U.S. President Barack Obama is working to convince Russia to join an effort to implement a Yemen-style transfer of power in war-torn Syria, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
According to Obama's reported plan, Syrian President Bashar Assad would step down from power, while several members of his regime would remain in office, as was the case with ousted Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh earlier this year.
To accomplish this, the U.S. president is reportedly seeking the aid of staunch Assad ally Russia, hoping to sway Moscow away from its total objection to the idea of regime change in Syria.
U.S. administration officials, speaking to the New York Times on condition of anonymity, said that Obama had already brought up the plan during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the Group of 8 meeting at Camp David last week, adding that Medvedev appeared receptive.
A senior official told the New York Times that during the meeting “Medvedev raised the example of Mubarak in a cage,” as a negative form of power transfer, to which Obama “countered with Yemen, and the indication was, yes, this was something we could talk about.”
However, while Medvedev did not outright reject the notion of a Yemen-style power transfer, the final say would have to be that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with which Obama will discuss the issue in a meeting planned for next month.
According to the New York Times Obama's National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, raised the plan with Mr. Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.
In addition, American officials told the Times that Russia would be allowed to retain its influence in post-Assad Syria, saying: “Look, we recognize that Russia wants to have a continued influence in Syria,” adding that the U.S. “interest is in stabilizing the situation, not eliminating Russian influence.”
Earlier Saturday, the international community forcibly criticized Assad's regime after the United Nations said that more than 92 people were killed in what activists described as an artillery barrage by government forces on the central Syrian town of Houla.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement, "Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account. The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the violence as a "massacre", and said he wanted to arrange a meeting in Paris of the Friends of Syria, a group that brings together Western and Arab countries keen to remove Assad.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was coordinating a "strong response" to the killings and would call for the Security Council to meet in the coming days.
In a statement, Arab League head Nabil Elaraby called the killing in Houla a "horrific crime", urging the UN Security Council - where Russia and China have protected Syria - to "stop the escalation of killing and violence by armed gangs and government military forces."