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Reports: West may offer Syria's Bashar Assad immunity if he gives up power

SANA via EPA, file

Syrian President Bashar Assad is accompanied by his wife Asma while casting his vote during a referendum on a new constitution on Feb. 26 in in Damascus.

The U.S. and U.K. are considering letting Syria’s President Bashar Assad have immunity from prosecution if he agrees to relinquish power, according to reports.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was aiming to convince former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to host a peace conference to discuss the idea further.

The paper said Yemen President Ali Saleh’s departure from power – in which he was given immunity from prosecution despite the killing of civilians – was seen as a potential model.

The Telegraph newspaper said Assad would be given safe passage to Switzerland to take part in the peace talks under the plan.

The paper said British officials believed it was “worth having a go” with the idea, but added that a well-placed British government source admitted it was a “very optimistic” scenario.

'Transitional process'
The plan was drawn up following bilateral talks between the U.S./U.K. and Russia at the G-20 meeting in Mexico, where the British source said Russian president Vladimir Putin had “indicated that they were not hooked on Assad staying in power indefinitely."

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“Of course they go on to say that it’s not up to the international community to decide. But those of us who had bilaterals with Putin thought there was just enough out of these meetings to make it worth pursuing the objective of negotiating some sort of transitional process in Syria,” the source added, according to The Telegraph.

The Telegraph said the official was asked if this might involve immunity for Assad.  “It is hard to see a negotiated solution in which one of the participants agrees voluntarily to go to the International Criminal Court,” the source replied.

The paper said Western officials hoped the peace talks in Switzerland would take place in “the next few weeks.” The summit would be attended by Assad or other Syrian government officials, opposition figures, U.N. Security Council members, and other countries such as Turkey, Saudia Arabia and possibly Iran.

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 “The Russians argue that the Iranians should be invited,” the British source said, according to The Telegraph. “As far as we are concerned, the answer is no. We have no illusions: it could capsize just on whether Iran is invited or not, but it is worth a try given the gravity of events.”

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A U.K. Foreign Office said in an email sent to msnbc.com and other media that the British government was continuing “to do everything we can to bring an end to the violence in Syria.”

“If Assad accepts a political transition then there is a range of options that could be considered, but there is no new offer, and the longer the killing goes on, the fewer options Assad will have,” the statement said.

“The details of any transition need to be agreed, including with the Syrian opposition, and we will continue to collect evidence so there can be no expectation on the part of those killing that they can avoid justice and accountability,” it added.

However, a Foreign Office spokesman told msnbc.com that the U.K. would not be able to intervene if Assad was given a safe haven by another country.

AFP - Getty Images

Damage and destruction litter a street in the battered city of Qusayr, southwest of Homs in western Syria, on Wednesday.

As the diplomats looked for a solution to the crisis, the death toll continued to mount Thursday.

Activists told The Associated Press that two people were killed during the shelling of rebel-held areas in the city of Homs. 

PhotoBlog: Syrian army shells Homs and Qusayr

Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, warned on Tuesday that time was running out for the current U.N.-backed peace process for Syria.

"The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) remains gravely concerned about the intensification of violence and rising death toll, as well as continued human rights abuses and unmet humanitarian needs," Fernandez-Taranco said, according to Reuters.

UN suspends Syria monitoring due to rising violence

Ban said last month that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the Syria conflict, but U.N. diplomats say the actual number is likely much higher. 

"The situation in Homs is particularly alarming," Fernandez-Taranco told the 15-nation Security Council during a discussion on the Middle East, Reuters reported. "The tragic human suffering from the escalating conflict calls for urgent and concerted efforts to avoid a full-scale civil war." 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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