Syria deal hopes fading

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) speaks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2nd L) at the start of a crisis meeting on Syria on 30 June 2012 at the United Nations office in Geneva. (Photo: AFP – Fabrice Coffrini)

Published Saturday, June 30, 2012

Western diplomats dampened hopes that world powers meeting on Saturday would find a deal to salvage international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria.

Russia's foreign minister said on Friday he was optimistic about the talks, saying he believed they could produce an agreement whereby government troops and rebel forces would withdraw from cities, opening the path to a political transition.

But Britain and United States on Saturday appeared to dismiss such optimism, accusing Russia and China of being unwilling to compromise on their support for Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council states, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France, as well as regional powers Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait and Iraq, were meeting on Saturday afternoon.

A split between western powers and China and Russia emerged ahead of Saturday's meeting, over Moscow and Beijing's opposition to international envoy Kofi Annan's proposal on the composition of an interim Syrian government.

Annan's draft envisages power handed to an interim Syrian team that excludes those "whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation."

The wording appears to imply – without saying so directly – that Assad would have to relinquish his grip on power for the idea to succeed.

Taking a tough line with little room for compromise, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for the United Nations Security Council to start drafting a resolution next week setting out sanctions against Syria.

Hague, in a speech to a ministerial meeting in Geneva, also said Assad and his close associates could not lead a transition.

"The steps that we agree today and here I disagree with my (Russian) colleague Sergei Lavrov, will require swift endorsement from the UN Security Council in the form of a Chapter VII Resolution. Without that and the prospect of penalties for non-compliance, there can be little credible pressure on the Syrian regime and other parties to change course," Hague said.

Russia rejected the suggestion, insisting that Assad's fate "must be decided within the framework of a Syrian dialogue by the Syrian people themselves."

The US account of a meeting on the eve of Geneva talks between Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also appeared to suggest little agreement on the future of Assad.

A senior US State Department official noted some progress while conceding that "there were still areas of difficulty and difference" between the approaches of Russia and the United States.

"But out of respect to Kofi Annan, they agreed we should all go to Geneva tomorrow to try to produce a result," said the official.

Lavrov took another tack, saying he "detected a shift" in Washington's approach to ending the bloodshed that no longer involved a specific demand for Assad to leave.

"There were no ultimatums. Not a word was said about the document now being discussed in Geneva being completely untouchable," Lavrov told reporters in reference to wording that suggest no future role for Assad.

"I can confidently say that we have a very good chance tomorrow in Geneva to find a common denominator and mark a path forward," Lavrov added.

In an editorial published Saturday in Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Annan said that as the "conflict is between Syrians, it is up to the Syrians to resolve it.

"But it would be naive to think that they can, on their own, end the violence today and engage in a real political process."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

Comments

When Russia says Syrians should decide their leadership without outside interference, they mean they will continue supplying weapons and training to Assad's armies and irregulars, a condition that will only exacerbate the savageness of their clampdown.

If so, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will likely continue or increase their support for the armed opposition, FSA and Salafist militias, resulting in a prolonged conflict along sectsrian lines. This would be the worst and most dangerous outcome, threatening the sovereignty and integrity of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan directly, and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel in a larger conflagration.

Russian intransigence in relinquishing Assad works against Russian future interests in the region. The eventual emergence of a representative government in Syria will likely be led by majority Sunnis, and Russia should be loking beyond their enfant terrible who is willing to plunge the entire region into a sectarian war.

Assad and his cronies would be unacceptable to opposing parties.
If possible, all parties to the transitional government should find their representatives among responsible community and business interests that have a built-in interest in stability and avoidance of violence. It would be a mistake to man the transitional government with strongmen and militia leaders. Syria requires a swift transition from war back to compromise and negotiation if Syria is to escape catastrophe.

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