Last Updated: Sun Jan 29, 2012 09:53 am (KSA) 06:53 am (GMT)

To stop the mayhem in Syria

Musa Keilani

Just as His Majesty King Abdullah said, nobody can see on the horizon an early end to the Syrian crisis. With Russia standing firm on its rejection of any effective international action to end the conflict in Syria, it is difficult to see an end soon to the 10-month-old revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Iran and Russia are continuing to provide arms to the Syrian regime and Moscow is blocking any UN Security Council decision to even criticise the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests.

Russia has many vested interests in Syria, which hosts the only Russian naval base outside Russian territory. Any regime change in Damascus would naturally mean that Russia loses the base. China, which has its own political and economic considerations, also opposes UN action in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed his country’s stand on Wednesday. This time around, he gave an added emphasis to Moscow’s rejection of “outside military intervention in the Syria crisis”.

Clearly, foreign military intervention is not at all the preferred option to end the crisis in Syria. If anything, such intervention will have major repercussions throughout the region and no one will be able to contain them.

Russian and US officials say they held talks in Moscow on how to stop the violence in Syria, which the UN says has killed more than 5,400 people since it erupted in March; other independent sources put the figure of casualties at over 10,000.

It is not clear what the talks produced. Russia and China are blocking Western attempts to have the UN Security Council formally condemn the Syrian regime’s crackdown on dissent and impose stiff sanctions if it refuses to enter direct talks with the opposition. Even if the Security Council adopts a resolution to this effect, it is highly unlikely to be accepted by the opposition if the sought-for deal implies a continued reign of the Assad regime.

Diplomats at the UN, European and Arab countries are reportedly in the process of drafting again a Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown, but the fate of the efforts remains uncertain because Russia and China have their reservations over such condemnation. The original draft of the new resolution reportedly “encourages all states to adopt similar steps (as Arab League sanctions on Syria” and urges all “to cooperate with the Arab member countries in the implementation of its measures”).

Lavrov has made it clear that Moscow would oppose any resolution hinting at sanctions against Syria.

The Arab League “observer” mission to Syria is at best a charade, since its members are not allowed to “observe” the realities on the ground. The Arab Gulf countries have already withdrawn their representatives from the mission, although the Arab League has extended the mission’s mandate until February 23.

By withdrawing from the mission, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries sent the emphatic message that they find the exercise senseless since the observers are allowed to see only what the Syrian regime wants them to see. That is why the GCC called on the UN Security Council to take “all needed measures” to press Syria to implement the Arab League decisions.

It was indeed naïve to expect the Syrian regime to accept the Arab League plan that was presented in December, calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from population centres, the protection of civilians, the release of prisoners and the launch of negotiations with the opposition on a peaceful transition of power.

The Damascus regime will not accept any move that could shake its absolute grip on power. If it engages the opposition in dialogue, then trust it to do so, many suspect, with a view to eliminating the opposition and not to entering a deal with it. The opposition leaders know it well and do not want anything to do with the regime. They only wish to see it step down.

In the face of these realities, and given that the Arab League mandate has failed and the UN is deadlocked, one can only expect further strife and bloodshed in Syria in the short term.

To save the people there two factors are needed: a miracle or a serious effort by the US to persuade Russia and China to forego their blind pro-Assad support and participate in Arab efforts to end the mayhem in Syria.

The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Jordan times on Jan 29, 2012

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