US unsure of Assad quitting

US believes sooner Assad exits, quicker Syria will recover

The United States expressed deep skepticism Tuesday about suggestions by Syria's deputy prime minister that the regime was open to discussing Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's resignation.

"We saw the reports of the press conference that the deputy prime minister gave. Frankly, we didn't see anything terribly new there," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said after talks in Moscow Tuesday that Syria was ready to discuss anything in negotiations -- even Assad's resignation.

"As far as his resignation goes -- making the resignation itself a condition for holding dialogue means that you will never be able to reach this dialogue," he said.

But Jamil added: "Any problems can be discussed during negotiations. We are even ready to discuss this issue."

The United States has said for the past several weeks that it wants to speed Assad's departure.

"The Syrian government knows what it needs to do, and the Russian government, as you know, joined us in Geneva in setting forth a very clear transition plan," Nuland said.

She added the Russians should encourage the Assad regime "to start now to be following through on a transition plan, but, you know, there's no need to complicate it, as the deputy prime minister appeared to do there."

"Obviously, the longer this goes on, the harder it is, but we still believe that the faster Assad goes, the more chance there is to quickly move on to the day after," she said.

The US has so far declined to intervene militarily in Syria.

But on Monday, President Barack Obama warned the Syrian regime that using or moving its chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and could open the way for a military response.

Washington's support for the rebels so far has been limited to giving 900 sets of communication gear to Syrian rebels through its nonlethal assistance program and dipping into a $25 million fund "to run training programs for a broad cross-section of activists," Nuland said.

The State Department also expressed deep concern over the violence in northern Lebanon, which Nuland said was part of "the spillover effect from what's going on in Syria."

At least five people were killed and 43 wounded in clashes between pro- and anti-Damascus regime supporters in the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Tuesday, security and army officials said.

The fighting erupted late on Monday in Tripoli -- hostile to Assad's regime, and a community of Alawites, to which the Syrian leader belongs.


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