Last Updated: Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:15 am (KSA) 07:15 am (GMT)

What can the Gulf do for the Syrians?

Tariq Alhomayed

The Gulf ministerial meeting convenes early next week to discuss the Syrian crisis, after the failure to transfer the Arab decision to the Security Council, following the Russian and Chinese veto. The meeting comes at a time when Syria is witnessing an escalation in bloodshed at the hands of al-Assad’s forces, so what can the Gulf do?

High level Gulf sources say that the Gulf cannot stand by and watch the crimes happening in Syria. A Gulf minister said: “I feel disgusted, as an official first and foremost and not as a citizen. We must make a move.” Another official said: “All options are on the table, the Security Council is not the be all and end all”. Here it is important to note the statement issued yesterday by the Saudi Council of Ministers, which said: “The failure of the deliberations of the Security Council to take a decision in support of the Arab initiative should not prevent (all parties concerned) from taking decisive steps to protect innocent lives, stop the bloodshed and the violence in Syria that threatens dire consequences for the Syrian people and the stability of the region”. A Saudi official also revealed: “Firstly, [Syria’s ambassador to the UN] al-Jaafari should feel ashamed when he mocks the United Nations and Saudi Arabia. We are not exporting democracy, we are saying in simple language: Stop the killing. Is this difficult to understand?”

This is the mood in the Gulf, at the highest levels. As for the details, a Gulf minister said that a request has been made for the meeting to be held on Sunday morning in Cairo, not on Saturday, and Riyadh has been informed of that. The minister elaborated on the goal of the ministerial meeting, saying: “we want to enter the meeting room as Gulf representatives, and leave with a unified position. We will ask the Arab ministers to make their historic choice”. He added “we want a unified Gulf stance…we want to speak with one voice!” The Gulf States already did so in their recent meeting in Cairo, which resulted in the Arab initiative. On that day, a Gulf foreign minister threatened that unless there was an Arab consensus then the Gulf members would leave the room. The subsequent vote was unanimous.

However, what was remarkable, even for the Gulf states, was Nabil el-Araby’s recent performance in the Security Council, where it seemed as if he was emptying the Arab initiative of its content, saying that the Arabs do not want foreign military intervention, not even to overthrow al-Assad. Regarding this, a Gulf minister said: “Everyone is unsatisfied with Nabil el-Araby!” There is also resentment at the way in which el-Araby addressed the issue of going to the Security Council, which was considered hasty and without “being equipped with the groundwork for success”, according to the Gulf official.

Thus, according to high level sources, the Gulf’s options are to return to the Security Council again, especially after having considered the details of the Russian visit to Damascus today. According to a Gulf official, the Russian veto was merely an attempt to buy time for this visit. Another option is to expel al-Assad’s ambassadors from the Gulf States, taking two things into account: “Should we then recognize the Syrian National Council? Who will look after the interests of the Syrians in the Gulf?” The third option is to intensify sanctions, taking into account how to address the problem of Lebanon and Jordan, and the issue of Egyptian gas being exported to Syria.

In summary, it is unlikely that the ceiling will be raised substantially [in the forthcoming Gulf ministerial meeting], but the objective of the meeting is to create “leverage” for the Arab decisions towards Syria, especially as Gulf officials are saying that “all options are on the table, the Security Council is not the be all and end all”!

The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat. The article was published in the London-based newspaper on Feb. 7, 2012

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