President Bashar Assad should remain in office to prevent Islamic extremists from taking power in Syria, told former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst.
“I think Russia is right on this very specific point that the only alternatives right now to Assad are Islamic extremists,” Herbst said on Thursday. “I think Assad is a tyrant, he is brutal, but he is not as bad as the Islamic extremists.”
Herbst stated he believed the US government had been “a little bit unrealistic” regarding the Assad regime, and Washington needed to adjust to acknowledge the Syrian government’s survival.
“I think Assad regime will have power in Syria for a while. It will be foolish for us to get rid of him because the only thing we would do if we got rid of him would be to allow Islamic extremists to come to power,” he maintained.
Herbst also noted that the United States and Russia had similar interests in Syria, and could cooperate.
“It may be possible to cooperate, but there is a very serious problem in this area, and that is, most of the Russian military activities are directed against not the Islamic extremists, but against the very weak forces that are supported by the United States,” he claimed.
However, if Russia stopped supporting military action against US-backed groups in Syria, the way would be open for greater cooperation between Washington and Moscow, Herbst maintained.
“If Russia were to stop doing that, I think it is possible for the United States and Russia to work together against ISIS [Daesh] against Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist Islamists,” he added.
Since the beginning of the Syria civil war more than five year ago, the United States and some of its allies have supported the allegedly moderate Syrian opposition, calling for Assad’s resignation, while Russia and Iran recognized Assad as the only legitimate Syrian authority.