MESOP : OBAMA’S DECISION ON ASSAD (FACING PUTIN) – U.S. Rules Out Working With Syria’s Assad to Counter al Qaeda

 By Adam Entous – WALL STREET JOURNAL –  7-8-2014 – The Obama administration has ruled out the possibility of working with the Assad regime in Syria to counter the threat posed by al Qaeda-linked militants, rebuffing suggestions that the U.S. might have to consider a counter-terrorism partnership with the regime.

Two senior White House officials, Ben Rhodes and Jake Sullivan, dismissed chances of such a partnership last week during a closed-door meeting at the White House with Syrian opposition leaders and a defector who is code-named Caesar, according to meeting participants. A former Syrian military police photographer, Caesar smuggled a trove of gruesome photographs out of the country showing the bodies of thousands of Syrians whom U.S. and international investigators believe were tortured to death in Syrian prisons.

Some officials in the Obama administration have suggested privately that now might be the time to consider cooperating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to counter al Qaeda-linked fighters who have seized large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory, according to current and former officials. Some former officials have publicly floated the idea that an Assad government is not the worst option in Syria, given the extremist-dominated opposition.

President Barack Obama has called on Mr. Assad to step aside and has promised to step up military aid to the moderate Syrian opposition, though rebel leaders say U.S. support has been too small in scale to make a difference on the battlefield where they are fighting a two-front war against the Assad regime and Islamists.During the meeting with Caesar and other opposition leaders, the two White House officials said that under no circumstances would the U.S. work with the Assad regime to counter al Qaeda-linked groups, according to Mouaz Moustafa, head of the anti-regime Syrian Emergency Task Force and Caesar’s translator during the White House meeting.

Mr. Rhodes also told the group that a “dramatic” increase in U.S. military support to the moderate operation was in the works, referring to a $500 million military train-and-equip program which awaits congressional approval. Mr. Rhodes said during the meeting that he was optimist Congress would pass the program, Mr. Moustafa said. Congressional officials said the proposed Pentagon program would be small in scale and would not start until sometimes next year at the earliest. A White House official declined to comment on what officials said during the closed door meeting but confirmed that the administration was not considering working with the Assad regime on counterterrorism efforts.