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Biden Says Syria’s Assad ‘Hellbent’ on Power, Must Go

Vice President Joseph Biden said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must relinquish power, as a top diplomat said the United Nations has to step into an expanding conflict that the warring parties can’t resolve.

“President Assad, a tyrant hellbent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people and he must go,” the U.S. vice president told an audience today at the Munich Security Conference in the Bavarian capital. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the conference late yesterday that the world body is the only institution that can end the conflict.

Biden made the remarks in Germany during a European trip, the first foreign tour of his second term. He then met with Brahimi as well as Moaz Al-Khatib, the head of an umbrella group trying to topple Syria’s regime, who said a no-fly zone or international military force may be needed in Syria. Western nations haven’t backed such a move.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also met with Khatib, who had requested the encounter, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry official who declined to be identified. Lavrov was receptive to comments made by Khatib yesterday that he was willing to negotiate with the Syrian regime. Lavrov offered further talks, in Moscow or elsewhere, the official said.

Rejects Force

Lavrov had earlier said that his country rejects any use of force or air support to create safe havens in Syria.

The Syrian regime has defied forecasts of imminent collapse, and no end to the conflict is in sight. The UN estimates more than 60,000 Syrians have been killed, and there is growing concern that chemical weapons may fall into terrorists’ hands.

Brahimi, underscoring his Jan. 29 report to the UN Security Council that Syria is unraveling, said that the council is “all that’s left” to resolve the turmoil. He sat on a panel in Munich beside Khatib, who told defense officials that while he was willing to negotiate, he would call for a military solution if all other avenues were exhausted.

Biden reiterated that the U.S. is throwing its weight behind the emerging opposition.

“The days ahead will continue to be very difficult, but the opposition continues to grow strong,” Biden said. “As the Syrian people have the chance to forge their own future, they will continue to find a partner in the United States.”

Islamist Fighters

What began as anti-government protests on the back of the Arab revolts two years ago has mutated into a fight to the death between an Alawite-led minority clinging to power and a Sunni- led opposition that counts Islamist fighters among its ranks.

“It’s such a difficult problem, because the regime has been there for so long and it takes for granted that their word is law,” Brahimi said. Khatib had a list of accusations, saying Assad had turned Syria into a “lake of blood.”

A year ago, Western leaders including then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron asserted Assad’s days were numbered.

Israeli jets struck inside Syria on Jan. 29, the first such attack since the unrest began. Syria said the target was a defense research center while a Western official said the warplanes hit Syrian trucks carrying anti-aircraft missiles for Lebanon’s Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

Earlier this week Brahimi offered UN Security Council diplomats the worst picture yet of Syria’s descent into chaos, leaving little doubt that diplomatic paths have been exhausted as the conflict drags on.

After the session in New York, he told reporters that Syria is being destroyed “bit by bit,” and the conflict is pushing the region into a situation that is “extremely bad and extremely important for the entire world.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Munich at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Tirone in Munich at jtirone@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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