Posted by Joshua on Sunday, July 1st, 2012
What Came out of the UN Conference on Syria?
by Joshua Landis
for Syria Comment, July 1, 2012
The operative sentence by Clinton is: it is now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall and help force his departure.”
This plan for a “transition government” in Syria does not add much to previous plans. But it is an indication that Russia’s patience with Assad will not be unlimited. Clinton has advance the ball ever so slightly, convincing Russia to box Assad in just a little more. With each step, Assad must know that his time to suppress the revolt is limited. Russia is indicating to him that it is not an endless source of support. Assad must deliver.
For the US, this plan does several things. It is not merely designed to shift blame for inaction on Syria from Washington to Moscow – but of course it does do that. It puts the ball in Russia’s court to deliver a transition government. Of course, the opposition has refused to join such a government so long as the Assads remain in power, which makes the blame game a bit messy. This is why Clinton is talking chapter 7 again. She wants to give teeth to need for a transition government, but Russia will not agree to that.
It is good for the US because Washington gains time, which is of the essence. The Syrian opposition is not ready to take over Syria. It needs time to coalesce and mature. A new leadership and civil society is emerging in Syria under the nose of the Assad government, but it is months if not years away from being able to rule Syria effectively. Nation building is an organic process.Washington has discovered that it cannot command cooperation and unity.
If Washington learned anything from Iraq and Libya it is that decapitating an oppressive regime too soon is bad. More people get killed. The death rate goes up and not down. An alternative leadership must be prepared to assume authority. Most importantly, an alternative army needs to be assembled to take control and impose order – an army that is viewed as legitimate and representative by a large proportion of society. No such force existed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya.
Today, we are seeing the emergence of an alternative source of authority and security in Syria — perhaps. And that is a big “perhaps.” We are not sure that Syria will end up with a unified leadership or that one militia will emerge victorious and supreme. The political factions and one hundred-plus militias that now pepper the Syrian landscape are certainly not capable of imposing order or providing security for Syrians should the Baathist regime crumble or be destroyed.
Will they unite and produce a national leadership in time? It is a reasonable hope. The chances will be much improved if Western powers, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agree on a common leadership. The beauty contest that is now going on among the Syrian opposition forces is natural and healthy. A brutal Darwinian battle is now being waged in Syria not only between the regime and the Free Syrian Army, but also between the multitude of militias that make up the FSA. The leaders who can deliver will rise to the top; those that make mistakes are unlikely to survive. The militias that are better led and can cooperate effectively with the revolutionary councils will rise to the top, pulling the smaller brigades into their ranks. This process of nation building takes time. It is an organic process that cannot be rushed. The West must play for time as the Syrian opposition matures. To destroy the regime before Syrian society is ready to produce an alternative state and leadership is irresponsible. It will not save lives; it will not prevent Islamizaton; it will not serve Western interests; and it will certainly not serve Syrian interests.
Syria Conference Leaves Open Assad Question
AP – By JOHN HEILPRIN and MATTHEW LEE
An international conference on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered peace plan that calls for the creation of a transitional government in Syria, but at Russia’s insistence the compromise agreement left the door open to Syria’s president being part of it.
The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly call for President Bashar Assad to have no role in a new Syrian government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown that the opposition says has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
But even with Russia’s most explicit statement of support yet for a political transition in Syria, it is far from certain that the plan will have any real effect in curbing the violence. A key phrase in the agreement requires that the transitional governing body “shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent,” effectively giving the present government and the opposition veto power over each other.
Syrian opposition figures immediately rejected any notion of sharing in a transition with Assad, though the agreement also requires security force chiefs and services to have the confidence of the people. Assad’s government had no immediate reaction, but he has repeatedly said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists and will not accept any non-Syrian model of governance.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on Saturday that Assad would still have to go, saying it is now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall” and help force his departure.”
“There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime,” she said. “What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power.”
Kofi Annan was appointed the special envoy in February, and in March he submitted a six-point peace plan that he said the Assad regime accepted. It led to the April 12 cease-fire agreement that failed to hold.
Moscow had refused to back a provision that would call for Assad to step aside, insisting that outsiders cannot order a political solution for Syria and accusing the West of ignoring the darker side of the Syrian opposition. The opposition has made clear it would not take part in a government in which Assad still held power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the plan does not require Assad’s ouster, saying there is “no attempt in the document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process.”
Lavrov accused armed opposition groups in Syria of provoking the government to use force disproportionately. “We cannot say that the regime should simply withdraw its heavy artillery that it is shooting at armed citizens,” he said, referring to one of the conditions that the U.N. had set for sending truce monitors to Syria. “Certain armed groups and those who sponsor them are always trying to provoke the spiraling violence.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called for all sides to end to the violence “without attaching any conditions,” but said that no one from the outside can make any legitimate decisions for the Syrian people.
More than a year into the uprising, Syria’s opposition is still struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience, preventing the movement from gaining the traction it needs to instill confidence in its ability to govern.
The U.N. plan calls for establishing a transitional government of national unity, with full executive powers, that could include members of Assad’s government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
Annan said following the Geneva talks that “it is for the people of Syria to come to a political agreement.”
