Meeting on post-Al Assad Syria starts

The two-day meeting is being hosted in London and will include experts, academics, and opposition groups

Gulf News

London: Britain will host a two-day international meeting to plan for the period after Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s “inevitable” departure starting on Wednesday, the UK’s Foreign Office said on Tuesday.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, and delegates will include Syria experts, academics in post-conflict stabilisation, representatives of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) opposition group and other agencies.

The gathering highlights jitters over the shape of a post-Al Assad Syria, and experts fear regional and sectarian rivalries could extend the bloodshed and destabilise other countries in the strategically sensitive and volatile region.

“Aim is to galvanise planning for political transition in Syria,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Twitter.

“[Al] Assad’s departure from power is inevitable. Vital that international community plans ahead for the day after in Syria,” he said.

Hague, along with other Western leaders, dismissed a defiant speech by Al Assad on Sunday, which the Syrian president billed as a peace plan but in which he rejected talks with his opponents. Rebels described the speech as a renewed declaration of war.

While many experts say Al Assad’s removal is all but certain, there is no sign his rule will end soon. Rebels are edging closer to the centre of the capital Damascus, but Al Assad still has backing from powerful allies Russia, China and Iran.

More than 60,000 people have died in the uprising which has developed into a civil war since it erupted in March 2011, the United Nations said last week.

Foreign ministers and SNC chief Muath Al Khatib are not expected to attend the talks. The meeting is not open to reporters, and the conclusions are expected to be published in a closing communique.