What does a 'Syrian-led transition' look like?

Syrian government forces are martyrs, Faisal Mekdad told Lyse Doucet

The new buzz word when it comes to finding a political way out of Syria's crisis is "transition". That's what major external actors including the United States and Russia talked about when they met in Geneva last spring - "a Syrian-led transition".

The problem is, no-one agrees on what it means and where it goes.

For the Syrian opposition and their backers, it's clear - President Bashar al-Assad must go, as soon as possible. Talk to President Assad's advisors and allies, he is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Here in Damascus, I've been speaking to a senior official doing a lot of his shuttle diplomacy, at least to Moscow and Tehran.

Not only did Syria's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Faisal Mekdad say President Assad would play a leading role in this transition, he insisted he would run in the next elections set for 2014.

For his opponents, that's preposterous, and totally unacceptable.

But a number of people who've recently spoken to the President say he's defiant, confident. He even told one visitor the situation was improving.

That's how he appeared in his rare televised address where he set out his initiative for a political way out.

His opponents describe him as delusional. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called his plan disappointing.

One Syrian official told me the president's harsh criticism of the opposition in that speech was addressed to those around him who want him to fight on, to crush rebels they dismiss as terrorists and foreign puppets.

In their eyes, even to talk, as the President Assad did, of a political solution and dialogue is a concession.

But the UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told me last week in an interview the "time of reforms granted magnanimously from above is past".

He called on President Assad to lead real change, not resist it. But he admitted that, right now, the government and the opposition were speaking "two totally different languages".

So, for now, the only transition Syria is making is moving ever more steadily towards greater destruction and death.

The rebels are advancing in many areas, including the suburbs of Damascus. But for now President Assad is staying put.

Lyse Doucet Article written by Lyse Doucet Lyse Doucet Chief international correspondent

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