“I will doubt that the Syrians who have fought so hard to have independence … will select people with blood on their hands to lead them,” he said.
The envoy had earlier warned the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — that if they fail to act at the talks hosted by the United Nations at its European headquarters in Geneva, they face an international crisis of “grave severity” that could spark violence across the region and provide a new front for terrorism.
“History is a somber judge and it will judge us all harshly, if we prove incapable of taking the right path today,” he said.
Syria, verging on a full-blown civil war, has endured a particularly bloody week, with up to 125 people reported killed nationwide on Thursday alone.
The opposition’s divisions are tied to issues at the heart of the revolution: Whether to seek dialogue with the regime and what ideology should guide a post-Assad Syria.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said following the agreement that “no member of the Syrian opposition will accept to be part of a transitional government while Assad is still in power.”
“Assad’s staying in power will mean the continuation of the bloodshed in Syria,” he said.
Unlike Libya’s National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions fighting Moammar Gadhafi’s regime and was quickly recognized by much of the international community, Syria’s opposition has no leadership on the ground.
Regime opponents in Syria are a diverse group, representing the country’s ideological, sectarian and generational divide. They include dissidents who spent years in prison, tech-savvy activists in their 20s, former Marxists, Islamists and Paris-based intellectuals.
Communication among those abroad and those in the country is extremely difficult. Political activists in Syria are routinely rounded up and imprisoned. Many have gone into hiding, communicating only through Skype using fake names, and the country is largely sealed off to exiled dissidents and foreign journalists.
International tensions also heightened last week after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane, leading to Turkey setting up anti-aircraft guns on its border with its neighbor.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague noted on Saturday that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told diplomats a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria would have to be pulled back if no diplomatic solution was found.
The head of the struggling U.N. observer mission, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, has described the 300 monitors approved by the U.N. Security Council to enforce a failed April cease-fire as being largely confined to bureaucratic tasks and calling Syrians by phone because of the dangers on the ground. Their mandate expires on July 20.
“Ultimately, we want to stop the bloodshed in Syria. If that comes through political dialogue, we are willing to do that,” said Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups based in Istanbul, Turkey. “We are not willing to negotiate (with) Mr. Assad and those who have murdered Syrians. We are not going to negotiate unless they leave Syria.”
Clinton said Thursday in Riga, Latvia, that all participants in the Geneva meeting, including Russia, were on board with the transition plan. She told reporters that the invitations made clear that representatives “were coming on the basis of (Annan’s) transition plan.”
The United Nations says violence in the country has worsened since a cease-fire deal in April, and the bloodshed appears to be taking on dangerous sectarian overtones, with growing numbers of Syrians targeted on account of their religion. The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria heading toward civil war.
Syria’s widows: Hungry and homeless, but undefeated, Friday 29 June 2012
By Tara Sutton, Mafraq
Tens of thousands of desperate refugees have poured into Jordan. Here, some of them tell the stories of how their lives were shattered by the fighting that has torn their homeland apart
Tens of thousands of desperate refugees have poured into Jordan. Here, some of them tell the stories of how their lives were shattered by the fighting that has torn their homeland apart
The Homs widows must take care that they cannot be easily identified. Their names have been changed for this piece. Photograph: Tara Sutton for the Guardian
With criminals and rebels helping them on their way, Syria’s army of refugees marches by night, in single file and silence, towards the Jordanian border. More than 140,000 desperate people, many of them women and children, have sought sanctuary from their neighbour since the uprising in their homeland began 13 months ago and most now face an uncertain future.
Unlike Turkey, Jordan does not have a refugee camp and new arrivals are left to fend for themselves. They escape mostly “through the fence”, too frightened to leave Syria by its official borders. For some this is because their documents were burned when the army torched their homes; for others it is because they are being hunted by the government because someone in their family is, or was, a fighter.
In Jordan most of the aid they receive comes from Islamic and Christian charities with limited resources. They get boxes of food from one group; another donates mattresses and kitchen sets. But it is not enough, and many wonder where the international NGOs are.
“They [the international aid agencies] have a lot of meetings,” said the head of one charity well known to many refugees. “But I don’t see anything on the ground. There is all this talking, and still the Syrians need beds and food and stoves.” Many live in buildings that were formerly abandoned and lack basic necessities such as water and ventilation. Some of the poorest families are living in tents made from old jute sacks.
The border town of Mafraq in Jordan now hosts 10,000 Syrian refugees,
Annan ‘Hopeful’ Over Geneva Talks on Syria
By: Ellen Barry, Nick Cumming-Bruce and Rick Gladstone | The New York Times
“I think we are going to have a good meeting” on Saturday, Mr. Annan told Reuters television in Geneva as senior officials held preparatory talks in advance of the weekend encounter of foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I am optimistic.”
The talks would end “with an acceptable result,” he said, despite news reports suggesting that differences between Russia and other Western and Arab nations at the Geneva meeting had raised new obstacles to an agreement.
Mrs. Clinton is set to meet on Friday in St. Petersburg, Russia, with her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Lavrov said on Thursday that Syria needed a period of political transition but reiterated Moscow’s resistance to any plan being imposed by the international community.
