Clemency deal for Assad in the works?
There is no doubt that offering safe passage and clemency to Syrian President Bashar Assad in order to get him to attend a conference on political transition in Syria would be an odious deal. Assad has the blood of thousands on his hands and most would say he belongs in a war crimes court rather than basking in a luxurious exile.
But if Russia's Vladmir Putin says its ok, I guess that just about seals the deal.
Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage - and even clemency - as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria.
The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia's President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.
A senior British official said: "Those of us who had bilaterals thought there was just enough out of those meetings to make it worth pursuing the objective of negotiating a transitional process in Syria."
With daily reports of civilian deaths and the conflict apparently taking on an increasingly sectarian hue, Britain is willing to discuss giving clemency to Assad if it would allow a transitional conference to be launched. He could even be offered safe passage to attend the conference.
One senior UK official said: "It is hard to see a negotiated solution in which one of the participants would be willing voluntarily to go off to the international criminal court." It was stressed Cameron had not made a final decision on the matter.
During talks at the G20, British and American officials were convinced Putin was not wedded to Assad remaining in power indefinitely, although even this limited concession is disputed in Moscow.
On the basis of these discussions, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will now seek to persuade the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.
Is it worth letting Assad off the hook if that means saving many thousands of lives? Saleh is an old man and will not live much longer. But Assad is in his 40's and the probability of him living a long, healthy life outside of Syria is a little too much to bear.
What the offer of clemency shows is a lack of will on the part of the rest of the world to do what is necessary to topple the dictator. I'm not necessarily referring to military force or assassination. So far, the world's response to Assad's brutality has been timid, piecemeal, and ineffective. There are plenty of steps short of war that can be taken that would isolate Assad even more than he is now and bring down his economy so that even his erstwhile allies might be forced to take up arms against him.
But if giving him immunity is the only realistic way to get him out of power, so be it.