ANKARA Turkey is ready to accept a political transition in Syria in which President Bashar al-Assad stays in symbolic power for six months before leaving office, and is discussing the plan with Western allies, two senior government officials said on Tuesday.
NATO member Turkey has long been one of Assad's fiercest critics, insisting that no lasting peace can be achieved in Syria without his removal from power.
"Work on a plan for Assad's departure is under way ... (Assad) can stay for six months and we accept that because there will be a guarantee of his departure," one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We have moved forward on the issue to a certain degree with the United States and our other allies. There is not an exact consensus on when the six-month period would begin, but we think it won’t be too long."
The United States will put the proposal to Russia, one of the Turkish officials said, but it was not clear whether Moscow would entertain the idea. Three weeks ago, Russia launched air strikes in support of Assad against insurgents fighting him.
European nations have struggled to find a common position on the role Assad should play in the solution of the Syrian crisis. France is keen to see Assad go as soon as possible, while Germany would prefer to have him involved in the transitional phase before he quits.
Britain wants Assad to leave power "at some point" as part of any deal by world powers to end the four-year-old conflict, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Tuesday.
Assad said in an interview with Iranian television aired on Oct. 4 that it was not up to any foreign official to decide Syria's future, including any transitional period mooted.
"The future political system, and which individuals govern Syria, this is a decision for the Syrian people. That's why these statements don't concern us," he said.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Mark Heinrich)