“In order to overcome the Syrian crisis and to finally establish stable rights and norms which satisfy all groups in the Syrian population, it is necessary to have a transitional period, this is obvious,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference here in Moscow.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, acknowledged on Monday that the aircraft — a two-seat RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F-4 fighter jet — was equipped for surveillance. But he strongly denied it was doing reconnaissance on this particular mission.
Forging a Peace Plan for Syria
By: Kofi A. Annan | The Washington Post
…..But something more is essential. I expect all who attend Saturday’s meeting to agree that a Syrian-led transition process must be achieved in accordance with clear principles and guidelines.
There must be a democratic and pluralistic future for Syria that complies with international standards on human rights and protects the rights of all communities.
This must include a government of national unity that would exercise full executive powers. This government could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, but those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation would be excluded.
The transition would also include a meaningful national dialogue and a constitutional revision subject to popular approval, followed by free and fair multiparty elections. Stability and calm must be ensured throughout by functioning institutions and protection of all groups within Syria’s diverse society. There must be a commitment to accountability and to national reconciliation.
There is no substitute for the hard work of helping the Syrians forge their own political future, in full respect of Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. …
Western Agreement ‘Could Leave Syria in Assad’s Hands for Two More Years’
By: Robert Fisk | The Independent
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria may last far longer than his opponents believe – and with the tacit acceptance of Western leaders anxious to secure new oil routes to Europe via Syria before the fall of the regime. According to a source intimately involved in the possible transition from Baath party power, the Americans, Russians and Europeans are also putting together an agreement that would permit Assad to remain leader of Syria for at least another two years in return for political concessions to Iran and Saudi Arabia in both Lebanon and Iraq.
For its part, Russia would be assured of its continued military base at Tartous in Syria and a relationship with whatever government in Damascus eventually emerges with the support of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia’s recent concession – that Assad may not be essential in any future Syrian power structure – is part of a new understanding in the West which may accept Assad’s presidency in return for an agreement that prevents a further decline into civil war.
Information from Syria suggests that Assad’s army is now “taking a beating” from armed rebels, who include Islamist as well as nationalist forces; at least 6,000 soldiers are now believed to have been murdered or killed in action since the rebellion against Assad began 17 months ago. There are even unconfirmed reports that during any one week up to a thousand Syrian fighters are under training by mercenaries in Jordan at a base used by Western authorities for personnel seeking ‘anti-terrorist’ security exercises.
Syria is not Libya: it will not implode, it will explode beyond its borders
28 June 2012, By Phyllis Bennis
Probably the only useful thing outside powers can do, would be to engage in serious new diplomacy, in which supporters of both the regime and the armed opposition participate….
Iran’s role is the single most important basis for US and other western interest in Syria, making that emerging proxy war even more dangerous. At this moment of continuing US pressure, increasing US and EU sanctions, and Israeli threats against Iran, Syria remains a tempting proxy target…..
There is a crucial divergence between the role the Assad regime has played domestically and its regional position. As Jadaliyyaco-editor Bassam Haddadhas written, “most people in the region are opposed to the Syrian regime’s domestic behavior during the past decades, but they are not opposed to its regional role. The problem is the Syrian regime’s internal repression, not its external policies.” That opinion could describe the view of many Syrians as well….
Of course even if Assad had played a consistent anti-imperialist role in the region, Syrians would have every right and reason to challenge his regime’s brutality and denial of human rights. But the claim led some international activists to lionize the Syrian government as a bastion of anti-imperialism and therefore to condemn all opposition forces as lackeys of Washington.
In fact the regime’s reality is far different….
Visiting EU foreign ministers recently put pressure on Iraq with regard to the official position on Syria. But what does the EU really want the Iraqis to do? And what will they do if Iraq doesn’t agree? By Haider Najm / Baghdad
“Le Hezbollah va-t-il se tenir à l’écart du brasier syrien?” by Wassim Nasr
In a Syrian souk, support for the regime falters
Posted: 28 Jun 2012 08:20 AM PDT
Deborah Amos reports: In Syria’s capital, Damascus, the Hamidiyah souk is a landmark — a centuries-old covered market linked to a maze of alleyways in the heart of the capital. Over the 15-month uprising, Syria’s merchants have supported the regime of President Bashar Assad. But that support is crumbling. Shops selling everything from cold drinks, [...]
Hamas says member killed in Damascus home
Posted: 28 Jun 2012 08:30 AM PDT
Reuters reports: Hamas said on Thursday that one of its members, Kamal Husni Ghanaja, had been killed in his home in Damascus and that it was trying to find who was behind what the Palestinian Islamist group described as a “cowardly murder”. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said in a statement that it was [...]
Can the U.S. and Russia agree on how to end Syria’s war?
Posted: 28 Jun 2012 08:40 AM PDT
Tony Karon writes: Beleaguered U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan will host an international conference to address Syria‘s rapidly escalating civil war, but the meeting in Geneva on Saturday appears to have only lukewarm backing from the U.S. — and then only after Washington put the kibosh on the attendance of Iran, whose participation had been [...]