West fails to mobilise world over Syria

2011-06-14 16:00

Paris - Individually, Western capitals have issued stern condemnations of Syria's brutal crackdown on its citizens, but together they have failed to bring co-ordinated diplomatic pressure to bear.

Particularly at the United Nations, Washington and its European allies have struggled to cobble together enough support to repeat their feat of winning a green light for the Nato operation in Libya.

No one is suggesting a similar military intervention in Syria, but world powers cannot agree on a motion condemning Bashar al-Assad's crackdown without even the threat of sanctions.

"The proposed resolution being debated at the United Nations is a first text, a declaratory resolution that does not authorise the use of force," a senior French official said, on condition of anonymity.

Even this limited ambition failed to find support, however, with veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council members Russia and China refusing to turn up to expert-level meetings over the weekend to discuss the draft.

European powers - notably France, Britain, Germany and Portugal - are pushing for a text that would signal, after three months of bloodshed, that the world's patience with Damascus is wearing thin.


They argue the crackdown on largely-peaceful pro-democracy protests is now a threat to wider regional stability and that, as the ultimate guarantor of international law, the UN Security Council must speak out.

But a previous success - in which Western powers convinced the United Nations to back a motion endorsing states to use "any means necessary" to protect civilians in Libya from similar violence - is working against them.

Several capitals, in particular Moscow, now say they would not have backed this if they realised Nato would cite it to justify air strikes and helicopter attacks on strongman Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

The Libya resolution was also endorsed by Gaddafi's Arab neighbours, long tired of his excesses, but this has not been the case for Syria, which plays a much more central role in the Arab world.

The Arab League has not agreed a position on the UN draft, diplomats say.

"Would regime change in Syria provoke a civil war there? If the answer is 'yes', then best leave well alone," said one Paris-based envoy.

More than 1 200 killed

Europe is backed by the United States, which has also imposed unilateral sanctions against Syrian officials and made strong statements of its own.

"We have called on President Bashar al-Assad to cease the violence. We strongly condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the violence being perpetrated in Syria," White House spokesperson Jay Carney said on Monday.

"President Assad needs to engage in political dialogue. A transition needs to take place. If President Assad does not lead that transition then he should step aside," he told reporters.

Since March 15, when the wind of change blowing over the Arab world led to a street uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule, more than 1 200 Syrians have been killed and 10 000 have been arrested, rights groups say.

The United Nations counts another 10 000 having fled Syria for Lebanon and Turkey - an exodus which France has dubbed a threat to regional stability.

But Russia and China, traditionally reluctant to support international interference in the affairs of sovereign states, remain unmoved and emerging powers like Brazil, India and South Africa shelter behind their veto.

Unlike Gaddafi, Assad still has some international backing - and even Western policymakers say he still has a chance of halting the violence, turning the situation around and recovering his legitimacy.

"Is there a chance that he'll recover the situation? Yes," said an official close to the French presidency. "Do we hold out much hope of that? No."


Read more on:    un  |  nato  |  muamma gaddafi  |  bashar al-assad  |  syria  |  libya protests  |  syria conflict  |  north africa  |  uprisings

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