Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was unlikely to be able to stay in power, a senior NATO official said Friday, a day after a top Russian diplomat reportedly said that the Syrian opposition’s uprising might succeed.
“You may say I am maybe assuming that Assad will disappear. I tend to believe that this is indeed the case," Knud Bartels, a Danish general who chairs NATO's Military Committee, said in Moscow, Reuters has reported.
He said NATO was drafting plans for safeguarding Syria's chemical weapons stockpile if Assad stepped down or was ousted from power.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov Thursday said Assad’s regime was losing its control in Syria.
“We have to face up to reality: The trend is that the Syrian regime, the government is increasingly losing control, losing more and more territory,” Bogdanov told the Public Chamber, the legislative oversight body in the Russian government, in Moscow, according to Russian media reports. “Sadly, a victory by the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.”
His comments followed the U.S. decision to formally recognize the recently formed coalition of the Syrian rebels as the “legitimate representative” of the people, in a departure from Washington’s earlier stance that the coalition needed to demonstrate its influence on the ground before being granted the recognition.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had also said he believed the Syrian regime was "approaching collapse.”
The U.S. Thursday responded to the reports of Bogdanov’s comments saying Russia was “waking up to the reality.”
"We want to commend the Russian government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime's days are numbered," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing. "The question now is, will the Russian government join those of us in the international community who are working with the opposition to try to have a smooth democratic transition?"
However, Russia's Foreign Ministry denied any change in Moscow’s policy on Syria while saying that Bogdanov was referring to the claims of the “Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors forecasting their quick victory over the regime in Damascus.”
"We have never changed our position and we will not change it," Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news conference, Reuters has reported. He added that Russia was not involved in any talks on Assad's fate or on getting him out of Syria.
Meanwhile, NATO is preparing to send a Patriot missile defense system to neighboring Turkey after a request made at a meeting in Brussels last week, CNN has reported.