BEIRUT President Bashar al-Assad could seek to establish an enclave for his Alawite sect if he cannot keep control of the whole of war-torn Syria, an outcome that would be the "worst case scenario" for its neighbors, King Abdullah of Jordan has said.
Any such move could prompt decades of further problems for the region, King Abdullah told U.S. broadcaster CBS.
"I have a feeling that if he can't rule greater Syria then maybe an Alawi enclave is plan B," King Abdullah said in an interview published on the channel's website on Tuesday.
"That would be, I think for us, the worst case scenario because that means then the breakup of greater Syria, and that means that everybody starts land grabbing, which makes no sense to me. If Syria then implodes on itself that would create problems that would take us decades to come back from," he said.
The rebellion against Assad's rule is predominantly made up of Sunni Muslims who form the majority of Syria's population. The Alawites are a minority sect whose beliefs are an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
King Abdullah, whose mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom borders Syria to the south, forecast that Assad would not give ground. His administration has deployed military force in an effort to crush the uprising, drawing on air power and heavy artillery.
"I think that in his mentality he is going to stick to his guns. He believes that he is in the right. I think that the regime feels that it has no alternative but to continue," Abdullah said.
He added: "I don't think it's just Bashar, it's not the individual, it's the system of the regime. So if Bashar was to exit under whatever circumstances, does whoever replaces him have the ability to reach out and transform Syria politically?
"So for Bashar at the moment, if I am reading the way he is thinking, he is going to do what he is going to do indefinitely."
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Patrick Graham and Roger Atwood)