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Syrian ambassador's defection boosts idea of booting Assad, keeping others

The defection of two top Syrian officials, including the ambassador to Iraq, is prompting foreign policy experts to explore the idea of removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but keeping lower level officials.

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Syria's ambassador to Iraq Nawah Fares announces his resignation and decision to join the opposition forces against President Bashar al-Assad from an undisclosed location, in this still image taken from video footage on July 11. Fares defected on July 11, in protest over Assad's violent suppression of a 16-month uprising as the UN Security Council remained deadlocked over the next steps in the crisis.

Al-Jazeera via Reuters TV/Reuters

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Recent defections of high-profile officials from the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are boosting an idea for change in Syria that until now has received little attention: focus on removing Assad but not the entire Syrian government.

In other words, instead of going for full regime change – which could result in a dangerous vacuum in a volatile region – or incorporating Mr. Assad into a political transition, which the opposition would never accept, the international community would work for the departure of Assad, but not all of the existing government and military.

The idea that driving a wedge between Assad and his government could work where other approaches have not in nearly a year and a half of conflict is gaining new stature after the defection of a senior Syrian diplomat and of a general with long ties to Assad.

This week Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, announced he was quitting his post and renouncing his membership in Assad’s Baath Party. Mr. Fares said he made his decision because the Assad regime “has turned into an instrument to kill people and their aspiration to freedom,” and he urged other party members to “follow my path.”

Last week a general from Syria’s elite Republican Guard, Manaf Tlass, renounced his post, causing a huge stir because he is the son of a former defense minister.

A “third way” of neither full regime change nor accommodation of Assad should be considered, supporters of the approach say, because it has the potential of answering the doubts that they say have discouraged more robust international intervention in Syria.

Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international relations at George Washington University, says that getting rid of Assad but not of the entire regime should mitigate concerns about bloody retribution in the event of regime change, or about Syria’s chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of anti-Western groups.

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