US denies Russia deal to let Bashar Al Assad remain if Iran leaves Syria

US focus in Syria remains on political transition, defeating ISIS and departure of Iran, senior official says

epa07570019 A handout photo made available by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar Assad chairing a cabinet meeting in Damascus, Syria, 14 May 2019.  EPA/SANA HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

The Trump administration on Monday denied that the US had a deal with Russia to legitimise Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in return for Moscow's help in curbing Iranian influence in Syria.

A senior US official flatly denied a report in the Arabic daily Asharq Al Awsat that said the US had been ready to recognise Mr Al Assad.

"There is no basis for this report and that is not US policy position," the official told The National.

The report on Sunday, quoting western diplomats, claimed that the US plan to lift sanctions on the Assad regime in return for Moscow's help in combating Iran's presence in Syria.

Discussions would take place at a security meeting between Israel, the US and Russia this month, the report said.

The US official insisted that after eight years of calling on Mr Al Assad to step down, Washington was not going to recognise him as leader.

He said that US discussions about the Syrian president were aimed at fulfilment of a UN Security Council resolution adopted in 2015.

The resolution calls for “an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, with a view to full implementation of the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012”.

The communique calls for inclusive talks, a new constitution and democratic elections in Syria.

The US official said the defeat of ISIS and the departure of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces from the country were part of Washington's strategy.

He said these goals would be discussed at the meeting hosted in Jerusalem this month. US National Security Adviser John Bolton along with his Israeli and Russian peers, Meir Ben-Shabbat and Nikolay Patrushev, will attend the meeting.

But tension appears to be escalating between Washington and Moscow over Syria. US President Donald Trump called on Russia and the Assad regime to halt their military offensive in Idlib.

“Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians," Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday.

"The world is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? Stop."

Israel carried out at least three air strikes inside Syrian territory in the past 48 hours, reportedly hitting regime and pro-Iranian military targets near Quneitra and in Homs.