Putin To Kerry: Assad Must Stay For Vote

Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State that Syrian leader Bashar Assad must stay on and be part of open elections, source close to last month’s talks have said.

Kerry had moved from the long-standing American position that Assad must step down from power before free elections were held, even going so far as to say that the U.S. no longer sough “regime change” in Syria. That switch led to a U.N. resolution days later, setting a road map for an eventual peaceful end to the nearly five-year-old civil war in the Middle Eastern country.

According to two people intimately familiar with the talks and speaking on the condition of anonymity to Bloomberg News, Putin told Kerry that not only would Assad stand in the elections, he would win if he runs.

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Syrian president Bashar Assad

While Kerry didn’t agree, the U.S. is already pushing to set the terms of the 2017 ballot in ways that would reduce Assad’s chances of victory. This includes making sure the millions who have fled war-torn Syria have a chance to vote in the elections.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov flatly denied the Bloomberg report, calling it “untrue.” Peskov did admit the situation in Syria was talked about between the two leaders.

The U.S. position remains that “Assad must go” because he’s lost the moral credibility to govern his country, said State Department spokesman Eddie Vasquez, when asked if the Obama administration could envisage the Syrian leader competing in an election.

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