The new Western tactic to creating an end to violence in Syria is, yet again, centered on ousting President Bashar al-Assad. Britain and the U.S. are ready to offer Assad clemency should he join a UN-sponsored conference on a power transfer.
In the follow-up to the G20 summit, the leading world powers have decided to convene in Geneva to discuss Syria's political future.
Besides the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, key players in the region like Turkey and Saudi Arabia are expected to join the talks. Iran, though, Syria’s main ally in the region, did not receive an invitation, despite Russia’s insistence.
Britain and the U.S., desperate to bring Assad to the negotiation table, are trying to lure him to the conference by offering clemency. The offer of clemency extends only to Assad and not the opposition representatives who will also join the talks. Though no charges have been brought against him, the president is considered to be the only man responsible for the violence in Syria.
However, should Assad accept the offer, the question remains: Who will fill the power vacuum if he steps down? There are thousands of tons of weapons on the ground in Syria and more than enough factions in the opposition that would like to seize the throne.
The Syrian leader must also consider what would happen to the sizable portion of Syrians who still support him. None of them have been offered the same clemency, and may become targets for brutal reprisal attacks during the carving of a Syrian pie.
Assad still has much legitimacy within Syria, with more than 50 percent of the population's support according to recent elections for the new Constitution and parliament.
|Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with U.S. President Barack Obama (R) during the G20 summit in Los Cabos June 18, 2012. REUTERS|
“What is happening in Syria is getting extremely sectarian,” said political analyst Roula Talj. “Massacres are being carried out against Assad’s forces, as well as Christians and Alawites – or indeed any citizen who is in favor of Assad.”
Assad is not likely to give up his power the way the West wants him to, and with so much support, he has a good chance of being reelected during the next presidential elections in 2013, Talj said.
Although Russia strongly supports political dialogue and all efforts to stop the violence in Syria, it maintains that it is up for the Syrian people to decide the future of the country. No one can prejudge for the Syrians what the outcome of the political dialogue would be, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told RT, reiterating President Vladimir Putin’s statements at the G20 summit.
According to Lavrov, UK PM David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama said "President Bashar Al-Assad must go and external players must develop a transition plan for the Syrians to agree” upon. “We expressed our position that we cannot accept a policy which would aim at changing regimes from the outside.”
Putin on Syria: No state can decide another's government
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s G20 statements about Syria's future seem to have made some world leaders rush to false conclusions.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed that during the G20 summit, President Putin shifted his position and now wants President Bashar al-Assad out of power in Syria.
"There remain differences over sequencing and the shape of how the transition takes place, but it is welcome that President Putin has been explicit that he does not want Assad remaining in charge in Syria," Cameron told reporters at a news conference in the wake of the G20 summit in Mexico's Los Cabos.
"What we need next is an agreement on a transitional leadership which can move Syria to a democratic future that protects the rights of all its communities," Cameron added.
Cameron’s statement was refuted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as “not corresponding to reality.”
During his speech, Putin clearly stated that no nation has a right to decide for another on “who should be brought to power and who should be ousted.”
While many of the Syrian people indeed would like President Assad to go, "this is not the whole Syrian people," Putin said. All conflicting parties in Syria should cease violence and start negotiations “to agree in advance on how they will live together in a single country,” Putin added.
On Monday, on the sidelines of the summit, Putin had a long meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. The presidents found at least some common ground and stated that they had agreed that they need to see a “cessation of the violence,” in Syria and that a“political process has to be created to prevent civil war.” There was no mention of any tougher sanctions on Syria or a reiteration of demands that Assad should step down at that point.
However, on Tuesday, the two states have divided in opinion again. Speaking at the summit, Obama clearly ruled out any possibility of Assad staying in power in Syria, as he has “lost all legitimacy” in Washington's view. Obama confirmed that despite the intensive talks, neither Russia nor China have agreed to any plan that includes the removal of Assad from power.
“It’s my personal belief, and I’ve shared this with them, is that I don’t see a scenario in which Assad stays and violence is reduced,” he said. “But I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war."
Earlier, the chief U.N. monitor for Syria told the Security Council that his military observers were repeatedly targeted by hostile crowds and gunfire at close range last week before his decision to suspend operations, U.N. diplomats said.
An op-ed from RT quoting a Jordanian UN observer in Syria said the observer has discovered that the head of the United Nations Surveillance Mission (UNSMIS) in the country is actually a spy. The monitor claims General Robert Mood is gathering critical coordinates and visiting military bases for his own purposes. The claims have appeared in Syrian state media, indicating that security circles have signaled their consent to publication in Damascus.
Separately, a cargo ship off the British coast carrying weapons bound for Syria has apparently turned back towards Russia, Britain's Foreign Secretary said, calling again for a halt to arms shipments to Assad. The Curacao-flagged cargo ship Alaed, last seen off the north-west coast of Scotland this week, was believed to carrying Russian weaponry to Syria, according to an insurer that said it had withdrawn coverage for the vessel.
CIA reportedly arming rebels along Syrian border
American secret service operatives are distributing illegal assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers and other ammunition to Syrian opposition, the New York Times reports.
The paper reports that for weeks now, officers based in southeast Turkey have supervised the flow of illegal arms to numerous opposition factions ready to fight the regime of President Assad. The only problem is some of the rebel groups have links with terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, so the CIA mission must be careful not to arm proven terrorists by mistake.
Expenses for the Syrian border missions are reportedly shared by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The NYT source, an unnamed Arab intelligence official, revealed that American officers are also collecting information on Syrian opposition groups and recruiting informants. The source said the Obama administration is considering sharing its intelligence data with the rebels.
The operatives also might be helping the rebels with organizing a rudimentary intelligence organization, the report said. The CIA agents have reportedly not set foot on Syrian soil, however.
Prior to the report about CIA officers operating on the Turkish-Syrian border, the Obama administration’s declared policy on the conflict in Syria centered on diplomacy and humanitarian aid; a total of $15 million in medical supplies and communication equipment for armed opposition groups in Syria has been reportedly given.
In the meantime it seems the Pentagon is considering various options for interference in the Syrian conflict, including establishing no-fly zones over the country, as was done in Libya a year ago.
American and Israeli generals are also concerned with securing alleged stockpiles of Syrian chemical weapons, the existence of which has never been proven.
_ TAAN, RT, REUTERS, Al- Akhbar