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Dr Musa A Keilani: Clash of vested interests
January 31, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

With Russia standing firm on its rejection of any effective international action to end the conflict in Syria, it is difficult to see an early end to the 10-month-old revolt against the regime of President Basher Al 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 multiple vested interests in Syria, which hosts the only Russian naval base outside Russian territory. Any regime change in Damascus would naturally mean that Russia will lose the base. China, which has its own political and economic considerations, also opposes UN action in the Syrian crisis.

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 would be able to contain them.

Russian and US officials say they have 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, while other independent sources put the figure of casualties to be over 10,000 civilians. 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 United Nations, European and Arab countries are reportedly in the process of drafting again a Security Council draft 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 co-operate 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 Arabian Gulf countries have already withdrawn their representatives from the mission although the Arab League has extended its mandate until Feb.23.

By withdrawing from the mission, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries sent an 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 futile to have expected 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 casts a shadow over its absolute grip on power. If it engages the opposition in dialogue, then trust it to have done 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 they do not want anything to do with the regime except to see it stepping down.

In the face of these realities, and given that the Arab League has failed its mandate, and the UN is deadlocked, we could only expected further strife and bloodshed in Syria in the short term. To save the people there depends on two factors, first a miracle to materialise and the second is a serious effort by the United States to persuade Russia and China to rescind their pro-Assad blind support and participate in Arab collective efforts to end the mayhem of civilians in Syria.
The author a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

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