weapons stockpile]," Lavrov said. "The Syrian government has concentrated the stockpiles in one or two centers, unlike in the past, when they were scattered across the country."
U.S. intelligence says the Assad regime may be preparing the chemical weapons and may even be desperate enough to use them. Both Israel and the U.S. have also expressed concerns that the weapons could fall into terrorists' hands if the regime crumbled.
Lavrov gave no indication that Moscow would change its opposition to sanctions against Assad. He assailed the West for failing to persuade the opposition forces to sit down for peace talks with the government, saying, "The Syrian president's head is more important for them than saving human lives."
Lavrov added that the U.N. peace envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, would visit Moscow for talks before the year's end. Moscow has also invited the revamped Syrian opposition leadership to visit.
"We are ready to honestly explain that the emphasis on a military solution and the dismantling of the state institutions is disastrous for the country," Lavrov said. "Listen, there will be no winner in this war."