File - In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, speaks during an interview with a U.S. magazine, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.(AP Photo/SANA)
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BEIRUT: As the U.S. and Iran negotiate the final stages of a nuclear deal, they are still oceans apart on another area of conflict: the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad.Assad seems more likely to survive the Syrian crisis than at any point since it began four years ago. While the United States and his Arab enemies bomb the jihadis in the north and east, Assad and his allies have launched a major offensive against mainstream rebels and Islamists in an area of greater importance to them, the southern border zone near Israel and Jordan. In Damascus, observers close to the government see this as the start of a phase that will end the conflict on Assad's terms.A senior U.S. State Department official said support provided to Assad by backers including Iran had allowed him to avoid a negotiated end to the conflict, and described Iran's role as "destructive".It seems unlikely to end Assad's pariah status in the West and among his Arab enemies.Assuming the army and allied militia win, the battle against the insurgents in the southern border zone would eliminate one of the last big threats to Assad.Assad says he is already being kept abreast of the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria via third parties including Iraq.
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